As today is Father’s Day, I’m posting this poem by Kathleen Kummer. Here she combines the personal and the public, with her reference to the miners’ strikes and the General Strike of 1929.
My father’s hands
For a short time they handled a pencil, maybe a squeaky one on a slate. Abruptly, they, they found themselves grasping a pick in the dark. When the strikes came, obedient, they downed their tools and, at street corners, were clasped and breathed into for warmth, patted the greyhound of a mate waiting for the pubs to open. They withdrew their labour from the mine owner once and for all in the General Strike of 1929. In the next phase, though, still handling the black stuff, they weighed it, bagged it, loaded it onto the back of a lorry. Then it was clay pipes instead of coal, contorted monsters, drab, glazed brown, easily chipped.
This is the time from which I remember those hands, their dull sheen, as if sanded down, the skin agonisingly tight, with cracks, near the nails, manicured with a penknife, not made for tenderness and caresses, but good safe hands to be held in.
Last night, as I warmed my hands at the fire, I winced at the memory of his, held so close to the flames and hot coals, they almost touched so cold, they could never again be warm.
I am pleased to introduce this month’s poet: Judi Sutherland. We met as poets on Facebook a few years ago and I attended a recent online event where she read her poems.
Judi Sutherland has lived and worked all over England and is now based in North County Dublin, Ireland. She writes about the natural world, about home, place and belonging, and things she reads on the internet. She obtained an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2012 and was awarded the Margaret Hewson Prize.
Her first pamphlet The Ship Owner’s House was published in 2018 by Vane Women Press (available here: The Ship Owner’s House by Judi Sutherland – The Poetry Book Society) and focuses on north south contrasts, specifically Oxfordshire and County Durham. Vane Women Press is a writing, performing and publishing collective based in the North East of England. It was formed in 1991.
A recent booklet Animals in Lockdown was published as a hand-made edition by Kazvina (Karen Little). Copies can be obtained from email@example.com, and proceeds go to Happy Tails Halfway Home animal rescue.
Here is my selection: the booklet’s title poem and three poems from The Ship Owner’s House.
The Animals in Lockdown
The mountain goats have noticed something’s wrong. Their anxious hooves trot into town tap-tapping on our tarmac. They’ve come to browse verges and hedges, keeping down
the wildness, which they know distresses us. In clearwater harbours, dolphins nose the prows of empty boats drifting at anchor. Songbirds note the silence in the air.
A fox sniffs for contagion, scenting only spring, he knows we’ve gone to earth. He has mixed feelings about this. The dogs who shepherd us on our permitted walks
leave smell-messages for each other, asking ‘Lads, what’s going on?’ And here at home, my cat tucks me into bed each night, checking that I’m safe. All through the night, she listens for my breathing.
Looking for Kites
I went over to Kinninvie because I had heard you were there. I took the straight, whitelined road that wagtails across the fells. There were sheep, carpet-backed, in a row ripping grass, and mottled cattle, cream and brown like chocolate truffles tilting their long horns at the sky. A hawk held steady over a whin bush and I thought I saw you eddy into the wind over a broad, shouldering field. When I turned homewards, the valley was bright with gorse and rapeseed flowers and sunshine flooded the far slopes with summer.
And what scented his fear was this: the fleet chill of clear air rushing, the flap of canvas, the propeller’s halting stutter. Hanging suspended between sky and Crete, and the silver-drab of olive trees reaching up to meet him. I still dream that flight and plunge, the terror and the black; feel the dull indentation of the skull, the buzz of metal plates beneath my scalp. I’m always writing Icarus; afraid to fall, finding life vertiginous. He very nearly died. I very nearly remember.
So, the place I thought was home turned out to be somewhere we were passing through, and we have traded all the grey, red, cream of flint, brick, render, for this buttered stone; beechwoods for bare hills, accents clipped like lawns for vowels as broad as fells. The green-spined lane became a hard grey road, the kites are hawks, and the placid boating river is a rocky fall past a castle keep. Life pitches our tent in a different portion of the desert. We make it ours. I can no longer tell you where my heart is.
My friend and poet Kathleen Kummer will have her birthday soon. We have visited the Dartington Estate in Devon several times: to hear the then Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion read, to listen to music during the Music Summer School & Festival which was established in 1947. Alwyn Marriage of Oversteps Books invited me to read during the Ways with Words Literary Festival. It was wonderful seeing people out on the lawn, resting in deckchairs, or queuing up to get their book signed by famous authors.
Dartington Hall is a spectacular Grade I listed building. The gardens are grade II listed: a sculpture by Henry Moore, a yew tree that is 1500 years old and a row of sweet chestnut trees believed to be about 400 years old. The gardens are a delight in every season. Here is Kathleen’s poem about the gardens.
That summer day
That summer day at Dartington, everything familiar, beautiful: the corrugation of the bark of ancient trees, the sun behind the scarlet maple leaves, the swathes of wildflowers in the glades, warm to the touch the might buttocks of Henry Moore’s reclining figure, the bench, its oak smooth, silver, following the stone wall’s curve, on which we sat. Unexpected, the robin landing next to us, a fledgling, plump, who stayed ten, fifteen minutes until his mother called him. And, in the little wave of sadness which washed over us, because he looked so young, indivisible as water is, this swell of happiness.