Poems

 

Building the Alder Fence (Merit Prize in the Nottingham Open 2005)

 

First they fetch the alder. It's a long slow

walk up to the woods, over the hill then down

towards the marsh where the alder grow.

 

Long for three men who sit all day and drink

and eat dry bread and herring, fresh curd, maybe, then sleep.

Sometimes you'll see them, lying in the stink

 

of their own piss out there in the fields

waiting for the mind to clear. It takes the better part

of the morning to reach the marsh. Then they'll

 

decide which branches fit their purpose, bundle

them, slice off twigs. As the sun dips beyond the firs, 

they'll head back up the hill arms full, trundle

 

home with not even a horse to lighten

their load, through the darkening woods.

Their gait is just as slow as when

 

they left,  though not as straight. As for the fence, there's no race

now to do the job, and when they've wrenched 

and woven or plied a few green branches into place,

 

they're done. Eyes focussing on the distance,

they huddle on the village bench, vodka

spilling, the task forgotten. That is the urgency. 

 

Kolodno, Eastern Poland

 

 

 

Two poems from Tears of Honey and Gold , Five Leaves Publications.

 

 

Reminders

 

On the road from Daroca to Calatayud

the hills are the colour of camels.

Dirty. Low. Studded with almond trees.

 

All that remains of the great Morisco expulsion:

the churches's thin mudéjar-style bricks

and a feeling of desolation.

 

Calatayud itself spurts grey out of the rock

in a series of timorous outgrowths

on the crust of the Meseta.

 

Then comes the Sierra de la Virgen

where towns called Moros or Almonacid

are all that is left to remind us.

 

But there's always a ruined castle

and always a church. Where Berbers for

generations harvested the grain,

 

never a trace of a mosque…Yet early courgettes

and peppers from Almería, and giant

hollow strawberries from Huelva

 

are still picked by men the same

olive brown as those you'd have found

on the road from Daroca to Calatayud.

 

 

 

 

Landscape with Olive Stumps

 

It's Spring, and we have travelled miles, mile

upon blood-red mile, but still the same stumps, 

still the feeble wisps of olive branch

punctuate the hills' vermilion.

 

The cork trees too, their hearts plucked out,

droop their green arms or dance, now stripped,

their smooth black-stockinged legs

leaping half-crazed across the empty fields.

 

Here are no tillers. No peasant women

dressed in black. No mules. A few sleek bulls

grazing the landscape, walls enclosing

nothing, gates leading nowhere.

 

Hunger-harsh Extremadura, that sent conquistadors

across the sea to plunder, rape, destroy,

now waits it turn: corks to be stripped, olives

pollarded, black bulls to the ring.

 

And yet it's Spring and you can almost hear the warm earth

pushing up the cobalt bells of borage, spreading

the mallow, setting bright lavender to sparkle mauve,

speckling pastures with sudden gold, softening the background.

 

Published in the 2004 Biscuit Prize Anthology

 

2. An example from Sudden Maraschinos with my translation into French for the La Rochelle readings:

 

Swedish Archaeology:

            reading Karin Boye in the original.

 

 

Slow work at first.

Scrape scrape

on the upper

layers of earth,

sifting weird vowels; 

my trowel struck

on hollow consonants,

rubbed them clean;

spade dug deep

along the walls,

till the loci showed:

paths and streets,

shape, not meaning.

 

Then out of the clay

the stark dirge shone:

En dag är so lang

a day is so long,

my own old tongue

stripped to the bone.

No Latin words;

no Norman yet.

Det faller snö, det viner vind,

snow falls, wind whines.

Bare flakes

of words –

wind-honed.

 

First published in The Journal of Anglo-Scandinavian Poetry, UK, now The Journal

and in The Cumberland Review , US.

 

 

Archéologie suédoise

 en lisant Karin Boye en suédois

 

 

Travail ardu au départ:

gratter, gratter

les couches supérieures de terre,

tamiser des voyelles étranges;

ma truelle bute

contre des consonnes creuses,

les décrasse;

ma bêche s'enfonce

le long des murs,

pour révéler les lieux,

des sentiers, des rues:

forme sans fonds.

 

Puis tout d'un coup brille

dans l'argile une chanson rude.

En dag är so lang

a day is so long

ma propre langue

celle d'antan dégagée enfin:

aucun mot latin

pas encore du normand

Det faller snö, det viner vind,

snow falls, wind whines.

Des petits flocons de mots

limés par le vent.

 

 

 

 

 

3. Boats must come this way St. Mark's, Florida

                                                                                  First prize Saffron Waldon Poetry Competition 2000

 

 

This is an end of the world shore.

 

Behind, the still lagoons; a clutch of ibis

poking their slender bills into the mud,

a lone anhinga his ragged wings

hung out to dry in the grey silence.

 

Looking south – or is it west? – the Gulf side,

no sharp distinction indicates a coast.

Just this torn straggle of reeds

limping their way out in the rippled water

no waves no rock no tide

a row of poles reach with its timeless pelican

facing the pale horizon.

 

Only the smart lighthouse

makes you realise boats

must come this way.

 

 

Published Jewish Women's Literary Annual, New York, 2000-2001

 

 

 

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