Who is the old woman
curled warmly into sleep?
Her dreams are the shadows
that gather in the street.
She wants no awakening
to this cold, dim day,
she is only the guide
through another way:
Where the paths are thorny,
where the rivers run deep,
where the sea is forever
and mountains steep,
where a castle towers high
on its smooth black rock,
where a key rusts slowly
in a broken lock.
Only a brave dreamer
can venture this land,
with a badge of truth
in a clear left hand.
A sinister dragon
waits below the crag
and the sea’s armed might
with its blind tides’ drag,
Beware of the song
that the dragon sings,
beware of the pedlar
and the Fisher King.
A courageous dreamer
may climb the rock,
to turn the key
and loose the lock,
then enter the castle
that has no end,
to meet himself,
to call him friend.
I wish I had never met you,
slithering from my head
into my heart
in one night,
coiled in residence.
Over dinner, similarities glided
in a perfect arc,
forming something new.
We both had our hands on the pen
writing the story of our meeting,
and the script flourished,
I smoothly undressed the mind
under that gaze,
found the nearest thing
to a damned fairytale soulmate
that a cynic could never wish to find.
You are the impossible –
the natural black rose,
the sound in space,
the move to beat checkmate –
making love a possibility,
even for someone like me.
But now the memory of our connection
is a cold sweat.
I read it back wrong –
making everything else right.
Caroline Am Bergris
Daphne Gloag is a longstanding member of Pitshanger Poets and has had many poems published in magazines and anthologies and in two collections; the second, A Compression of Distances, was published by Cinnamon Press in 2009. Prize winning poems include The Radio Clock, which was awarded First Prize in a Scintilla short poem competition and was published in Scintilla 14.
The Radio Clock
The radio clock on our bedroom mantelpiece
believed in time: one second
followed another like a confident decision.
The accuracy is praiseworthy, we said,
contemplating the loss or gain
of one second every million years.
It thought time would last
for ever. We too
were fond of time, the flow of time,
its arrow pointing
to the future. We held
the future like presents
we couldn’t yet open;
there were stars and trees, silver
and blue and gold, on the paper.
We did not think
about lost presents, or a time
when presents stopped.
Outside the snow fell…
it did not melt.
We had the exuberance of snow.
So emphatic a conjunction. The dent
of our bodies on the bed
as they merged like minute merging into minute
became their dent in the fabric of space-time.
We were comfortable living in time; the melting
of snow did not yet threaten us.
Our landscape was snow, shining and crisp;
holding our days it seemed to sweep
into the distance.
I said Is there a way to predict avalanches?-
that helter skelter of minutes rushing
towards destruction, shifting the soft snow,
as when the hands of the radio clock raced round
to catch up with a new time. The clock
had no answers, knew nothing
of the loss of days.
‘To catch up with a new time’ – namely the beginning and end of British Summer Time. A radio clock automatically synchronises itself using a signal broadcast from a highly accurate atomic clock.
James is the chair of The Pitshanger Poets. He is active on the live poetry circuit and his performances add an extra dimension to his work.
Seeking Parental Consent
We read your letter, everything
You said was right and important,
Full of your warmth and honesty.
We’ve thought about it endlessly
But we’re young, change is what we want;
We like space, this move is a future
Claire and I can plan for and picture.
There are a million miles of unknowns
And I admit we’re apprehensive
But we have each other, it’s not as if
This is Knox Johnson sailing off alone
Avoiding scurvy and arctic typhoons.
No, it is, and like “man on the moon”
It’s our generation’s claim to be first
To pull back a frontier, a paradigm,
To change the way the world imagines
Itself, ourselves, for this is a new birth.
It’s not like nineteenth century Australia
All our ties severed forever,
This poem was shortlisted by Mario Petrucci for the 2010 Barnet Borough Arts Council Poetry Competition
They always give eye-patients west-facing, balconied rooms
gazing out over Paddington:
houses, studios, flats, side and main streets –
reassurance of London lights.
To the left, Lord’s privileged spring-fed turf
assaults and assuages the eye: nursery-ground,
main pitch, (a well-kept secret behind ranked stands,)
and the Media Centre – a tall, flattened spaceship
facing a stilted framework of arc-lights.
Let loose as if in midsummer,
we all cool our heels, fleeing dried-out air
booming through curtains from neon-lit corridors.
A Saudi-Arabian sheikh
in neutral-grey robes, flapping headdress and
all-exclusive shades pads rapidly, silently past –
but we’re in England, in April:
already we’re losing the sun, though its colours crowd on,
seen through thousands of eyes lodged in every conceivable face –
until only the cotton-wool clouds still float
before pin-pricked stars, blinking distant in space.
Alan Chambers is a longstanding member of Pitshanger Poets and a much-loved poet in his own right. He has had many poems published in magazines and anthologies and in two collections; Ordered Lines and Present Position. Alan’s enigmatic, rhythmic poems frequently draw on his love of landscape, riddles and in this hypnotic example, narrowboats.
Leaving behind the lock’s bustle
we nervously head the boat
through a cutting shaded with green,
birds singing a brave tune for us,
until we see the gloomy hole
gaping between brick portals,
inviting us into the dark.
Dark for two miles, to be endured,
just our dim lamp shone on rough walls,
shadowy, imprecise edges
where the lapping water meets the stone,
damp smells and dark drips. A grey light
looms up then a deluge of rain
as we creep beneath an air shaft.
We shiver for the dark resumes
while the boat moves on, relentless.
In the distance a faint gleam glows,
flashing and dipping through the murk
it gradually grows brighter
filling the cavern with gold coin
dazzling on the crumpled surface
till it explodes, a blinding eye –
how to find the watery way
between the remorseless walls
and the advancing dragon light?
There’s a rush, a swirl of water,
an unintelligible greeting
and they’re gone, just a white light
receding, a whiff of diesel
and then another brief cascade.
Still we move on watching once more
a possible prelude to light,
yet more dragons to devour us?
But as it grows the shape is round
and welcoming, the way is clear,
the walls draw back, the boat breaks through
into the liberating light.
Angela received ‘Highly Commended’ in the Ealing Arts and Leisure Competition 2009, judged by Kit Wright
The Favourite Guest
Yours is the empty chair beside my table,
Yours is my best Darjeeling, laid away
For golden afternoons when you are able
To spend sweet, short hours here, and make my day.
Yours are the books, the sewing, the thank-you letter,
The art discussed, performances compared,
My poems, (you said my scansion’s ‘getting better’)…
The birthday cards, the chocolate ginger – shared;
And this is how I indulge in ‘multi-tasking’
Details, like words and notes within a song
Which I would sing to you, each moment asking
For your return: don’t stay away too long,
Since mine is the waiting-time when you’re not with me,
Like night, when patience stretches through hours so small
Until our next occasion – when you can give by me
Your time – and make of ours, the best of all.