A selection of my poems for NOVEMBER
LAST MAN STANDING
(I.M. Harry Patch 17/06/1898 – 25/07/09)
The bugle sounds, the flags unfurl
in memory of a modest man
whose life was haunted by a dream
of clinging mud and fearful noise.
He’d heard the cries of injured men
while being marched to Pilchem Ridge,
then crawled through mud, turned red by blood,
and, to a random shell, lost friends.
He said that war was nothing more
than murder by another name –
this last man from that fading band
who fought at Ypres and Passchendaele.
The nation saw him as a link
to multitudes who gave their lives :
a living emblem for the lost –
an icon to be eulogised.
But Harry Patch eschewed his fame –
despised the glorying of war;
“It’s just showbiz…Remembrance Day” –
he hated pomp and ritual.
A soldier’s send-off held at Wells –
but he’d not want an ornate tomb,
reluctant hero to the end
he’ll rest in peace at Monkton Combe.
Harry Patch was the last living soldier to have
fought in the trenches of the First World War
APPLAUD and CRY
Across the internet and TV news
fresh views of surrounding devastation.
Cutting away, the camera zooms in
to close up shots of a very small boy,
dusty, pale crying — rescued from the rubble.
Lifted shoulder high by triumphant men,
he sobs for missing Mother, lost brother—
his life now set in an alien world.
And how this scene plays out time after time,
from natural disaster to war-torn city —
we cheer the rescue ...but weep tears for him.
Long after Larkin’s trees first came to leaf,
orchards bloomed, hedgerows came alive with May.
When the candled flowers of conker trees
were all but spent, gold ribbons filled this tree.
Catkins! These yellow tassels catch the sun,
hang over serrated leaves like clouties —
ragged streamers left on fairy trees as prayers.
Like clouties, catkins symbolize a wish —
for fecundity, Autumn’s fruitfulness.
Clouties : cloth strips tied to trees is an ancient tradition.
The cloth represents a prayer to Nature’s Spirits and Deities for help.
DEATH of the POET
Till now, she’d never thought of it before :
how charity shops live off the dead.
Taking a pride in what she gives away,
his clothing clean and carefully pressed,
four bin-bags mark the passing of a life.
And life seems slight when it’s so easily
packed away; his treasured possessions –
aspects of his life – lose their relevance,
separated from their owner’s past.
Emptying shelves and drawers, she discovers
nothing’s really owned by anyone –
possessions outlast owners come what may
and, in death, we desert them in the end.
Leaving the shop, she hurries on her way,
taking, as her keepsake, all his words.
I try to find a meaning in this pain
as it destroys the everyday of life;
I try to smile and act as if I’m sane
but inside I’m consumed by endless strife.
When darkness falls then shadows fill my mind,
all hope and joy seem distant and unreal;
searching for light, there’s nothing I can find
except the deep and aching pain I feel.
The phone rings and she whispers in my ear,
that I am not alone — not to despair;
her gentle voice will tell me not to fear
that family’s here to love me and give care...
Her message lifts the pain that grips my arms
and fills my heart with peace, bringing me calm.
The Reflections of a Bored Night Nurse.
I am an expert on spare rooms –
my refuges while I attend
and comfort, through their sleepless nights,
the old and frail in their own homes.
Some rooms are time-warped – life stood still,
marking the day a child left home,
with trophies and certificates
and yellowing posters on the door.
More telling than the public face
of lounge and hallway, dining room –
each spare room is a special place,
depository for memories.
Some are more reliquary or shrine,
with wigs preserved or sets of teeth;
I found a gallstone in a jar
and ashes stored beneath a bed.
Usually it’s life’s bric-a-brac –
those things that can’t be thrown away –
that fill the space, “Just being stored”…
significant to family lore.
“If I knew where they came from I'd go there”
Poems will always catch me unawares —
it seems that they can start at any time —
I often go for weeks without a sign,
then, suddenly, like buses two appear.
Surprising, like an unexpected sneeze,
a poem starts to itch inside my brain;
as sudden as a view glimpsed from a train
or flash of blue kingfisher by a stream.
That poetry's an illness, I am sure -
a virus that takes hold on certain days;
it's ruled and changed my life in many ways
and late, some nights, I’m glad there is no cure.
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