When I was a girl, the winters were ferocious. The street I lived in was a small street with no more than about a half dozen houses down each side. Every house, or so it seemed to me, had a polished table in their front room and over that table was a chenille cloth. Our cloth was red with bobbles hanging all round it. I only have to close my eyes to remember the thick rich feel of that cloth and I don’t have to do anything to remember my sister.
SPRING TO WINTER
The world goes round in tight circles As I have always known it would. Its intention always to go From Spring to Winter In one breath.
When I was first tall enough To see over the table top, The bobbled red chenille cloth Cherried in my fingers, I learnt then of dying, For in my house that winter Our Spring baby died.
That snow pulsed afternoon, The old scissor-grinder, out-lighted, Stood under the gas lamp Stoning blades of knife and scythe and scissor, Sparks spinning from his wheel As if that winter day was Carnival.
I ran from him, Snowflakes melting my eyes As I wept for my sister, Suddenly afraid of the scythe And afraid of the scissor.
The woman who ate the moon Lives in the trees down by the river. Wait! I tell a lie! She actually lives on some small landing Up a flight of stairs halfway to heaven, Or resides at the bottom of a cellar temporarily, Standing on dark, unseen tiles, Cold, mysterious and unsettling. Looking fantastically familiar Should you ever catch a glimpse of her.
She has a habit of singing through the dark hours. Sometimes of how she is made of paper Inclined, at times, to burst into flame. Her mind is full of brushed glass pieces Picked up on the beach, made lovely By the steady rushing of the wind-blown sea, With pebbles, sea-shells, starfish, mermaids And the bones of the dead rattling amongst them.
After she swallowed the moon, she held it tight within, Complaining, sometimes, that light shone right through her And only dragons, biting and marauding, could save her, Lending her their teeth.
At night, the sky is alive with heroes, Blazing shields held up, ready to meet the morning. Great wings of strength and beauty beating behind them As they go seeking the woman who ate the moon. But she would only let in Those who left their shields and wings at home As she was extremely busy making her own history.
Blue stars in the garden, Touched by the slender light of an icy moon Trying to contain the storm Throwing itself into a tantrum, Breaking all it touched. Spitefully turning the ruffled cornflowers Into tiny blue rags Pressed against earth’s vast darkness.
Howlin’ Wolf roared his blue despair Into the emptiness he knew lay waiting Behind the beauty of his own rich singing. Set on making a cool and glorious stream of melody To challenge and defeat that darkness. Make it jump for joy.
The Bluesman adding his song To the precise and perfect loveliness Of Lawrence telling of his own blue Bavarian gentian In the frosty month of September, Its blue light leading him only into darkness, Into emptiness, Where Persephone was called back for ever And Lawrence called for love.
Yet the Bluesman never stopped singing, Filling that emptiness with the soul of man. Bringing light to the darkness. And Lawrence kept his pen firmly in his fingers, Adding his song of blue gentians Flowering in the month of September To the eternal battle of hope over despair.
The last time we were flooded, Our garden became a sudden pond For the three ducks who flew down To swim in this new and exciting Stretch of water.
The cat, furious, hissed at them Through the rain-swept window, Paws trying to push through the glass.
But as I watched them, Regretting the lavender and philadelphus, I decided that from now on I would be like those ducks and take on All unexpected chances, Refusing to be chased away Until I had at least paddled in the water.
Some years ago, I wrote a Christmas Play. One of the parts was taken by my good friend, Irene, who had a wonderful singing voice, so that when she sang, there was breathless silence. This is the poem I wrote about Irene and her Christmas carol.
WHEN IRENE SANG HER SOLO
Our choir is so good Angels come down to listen to them. Those angels think I can’t see them, But I see them, Dancing on the head of a pin, Lolling on the piano, Or perching poker-backed on the tops of chairs Where people are already sat listening. They are very fond of songs where angels appear And especially liked it that time When Irene sang her solo, ‘Angels from the realms of glory.’ The angels liked that so much The tips of their wings were quivering. But when our choir sings about the Lord, Those angels join in. They think I can’t hear them, But I hear them. ‘O Lord my God,’ our choir sings, And the angels singing with them kneel down, Their wings all spread around the singers as they sing, Together filling this whole place with such tenderness I bow my head and cannot look at them again Until the singing ends. The angels have all gone home by then. ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo!’ AMEN.