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January 2013, vol 8, no 4

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Claire Everett


one swift hand

to steady my head

like a gleaner

laden with poetry

I cross the stream to autumn

You would not come with me, even if you could. She was no bosom-friend of yours. You’d grown tired of her hard luck stories and her maudlin songs. You hadn’t been able to look her in the eye, not since she’d told you she’d had to pawn her mother’s ruby ring and Grandad’s pocket watch. It was only a matter of time before the medals went the same way and he’d been so proud of his Mons Star. You’d go to great pains to avoid her, crossing to the other side of the street, or choosing to go by a different route. I asked if it had always been this way and you said that once, when you were both still young, you’d shared a bottle of cider. She’d picked a poppy and tucked it behind her ear and you’d thought her quite pretty with the breeze softly lifting her yellow hair. But it was only a fleeting thought.

Towards the end, you realised it was she you were following down the alley – that wraith in a moth-eaten shawl, pulling a wooden trolley filled with old newspapers. You were close enough to see the nicotine stains on her fingers; the soles of her shoes, as thin as leaves. After that, the sight of her sleeping in a shop doorway stirred you less and less. You walked the dog. You went home.

sweet sorrow

the last of the swallows

 painting the skies

 deeper into russet

 the robin’s breast and song

But what about the poetry, I said. Ah, yes! Poetry, with her singsong voice, her whitened willows, grey walls and grey towers and, worst of all, her mirror, in which the shadows of the world appear. She – the one who jabbed you in the ribs and hissed in your ear when you couldn’t remember: don’t you know, boy, the School Inspector is here in less than a week! Poetry, who rapped your knuckles, stood you on a chair, made you recite the first stanza alone, asked, why are you blubbing?

a scarlet leaf

shatters the looking-glass . . .

dead thirty years

my father, chanting still

The Lady of Shallot