In the great spirit of try before you buy, here are three poems from my new collection, England Underwater – seventy five pages of sonnets, rondeaux and freewheeling ramblings. Enjoy!
‘All my life I have done nothing either great or good.’
Branwell Brontë, you died standing up,
your talent eclipsed by whisky and genius.
A station master’s assistant, you were
let go for translating Horace in the ticket office;
you made announcements only in Latin.
As a tutor, you were driven to distraction:
Mrs Robinson, seductress of Thorp Green,
she became your one blaze of excitement.
On Sundays you had the hall to yourselves;
you drank tea in the nude and read Keats in the bath.
She always said the maid was not to be trusted.
You took to the hills with your brushes
to escaping the chattering of your sisters
and the prison of your father’s love.
You chased phantoms across the moors.
Merely gifted, you painted yourself out of life
and could not remember setting fire
to the bed or Emily dousing you with a bedpan.
Branwell Brontë, King of Angria, forever cast
to the shadows of history, you found laudanum
no cure for heartache or mediocrity. Your sisters’
greatest love: the brilliant boy, who never shone.
THE MOTOR CARS OF THE COWBOYS
Gary Cooper drives
a ’Fifty Mercury in midnight black
that cruises under a spotlight moon
and reappears around High Noon.
His final mistress sent it back;
Gary Cooper dies.
John Wayne drives
a cream nineteen fifty three Corvette
with blood red seats and a manual shift.
Too small, he gave it away as a gift,
to an extra who had lost a bet;
John Wayne dies.
Jimmy Stewart drives
a yellow Auburn Boat-tail Speedster
that stretches like sunlight across the road.
They didn’t have these in Shenandoah.
In Hollywood he thinks he needs her,
Jimmy Stewart dies.
Paul Newman drives
a 914 Porsche the colour of blue skies.
He eats boiled eggs behind the wheel
and pool balls clack against the steel.
He chose the car to match his eyes;
Paul Newman dies.
Clint Eastwood drives
a Grand Torino the colour of buffalo.
It races horses across the plains
and marks its trail in desert rains.
At dusk he leaves the sky aglow:
Clint Eastwood drives.
Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams.
You kept all your old shoes,
an unbroken footprint into the past:
the pumps left at high tide
that filled with sea water;
the single stiletto left behind,
when you flung the other down
an Italian hillside; even the wellingtons
in which you planted tulips
every year of primary school,
you washed and preserved
at the bottom of your wardrobe.
You were the one who spared
the flip flops worn to a wafer
that carried you across France;
the thick lipped sandals you kicked
against the school desk, and even
less forgivably, the six pairs
of verruca socks hung up like
chickens with your husband’s ties.
Nowadays, after work, you prefer
the barefoot life; of wood under foot
and the sands of summers to come.