Gillian Clarke Poems

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1.
The Titanic

Under the ocean where water falls
over the decks and tilted walls
where the sea come knocking at the great ship's door,
...

2.
The Field Mouse

Summer, and the long grass is a snare drum.
The air hums with jets.
Down at the end of the meadow,
far from the radio's terrible news,
we cut the hay. All afternoon
its wave breaks before the tractor blade.
Over the hedge our neighbour travels his field
in a cloud of lime, drifting our land
with a chance gift of sweetness.

The child come running through the killed flowers,
his hands a nest of quivering mouse,
its black eyes two sparks burning.
We know it will die and ought to finish it off.
It curls in agony big as itself
and the star goes out in its eye.
Summer in Europe, the fields hurt,
and the children kneel in long grass,
staring at what we have crushed.

Before day's done the field lies bleeding,
the dusk garden inhabited by the saved, voles,
frogs, a nest of mice. The wrong that woke
from a rumour of pain won't heal,
and we can't face the newspapers.
All night I dream the children dance in grass
their bones brittle as mouse ribs, the air
stammering with gunfire, my neighbour turned
stranger, wounding my land with stones.
...

3.
SIX BELLS

28 June 1960
Perhaps a woman hanging out the wash
paused, hearing something, a sudden hush,
a pulse inside the earth like a blow to the heart,
holding in her arms the wet weight
of her wedding sheets, his shirts. Perhaps
heads lifted from the work of scrubbing steps,
hands stilled from wringing rainbows onto slate,
while below the town, deep in the pit
a rock-fall struck a spark from steel, and fired
the void, punched through the mine a fist
of blazing firedamp. As they died,
perhaps a silence, before sirens cried,
before the people gathered in the street,
before she'd finished hanging out her sheets.
...

4.
BLUE HYDRANGEAS

You bring them in, a trug of thundercloud,
neglected in long grass and the sulk
of a wet summer. Now a weight of wet silk
in my arms like her blue dress, a load
of night-inks shaken from their hair -
her hair a flame, a shadow against light
as long ago she leaned to kiss goodnight
when downstairs was a bright elsewhere
like a lost bush of blue hydrangeas.
You found them, lovely, silky, dangerous,
their lapis lazulis, their indigoes
tide-marked and freckled with the rose
of death, beautiful in decline.
I touch my mother's skin. Touch mine.
...

5.
IN THE READING ROOM

You scan the stream, silver-eyed as a heron
searching the surface for what might betray
a halt in the flow, pentameter's delay,
a master's faded words, his lexicon.

Before you, found in an old book
marking a page, a longhand manuscript.
Look, where the knib unloaded ink and dipped
and rose again, leaving a blot on the downstroke,

writing by candlelight in another century,
wind in the chimney, maybe, the pen's small sound.
You write: ‘Anonymous. Date a mystery.
Some words illegible. No signature found.'

Yet the poem sings in your mind from the silent archive
and all the dead words speak, aloud, alive.
...

6.
Blue Hydrangeas, September

You bring them in, a trug of thundercloud,
neglected in long grass and the sulk
of a wet summer. Now a weight of wet silk
...

7.
Pheidippedes' Daughter

Long silver girl who slipped easy
and early from the womb's waters,
whose child-breath was a bird in a cage,
...

8.
Flood

When all's said, and done,
if civilisation drowns
the last colour to go
...

9.
In the reading room

You scan the stream, silver-eyed as a heron
searching the surface for what might betray
a halt in the flow, pentameter's delay,
a master's faded words, his lexicon.
...

10.
Polar

Snowlight and sunlight, the lake glacial.
Too bright to open my eyes
in the dazzle and doze
of a distant January afternoon.
...

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