Monthly Archives: September 2021

Uniforms

As you can see from the picture, I’m back in the Netherlands. The camp site closes 12 noon this Thursday, so I’m making the most of the good weather to work in the garden and plant bulbs.

On the last Sunday in September I’m posting this poem which is included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous.


Uniforms

I saw the van turn and park
by the old oak tree
at the heart of our cul-de-sac.

It was early September and sunny.
It must have been afternoon,
because I worked part-time.

Our white cat was asleep upstairs.

Two men carried it, though
it wasn’t heavy. A metal
trunk, shiny in the sun.

The ship safely back in Southampton.

That sheen on the dark brown coffin
as it was helped from the limousine.
We had buried you in May,
a cemetery next to the Ford factory.

White and black uniforms.
Shirts, trousers, shorts.
Black shoes, white shoes,

cracked by too much cleaning,
and yellowing socks
in different stages of decay.

That stale ship’s smell still clings.

In the fields near Arnhem

During this year I’ve been posting poems by my friend Kathleen Kummer. This is the last one. Kathleen lived and worked in the Netherlands after she married a Dutchman and taught German and French at an international school.

The battle of Arnhem took place during 17 – 26 September 1944. Operation Market Garden failed when the allied forces could not take the bridge over the Rhine.

In the fields near Arnhem

It falls like a petal from the last rose of summer:
a bus ticket, Arnhem Municipal Transport, flutters
from the faded pages of L’Art D’Etre Aimée.

Learning how to love and be loved, which was harder,
was what I had no idea I was doing that summer
of trains, boats and buses, all bound for Cythera.

It sounded so playful in French: Ecoutez-le,
(listen to him), passionnément. Ils adorent les cheveux,
so, wear your hair loose. But this was no game, we were serious.

Not so much so that we thought how, six years earlier,
they had floated down from the sky, white flowers
in their thousands in the fields near Arnhem.

Earth Days Numbered

I am very pleased to have a poem in this pamphlet which, along with its companion Counting Down the Days, has just been published by Grey Hen Press. Joy Howard, the editor, has done a great job of producing these two anthologies: allowing older women poets to show their support for the younger generation.

All proceeds from the sales of the two books will go to supporting the work of the UK Youth Climate Coalition. Below is my poem to give you a taster.

Paternoster

Some survivors live on the edge in cars,
dented, rusted ridges, blown tyres,
a towel drying on the steering wheel.
Much of life now is waiting and standing in line,
but Paternoster tells us it was often so in the Old Life.

Strong men searched among the rubble,
found saucepans, leather boots, shoulder bags.
Once a black wooden box called Schimmel
which Paternoster says means white horse.
Papaver grows inside that piano now.

Horses stand by the narrow river, kick sand.
One brown mare is with foal.
Our Friesian cows give us white gold most days.
We are waiting for rain, for a sign.
Men play a game of stone, paper, scissors.

I stroke the flute I made from bone.
I must be careful not to dream.
We trained the rats to smell landmines.
Paternoster remembers grapefruit,
a bitter yellow ball, the colour of sun.

Seven liners, seven lines …


Cruise liners were parked at sea last year. I could see them from the beach at Scheveningen. And a travel company did send me an offer I could refuse…

It was a different story on 3rd of July 2012, when P&O celebrated its 175-year anniversary: for the first time ever its seven passenger ships were in port together. An ex-P&O friend of mine was there taking pictures. Here is the flotilla leaving Southampton.

The offer of a £150 reduction comes on heavy white paper


SS Zeus floats downstream on the Danube.
Elderly passengers, each with their own balcony.
A decade on, scale models the colour of gold
are on display in suburban charity shops
where other old hands fumble,
hand over coins with the monarch’s head.