poems

Spring

Outside, the hawthorn is in bloom
while here the TV spits into my room
faster than bullets, the same old news
that some far-flung corner of a foreign field
is now sown with blood, with shrapnel, and with loss
that it’s worth the sacrifice
worth the cost
and outside, the hawthorn is in bloom.
Outside, the hawthorn is in bloom
the willow glows with catkin gold
and the lions, led by media-savvy donkeys
are digging in for the long haul
for the big push. For you, for me, for freedom.
For whatever the story is this week.
Some box-fresh spin
wrought out of Kevlar, rescued from dust
one that makes it worth the sacrifice
worth the cost
and outside, the hawthorn is in bloom
Outside, the hawthorn is in bloom
the willow glows with catkin gold
the dog-rose has burst into life
and the embedded reporter, mole-blind,
assures us that morale is high
there was turkey for Xmas
there’ll be bunting for the Jubilee
everyone’s here to do a job.
He signs off from the satellite phone
with a soundbite about sacrifice
a nod towards loss
and outside, the hawthorn is in bloom
Outside, the hawthorn is in bloom
the willow glows with catkin gold
the dog-rose has burst into life
with the lengthening days the ash buds open
and the minister, caught between engagements,
pauses before the cameras
to say we will always remember them
forgets their names before he sinks into his limousine
but made sure to say
something appropriate about sacrifice
duly solemn about loss
and outside, the hawthorn is in bloom.
Outside, the hawthorn is in bloom
the willow glows with catkin gold
the dog-rose has burst into life
with the lengthening days the ash buds open
and we wait.
We wait for rains that don’t yet come
while families, their world forever blasted out of true,
wish for ruined ghosts to come marching through
the door, all present and correct
large as life and home for tea
to haul them out of this wasteland of grief
where there are no words
where no words will do.
Sacrifice? doesn’t begin to cover it.
And the rains?
They’ll come, or they won’t come.
Spring will blossom into summer
the ash spread its leaves toward the sun
and pain shrinks to a small constant
stone lodged tight by the heart
while we watch the willow green
and then the brave leaves tumble.
‘Til spring comes round again
and, turning from the TV burble,
I look out of my window and see
outside, the soft white flowers
of the hawthorn coming
once more into bloom.
© Steve Pottinger

Tumbling stumbling pachyderm blues.

There will be
the slow graceful parabola of ivory through air
notes in unexpected combinations
a rolling grey blur the size of a house
wood splintering in a ragged fusillade
shit steaming in fresh pollocks on the ceiling.
Because you tell me
this harmony, this perfection cannot last.
The rot will set in, our music curdle.
Our dancing love? An elephant
falling downstairs with a piano.
Maybe.
But it will be no ordinary elephant, my love
and it will be a Steinway grand
on stairs of polished marble
waist-deep in jungle flowers.
It will be beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,
a cacophony of movement, a riot of sound.
We shall stand amid petals and carnage
kissing the blood from each other
picking out splinters
whispering how good it is to be alive.
Then, laughing, we help the elephant upstairs.
I give you the money for another piano.
© Steve Pottinger

Dry land drowning

The seals haul themselves ashore
to pup on the rock flats every year,
and you arrive,
frayed and torn as sea-tossed rope,
cloaked in the stink of the city.
You breathe the air deep as before,
say how good it is to be
somewhere there’s space
while your eyes burn with fever
and your talk of pubs and clubs and chemicals
lights up your face
with homesick and longing.
And you will speak – again –
of poverty and injustice
with eloquence and anger
and only the silence of what remains unsaid
hints at your increasing fear,
while in the evening,
gathered round the burning peat,
rain lashing the windows,
you will entertain with anecdotes and tales
that leave us helpless with laughter.
A talisman, more than ever now,
to beg us not to forget you.
And you will leave as suddenly as you came.
An eager moth yearning for
the city’s cold and glittering flame.
And I will sit and ponder how lonely you have grown,
how brittle,
and the seal pups wait on a tide
to sweep them back to the sea.
© Steve Pottinger

nomad

(from Kissing It All)
I am sleeping in the van
on a remote headland in Orkney.
The headland is at the end of a farm-track
which winds its way here from where
the single-track road ends.
The single-track road has, in turn,
led on from another single-track road,
and at the other end of that single-track road
is the middle of nowhere.
I sit in the van, which rocks gently
from the constant buffeting of the wind
sweeping in from the great northern seas.
I gaze out at the impossible beauty
of a midsummer sunset,
at a panorama of sea,
other islands, islets,
the immensity of an ever-changing sky.
All I can hear
is the call of seabirds,
the breaking of waves on the rocks below.
From here, the city I live in seems
some diseased imagining,
born of some other nightmare world.
Half a mile away there is a house.
One day I stop to talk with the woman
who lives there with her dogs.
She is elderly and South African.
But how did you get here? I ask,
gesturing at the farm-track,
the twisting single-track roads,
the half a planet that stretches back
beyond them to her homeland.
Oh, she says, as if it explains everything,
I came via Barnsley.
 
 
© Steve Pottinger