Tag Archives: grief

Every Day I Promise Myself – poems

It’s a great pleasure introducing this month’s poet: Rachel Davies. We met through poetry workshops in Manchester many years ago.

Rachel Davies has had several jobs including nurse, teacher and head-teacher. She thinks retirement is the best job she’s ever had because it gave her time to pursue her poetry. She is widely published in journals and anthologies and has been a prize-winner in several poetry competitions.

Her debut pamphlet, Every Day I Promise Myself, was published by 4Word Press in December 2020 and she is currently seeking a home for her second pamphlet, Mole. Rachel is co-ordinator of the Poetry Society Stanza for East Manchester and Tameside. She has an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in contemporary poetry, both from Manchester Metropolitan University. Originally from the Cambridgeshire fens, she now lives in Saddleworth with her partner and two cats.

I hope you enjoy my selection of four poems from the pamphlet.

Alternative Mother #4
Jean

For fun, you push me round the lounge
on the Ewbank till I beg you to stop, teach me
hula hoop, two-ball, how it’s good to laugh.

You soothe my knees with Germolene,
say a hug helps, say it’s alright to cry.
You know the healing power of a biscuit.

You hand-sew my wedding dress,
stitch into a secret seam a blue satin ribbon,
a lock of your own hair, all the love it takes.

You take my daughter out, keep her
for bedtime stories, forget to bring her home
so I worry she’s followed the rabbit down the hole.

You make me dance, even on those days
when the music died in me. You teach me
the euphoria of champagne.

You bake scones so light they float down
to your granddaughters like hot-air balloons.

Alternative Mother #8
Ted

Sometimes dreams can be nightmares.

You wanted most of yourself to be buried, to become
an enrichment of the fenland soil you loved so much,
your heart and lungs to be thrown into Whittlesey Wash
to feed the eels you knitted your nets for.

Oh, you were generous. You gave me some peonies once,
dug up from your garden. You shook the soil off though—
that soil’s worth three thousand pounds an acre you said.
I looked for the smile but there wasn’t one.

One night your skeleton grew out of the earth like a myth.

Breaking the Line

The blood red sky
sheds tears. Fresh milk
curdles. Now I know

my heartbroken father
left the house with
chisel, mallet — after dark

he’s out there hammering
like a minor god. Grief begins
to surface from the cold stone.

To St Ives, a Love Poem
Halloween 2014

Even though November is a black dog sitting at your feet
and your beaches lay crushed under the weight of mist

and your shoreline roars at the passing of summer
and your white horses rise on their hind legs

till your fishing boats get seasick; even though your trees
shed tears like baubles and your shops drip gifts like rain

and your cobbled streets and narrow alleys wind
around me like a clock and your posters announce

Fair Wednesday as if all other days are cheats
and your bistros display fish with eyes wide as heaven,

scared as hell, and your railway bridge yells
do what makes you happy and it feels like a tall order;

even though your choughs are impatient for pilchard
your huers won’t see today from the Baulking House

still you open your arms and kiss my cheeks in welcome.

Exploring the Orinoco

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to introduce Alan Payne, the poet featured this month. We met during the 2012-13 Poetry Business Writing School.

Alan Payne

Alan was born in Trinidad and lives in Sheffield. His pamphlet Exploring the Orinoco was a winner in the 2009 – 10 Poetry Business competition. He has had poems published in Smiths Knoll, the North and Scintilla, and in various anthologies including The Sheffield Anthology: Poems from the City Imagined, and Cast: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets. He worked for many years as a teacher of young children.

His poems visit themes of loss, grief and migration. Alan writes with great economy, sometimes even sparseness. Poignancy is created by his selection of accurate and telling details. Alan always writes with empathy for the people in his poems. His poems taught me that it is fine to revisit the themes that continue to haunt us.

The poems Colombie and Exploring the Orinoco are from the 2009 pamphlet. Menu and Silence are published in The North, issue 60, August 2018.

Colombie

Sudden stars pulled us through
the Dragon’s Mouth.
Port of Spain extinguished.
Home and homeliness
already a legend.

Next day, briefly ashore
in Guadeloupe –
the patois a distorted version
of a beloved tongue,
its lilt curled in my ear.

Crossing the Atlantic –
a band’s orchestrated goodbyes
lost in the wind,
the thundery embrace
of the Northern Range
an echo in the swell,
my stuffed alligator
a talisman.

Fabled Plymouth.
And the journey north, by train,
to Apperley Bridge.
There, in that no-man’s-land,
I tasted pickled onions.
Assumed a stranger’s skin.
A worsted suit.

 
Exploring the Orinoco

With the Thames in their hearts,
and childhood fevers in common,
my father and his dead brother
explored the Orinoco.

The boat of my father’s faith
carried them upstream
to the port of Encaramada,
past the granite domes
of Punta Curiquima.

There, on a deserted island,
they camped for the night,
sitting on the scattered husks
of turtle shells,
reading in the moonlight,
and dining. A faint stink
of rotting crocodiles
corroded the air

During the night, a jaguar
added discord to the howling
of their dogs,
and cataracts answered
the rumbles overhead.

Once, a small black monkey,
like a widow in mourning,
returned the sweet, sceptical smile
of my father’s brother
as he glanced up
from his beloved Darwin.
With a pencil, he underlined
a few words; then disappeared
into the forest
of my father’s mind,
where their mother’s grief
(one boy saved, one boy lost)
left him bereft.

 
Menu

Stereotypical, I know, this woman
carrying an urn on her head, smiling,
as if it’s nothing to have walked
to the market in Tunapuna,
and this man who, good-naturedly,
holds out his cup, and this donkey,
waiting patiently by the man’s side,
still, with well-behaved ears.

My father framed it, hung it on the wall,
a reminder of S.S. Colombie,
au revoir, the French waiter
with one blue eye, one green eye,
Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe,
and then the chilly Atlantic.

 

Silence

There was always silence in our house,
the silence before grace,
the silence following the Lord’s Prayer,
the silence of my father’s work
that seeped out from behind
his polished study door,
the silence of my mother’s brother
who, we were told, died in the war,
but as I later discovered
blew his brains out
in a car-park in Hammersmith
on receiving his call-up papers.