Bruisyard Church, Suffolk

 

An inexplicably tapered tower, its flintwork
Saxon, probably. Bashed and bodged to suit historians:
fourteenth century tracery, bricked-up Norman door.

A fading January afternoon: leaflets, postcards
cobble points of interest, fascinate
the casual visitor. Pictures darken into walls.

A thousand years of small songs, smaller prayers.
Leaning gravestones, muddy river. Below our feet
rich Clarences keep Poor Clares in their place.

 

This poem first appeared in Clear Poetry

Fifty yards of the Afon Dulas

Where three ash trees serrate the sky
the stream bends and a slab of rock
creates a natural weir. Everything
is on pause. Shallows become thigh deep.

For fifty yards the twist and tumble stops:
the brook descends in gentle steps,
gingerly trying its weight on the next stair –
a shuffling elder of a dying clan.

This river has two voices. One, endless,
murmurs its crowd of ghosts, the slaters
who heaved and hewed, swore,
always wore black to chapel.

Above and below, dissent or descant,
vexations of children, a clucking of hens,
a bubble of meat boiled to fragments
and old ones counting the dead.

Past the sweet brambles, the river turns:
beyond a creaking footbridge
its course is dark as starlight.
The valley drowns, a baptism of stone.

 

Rehabilitation of offenders

A man’s found beneath a car park. He’s not
the only one lost under concrete. In sterile rooms
relatives offer DNA, hope for strands of hair.

We unearth bits of bones with tractor wheels,
brooches in tree roots. They are flimsy, uncertain
as loyalty. We manoeuvre around them,

turn over their meanings like armies
assembled on hillsides, sniffing the breeze
for the winning side. In the soil

the leather harness of a lost horse,
by a ditch a hawthorn. In the village churchyard
all the unnamed, given the heave-ho.

Five hundred years on, we trust our violences
will be excusable. We’ve ordered a cortège,
an oak casket, burial in a cathedral.

 

This poem was first published in Issue 3 of The Poets’ Republic

 

Bartolomé de las Casas retires to Spain

I will go mad from gold. Under this metal sun
every Spaniard is a Midas, loving it.

After we burned the villages they made me
administer last rites. Now my guts riot

at every prayer. But prayer is all that’s left,
a royal warrant to guard the conscience

of conquistadors. As if I, huddled with rosaries,
could muffle muskets. I told the king it had to stop.

They spat at me, called me the loony priest,
said heat had curdled me. Look at the gold,

they said, God is with us. See how our ships
defend the faith. This troublemaker

with his bleeding heart, church privilege,
state pension, holy after the event,

what does he know of business? If he wants
to be a saint, lock him in a monastery.

Sometimes truth flaps like a trapped pigeon.
I break my wings against the glass.

 

This poem first appeared in Ground, April 2016

Flood tourists, Sheffield, March 1864 

the flotsam was still scumming from the dam-burst
when we piled onto the special train
for a day out at the scene of the disaster

found a spot where we could finger stone and timber
wrap our palms around half-bricks left on half-houses
show our most flattering sides to the photographer

and prod our feet into soft earth
where someone’s baby was hurled from its cot
and mills from their foundations

forty-three of them, the papers said
though we lost count of the wheels
and grinding stones, and filthy things

that might have been a mother’s Sunday bonnet
or even (you said almost with a giggle)
when you touched them

felt like bits of people

 

Leaving Lorgill

On land, the huge sea strikes the senses most.
Its expanse, true. But more the million years
of war against the cliffs. A shattered coast,
caves, detritus, wrack. White-tailed eagles steer
a line above the zig-zags, smooth away
jagged edges. Ahead, a rarity:
a fertile slope, heaps of bleached stones too high
to be natural. This place is empty.

Not empty. Emptied. The day’s forced march, bairns
screeching like buzzards, the cattle left,
the food eked out. The swell and swish of brine
and bilge. Always waves, churn and plunge and lift.
They said we would have land. We only saw
the sea, the sea, the leviathan sea.

The nameless grandfather

 

Somewhere between Helsinki and Talinn
(lost between the sheets of popular songs)
drifts the elopement that might once have been
planned in Sidney Scarborough’s music shop. Wings
of fantasy lifted her, quavers shook
her Hull back streets: to skate on Baltic ice
became her dream. Her sailor would be back,
his unsigned vow inked on a fugue by Liszt.
He left a set of Finnish spoons, a pledge,
unfinished business. Maybe he did mean
to gild his Lily. Or perhaps his badge
was marked on kids from Stockholm to Stettin.
There’s no name, only handwriting – a mask.
A war broke out. There’s no one left to ask.