Every year on the 11th day of November, at the eleventh hour, we remember all those who have died or been physically or mentally injured in war. We remember, too, all those who have been caught up in violence, who have trembled with pain, wept with sorrow and grieved for the pain and loss of those they love. The poppy is the symbol of remembrance.
Lately, poppies are in the fields,
Beaming amongst the yellow corn,
Smiling in the tall tangle
Of wayward grasses and nubs of moody ragwort
In the hedgerows.
Careless, it seems, of the close threat
Of the dark, the bitter nettle,
Crowding their calm loveliness.
When rain comes, the nettle rejoices
As those lovely heads are beaten into the dust.
For a while, all seems lost,
Until they rise again.
Their scarlet pennants trembling
In the powerful forces ranged against them.
Trembling, yet standing firm.
Frail and beautiful, their petals
A flick of red on the painted air.
Beautiful and frail, as are all who stand guard
Against the nettled strength waiting its chance
To crush that which is fragile.
Yet the nettle has always misjudged the poppy,
Seeing only its frailty,
Blind to its endurance.
And this world is full of poppies
Shining their bright and lovely defiance
Into every place where darkness seeks dominion,
Their crimson glory forever seeding the earth with hope.
© 2018 Gwen Grant
That night, when I was out,
Walking the frozen fields,
He was the only stranger,
Standing still as a death stone
Under the oak tree,
Switching on his head lamp
Only when I was past.
Blinding me and the rabbit,
Blinding me and the hare.
And I wondered if this was the time
Me and the pheasant,
The deer and the rabbit,
The cunning old fox and the hare
Would all lie down together
In the white and frosted furrows,
To lie there for ever.
For I had seen the Poacher,
By dint of old and wicked country magic
Of Deadly Nightshade and of Henbane,
Leap into the sky above us.
His head lamp shining away
Every shadow that would save us.
Until I looked again and saw
The Poacher’s moon.
©2019 Gwen Grant
After a journey over the Derbyshire hills when Winter itself seemed to take shape and form, this was how I remembered it. A place of utter beauty.
A DERBYSHIRE WINTER
Yesterday, we met that great icicled old man, Winter,
Striding across the tops of the Derbyshire peaks,
Flinging furious fists of snow on to the roads,
Stones, dips, hollows and hedgerows.
The hills and fields were bone white,
And white to the bone where he had passed.
Even the bleak and edgy rocks had given in,
Hiding their lovely blackness
Out of sight of the old man’s fury.
For who knew what he would do next?
Too late! He’s done it.
That tree standing alone in the emptiness
Should have shown a bit more respect.
Bowed its aching head
Under the snowy crown he had given it,
But somehow it shook the snow off instead.
And that great icicled old man spat spiteful
Gobbets of icy breath across it
Until, for one brief and beautiful moment,
The tree shone and dazzled in the thin sun,
Then broke under the old terror’s icy gift and was gone.
Oh, winter, you could have pity on us.
You could pity the owl and the crow,
The mouse, the fox, the shrew and the stoat.
You could pity the glancing beauty of the dying fish
Striking up through the frozen water.
But you won’t, will you?
Even though you could afford to.
For such splendour and icy glory,
So enchanting it catches the breath
And causes the heart to fall back,
Will never willingly leave these peaks
To the wind and rumpled grass.
© 2018 Gwen Grant
WINTER IS COMING
Winter is coming, circling around the house and garden
The grass already white over,
The last of the dahlias bending their heads to the cold.
Over the hedge, a fierce, clear brilliance sets everything sparkling.
Even the big tree, all leaves lost, stands white and starry.
Somewhere, over the fields, a fox barks,
Sending the plump little pheasants huddling deeper into cover.
Darkness down the quiet street,
Split now by a square of yellow light flaring in an anxious window.
Not long after, the long car of a night Doctor pulls up silently.
A brisk tap tap of sharp heels urgent to the waiting door wide open,
Makes the sleeping houses quiver.
All those still awake, sinking deeper into their restless pillows,
Pulling the covers over their heads.
Slowly, the moonlight drifts across the garden,
Lovely shards of icy silver picking out the stray black cat,
Courageous as any Roman conqueror,
Shadowing the grass with his magnificent presence.
Then the creak of an old bench, as someone, out there in the darkness,
Newly bereft and soundlessly weeping clutches at the solid wood.
Praying its solidity will lend itself to their splintered grief
In this new world they are suddenly lost in.
This is the way it is, when winter is circling around the house and garden,
And people are lying in their beds, thinking.
© 2018 Gwen Grant
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
The last time I saw that poem
It was getting on a train
For the far north.
It likes it up there,
Crunching about in the ice and snow,
Climbing up small mountains,
Picking up the odd abandoned word or phrase
Lying amongst the grey stones and heather.
By nightfall, it’ll be in its room, changing,
Emptying its pockets onto the bed,
Choosing a word to sparkle here,
A phrase to quietly glow there.
Ready, now, for a night of changing partners.
Until all scrubbed up, brushed down
And wildly excited,
It’s finally ready to dance.
Any time now, I expect that poem to come home.
© 2019 Gwen Grant
THE LION MAN
This lion man
Is so beautiful
It makes my heart
For in its
Wrecked and lovely
Born from darkness
Into this greater darkness,
Where every soul realizes
Yet lovers must love,
From loving lips.
In their enduring,
In their laughter,
In their bold living.
To that darkness.
Inhabit those frozen
Create the Lion man
In us all.
© 2019 Gwen Grant
That day in Lincoln Cathedral,
The scent of roses in the air so strong,
I thought there must be some pretty dame
With high heels and posh perfume around.
But there was no-one,
Only me and God and the great circular window
Full of coloured glass, glinting down at us.
It was all so stern, so forbidding,
So ‘in your face’ with the grey stone,
The slabs of walls and hard stone benches,
The weary pavements where thousand year old
Shadows of monks still lapped
Remorselessly up and down.
This house is grey, great slabs of greyness,
With great roofs pressing down
Even as they soared into emptiness,
Undercutting the power structure of witless men
Determined to impress God,
Maybe, with a small nudge to eternity,
Secure a place on that heavenly panel.
Here some warning hand has put an Imp,
But no number of Imps or poker-faced priests,
Or high-hatted, rich robed fleshy monuments to the past
Can distract us from the petal of a fallen flower
Lying scarlet on the stone cold floor,
Pulsing with a life far beyond us.
Love steadies the candle flames
Of small lanterns shining through the hazy darkness
Of a great Cathedral.
Illuminating that which cannot be seen,
Giving glory to that which cannot be touched,
The unspoken harmony of prayer
Enfolding God and us and Love.
© 2019 Gwen Grant