It’s a great pleasure to introduce this month’s guest poet Mary Chuck. Mary and I first met on a poetry workshop in Manchester and we have met on such workshops many times since, including a splendid one at the Almassera Vella, Spain.
Mary Chuck started writing poetry when she retired after 30 years working in Secondary Schools, starting by teaching chemistry. While she was working her need to escape and let some-one else do the organising took her on many walking holidays in different parts of the world. She is still an active governor at a local primary school and has just completed twelve years as a Trustee of the Wordsworth Trust. She has been writing poetry with several groups, attending workshops and going on residentials with a variety of poets, but most often with Peter and Ann Sansom at the Poetry Business.
I’ve chosen four poems from Mary’s debut collection Other Worlds (Dempsey & Windle, 2021). Mary will have a belated Zoom launch with two poet friends on Tuesday 23 August. Contact Dempsey & Windle for a link.
His people came from Russia and Lithuania,
their passports always changing, not because they moved
but because their countries became other countries.
His people were Jews, Ashkenazy Jews.
They came from the East,
driven south and west over centuries
until finally they fled from the Pale.
Long after my grandfather settled in England,
and long before he was naturalised,
he was able, once again, to be Lithuanian.
His mother’s people were White Russians
or maybe they had ten white horses?
My father married out.
Her people were not Jews.
They came from Shropshire,
farmers, and one was a stationmaster.
They were not the chosen people.
Her people were not so interesting.
He tells me that his father was Kashmiri
but now he can’t go back and I describe
to him what Srinagar was like
before unrest made it unsafe to go;
I tell him how we only went because
the flight to Leh was cancelled due to clouds,
and how luxurious it was,
staying on house boats on Dal Lake;
how we were shown around the lake and lay
with curtains to protect us from the sun,
on cushions on a wooden boat, a shikara,
and saw the floating gardens there;
tell him how pink the lotus flowers were
and how the Mughal gardens, full of scents
I didn’t recognise, were
different from the spice stalls in the street;
how the couple in one garden, keen to speak
in English, asked me about my life,
how they were sad my family
had not arranged a marriage – then I stopped.
I knew I’d gone on far too long. His eyes
glazed over as he looked beyond me, said
I never knew my dad
I never really wanted to.
Travels with my Daughter
I’m not really sure
when the balance altered,
when I knew for certain
our relationship had changed.
Perhaps somewhere north of Peshawar
after we drove up the Khyber Pass
with an escort carrying a Kalashnikov,
arrogant, in the front seat of the car
and after we bought an alcohol licence
in the hotel, and she flirted
in the swimming pool, with a young man
who claimed he was the brother of Imran Khan
but maybe before the landslide
which closed the road, when she carried
a tiny baby across the rubble, impossible
for its mother wearing a burkha.
We crossed a bridge over a ravine at night,
before the house of the drunken engineer.
She had been talking easily in Urdu to the driver;
we turned and reversed, then advanced
more slowly, about nothing she said
as we jolted across – then on the other side –
He had heard that the bridge was rotten,
but I told him it would be fine.
A well-worn track on Kerridge Ridge
Another glorious Saturday morning
needing to be out, needing to be walking
to be moving rhythmically across the hillside
up to White Nancy, through the kissing gate,
ignoring the brambles, skirting the quarry,
following the well-worn track on the back of Kerridge Ridge
head down muttering to myself long before anyone
might have thought I was phoning
going over and over conversations I have had
or might have had
over and over thinking if only…
until, hearing the hint of a cough
I feel warm breath on my face
and lift my head to find myself looking
at a moist, brown, eye
above a large, brass, ring
in the nose of an enormous bull.
I breathe, slowly.
I look around.
It is a glorious Saturday morning.