One Damask Rose
A token of lost love I found inside
A dusty book; one long-stemmed, damask rose,
Which I had laid to rest the day I chose
To walk away and be another’s bride.
The fragile petals lay against the leaves
As once I lay close to your beating heart,
Believing those who love could never part
Or cause each other everlasting grief.
Untouched by loving hands it slowly died
And, though a blush of colour still remains,
The swelling sap has withered in its veins
And summer’s silken flesh has aged and dried.
You find me now in dreams when no one knows,
And place within my hands a damask rose
Time is rolled backwards;
one more hour entered in my
The Dove’s Tale
How quiet, how poised she is
for one so young, so far from home.
Look; she is cold.
She draws her cloak around,
stroking her belly’s heavy swell,
leaning into the curve of his caring arm.
He is older, he knows what must be done;
even so, his footsteps falter as he leads her
to the shelter he has found.
No other place remains this night.
How strange, the beasts have cleared a way,
a corner where the hay is fresh and dry.
The first pain steals her breath; he lays her down.
Some of the creatures shuffle,
growing restless at the sound.
Here in shadowed beams I watch
and wait with others of my kind.
The night is still, but there’s a frisson in the air
and one great star spills light
across the countryside, the sleeping town.
How rough his hands yet deft.
He fetches water from a trough
to moisten lips and quench her thirst.
He bathes her forehead with a cooling cloth
and soothes her with his presence
at the moment she gives birth.
Behold! She has a son.
We hear his first sweet earthly cry,
watching as the father lays him,
like a gift, upon her breast.
How hushed her voice, but clear;
the lullaby she sings drifts upwards like a prayer:
‘Butter and honey shall he eat’.
The rafters whisper back the prophet’s words.
As we listen other voices join the song,
a host of angels pouring out their praise,
and men with gifts are kneeling at his feet.
Hearts full of nameless joy,
we lift our heads as one
and every bird joins in the Gloria.
Midsummer on the steamy streets of town
where women fluttered by in filmy scraps
of muslin, silk and such, while men perspired
in standard two-piece suits and shirts and ties.
And he conformed; or so it seemed to those
who came and sought his sound advice on wills,
divorce, or disputes over land. Only
he knew that, underneath his sober grey
attire, his shaven legs were clad in sleek,
expensive hose and black satin panties
graced his trim behind. At weekends, freed from
work’s restraints, made-up, golden wig in place,
he dressed in women’s clothes and hung around
high-class hotels to look for lonely men.
Some drinks, sweet talk about his looks, the way
he moved, fulfilled his need. Maybe a kiss
then, Cinderella-like, he vanished in
the night, while in the bar the stranger cursed
And there he is, across the desk,
quite unaware he’s with the one he lost.
Here’s To The Widow Of Fifty
I stand here at your graveside in the rain
While people murmur comfort in my ears
Because, my husband, we’ll not meet again
So I must hide my joy behind false tears.
‘Earth to earth’ … I hear the priest intone,
And I remember how you dragged me out
Into the garden, naked to the bone,
And broke my front teeth with a vicious clout.
‘Ashes to ashes’ … like my youthful dreams
Of love and marriage – all those foolish things.
You smashed them all, destroyed my self-esteem,
Imprisoned me within a wedding ring.
‘Dust to dust’ … you reach your resting place.
No more I’ll feel you fumbling my flesh
With sweaty hands, or see your stubbled face
Above me in the bed. Life starts afresh.
I stand here at your graveside in the rain,
Radiant within, though outwardly composed,
And scatter on your coffin all my pain.
The sign is made, the prayer-book firmly closed.
I have gathered stardust
from the far reaches of the galaxy,
from the diamante drifts of time and space,
to recreate the planet that I knew – my home –
with colours that once fed my eyes:
the damson shades of distant hills,
horizons, azure blue, where sea flowed into sky;
the emerald green of spring showered grass;
the damask blush of a dove’s breast.
Here I have no rainbow to pluck my colours from.
God did not break his covenant with man.
This time there was no ark, no flood,
no rain to fight the fires that swept the world.
I clutched an ice-cold prism in my hand
as I watched the singing colours scorch and die.,
then our ship soared through the realms
of outer space.
I have culled a spindrift of buttercup gold
and will hurl it through Earth’s ionosphere;
a sunburst for her sombre places.
She will cast her knighted colours off.
Little Gull Joe
Inspired by the words of a six year old boy, terminally ill with leukaemia, who
told his father he was going to be a seagull when he died.
We walked this wild seashore last year,
I, heavy hearted and downcast
you, bubbling brightly in the sun;
six years alive, radiating fun,
leaping the white caps,
Here, I thought, nothing could touch you;
at one with the sea, boundless sky,
birds wheeling high, and no white gowns,
tedious tests or doomsday frowns;
just your laughter
and a gull’s cry.
I hugged the day fiercely to me,
etching each moment with white heat
while saline seconds dashed away
and splashed upon the rocks as spray;
you kicked the sand
with twinkling feet.
Now I see you soaring, white wings
gleaming at day’s dawning, strong and free.
My little gull, I hear your voice,
you rise, you live and I rejoice:
bird of passage,
calling to me.
2nd Lt. Herbert Q. Howard, DCM, 1897-1918
Here, where the skylark rises wrapped in song
Above the serried graves, I searched to find
Something intangible, some part of you, long
Gone but still alive. Evidence, a sign
That you were more than just your mother’s tears,
A medal in a box, a scroll, one name
Carved on that panel weathered by the years,
Unvisited by kin until I came.
Just one among the millions buried here
Or scattered to the winds with no known grave.
Just one: a subaltern, a fusilier
Who left his home when duty called and gave
His life for comrades and firmly held ideals –
An end to war, freedom. Ideals betrayed
For war still stalks the earth, its death knell peals
Continuously above the cannonade.
The birdsong rippled back towards the ground
Which yet gives back the bombs and bones of men,
And in the peace of Picardy I found
A simple truth I had not grasped till then.
A part of you is flowing in my veins,
Lives on, was not destroyed by shot and shell;
Though what you died for has not been attained,
I must believe one day all will be well.
Maureen’s Great Uncle, who served in the Cambridgeshire Regiment from 1914-18
His Rocking Chair
The house is almost cleared. Boxes are packed
With clothes and linen from now empty drawers
And near your friend, the radio, I’ve stacked
Memorabilia from three distant wars:
A helmet from the Somme, a letter signed
By Ike, a tribesman’s dagger from Afghan,
And all your gleaming medals left behind
For me to cherish as their guardian.
I find my hands more work, sorting cassettes
Of music that you loved and played too loud,
And numerous photographs. I now forget
Your rank with P and O, but you were proud
Recalling all the countries you had seen,
The famous folk you’d met. You smile at me
From Sydney Harbour Bridge, standing between
Two pretty girls in 1933.
So dashing then; a welcome in each port
And broken hearts galore. Checking the place
I find your glasses; one silver hair caught
In the hinge, an inky thumb print on the case.
The doorbell rings, bringing removal men
Brushing past your topcoat in the hall. I keep
A smile upon my face, act brave, but when
They carry out your rocking chair I weep.
Something Missing *
A certain something’s missing and I’ve tried
To name it, but the words won’t come to mind;
Intangible, but nonetheless I find
The notion nags and will not be denied.
By contrast, I’ve a lengthy list of things
Of substance, shape and form that somehow strayed;
The pain of loss with time begins to fade –
Material goods to which I tried to cling.
What happened to them I may never know;
The precious book loaned to an erstwhile friend,
The antique brooch he gave me one weekend,
A lover I misplaced some years ago.
And nowadays I find that I care less;
Such losses are a trivial affair,
The sum of us is not invested there,
It’s what we are and not what we possess.
The process of ‘becoming’ never ends;
This sense of something missing is a part
Of the small and hidden corner at the heart
Of the mystery we cannot comprehend.
* Acknowledging Kierkegaard who emphasized something missing as the true
interpretative key to his life, and believed that we are always in the process of