Category Archives: Chimneys and Clouds, A Collection of Poems by Philip Dodd

Poems by Philip Dodd, author of Angel War.

Sniggery Wood

Sniggery Wood

Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood but I always liked its name. To snigger means to half suppress a secret laugh. That suggests to snigger is to feel superior to the one who is sniggered at. Sniggery is not in the dictionary. If it was, maybe it would define sniggery as being in a state to snigger. I searched for sniggery on line. I found the word snig. A snig is a word for a small eel I read. On another site, I found that snig is a word for a grass snake. That makes sense, I thought. A grass snake looks like a small eel, one that lives on land and not in the sea. Flowery means abounding in flowers, so sniggery could mean crawling with snigs, more commonly known as grass snakes. Slippery, slimy, words associated with snakes, add to them, sniggery. Sniggery Wood could mean a wood crawling with grass snakes. Someone named it so sometime. Maybe a farmer or a land owner who knew there were snigs in the area. If you have not seen one before, a grass snake looks like a small eel. I can imagine walking through the wood to be suddenly startled by a snig on the path, a grass snake soon to slither away, not to be seen again. It is all right, the fright will soon pass.
No, Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood. It is just a long, narrow strip of stunted trees, twisting up, too close together, roots hid in tangles of bramble and nettle, that divides one flat crop field from another. Planted on, ploughed, harvested, and left to fallow through the seasons, the fields show signs of tractor wheel work. Crows and seagulls swoop low to nab worms, unearthed, exposed in the furrows to be eyed by winged scavengers. Slug slimed stone sat on by a newt, watching insects flit, skim stagnant surface of the mud brown water of the reed hidden ditch that runs along the west edge of Sniggery Wood and splits through the north fields.
I remember the secondary school cross country run for secondary school boys, sweating in shorts, vests and pumps. We ran as fast as we could, to get it over with. We thudded and clanked over the bridge of wooden planks that spanned the foul smelling ditch at the south gate of Sniggery Wood. I had a stitch in my right side, a sore throat, stiff, dry leg bones, blisters on the soles of my feet. My brain sagged in my head like a dust bag. The event seemed like a punishment, even to those who were thin, athletic. Round Wood Wall we ran, along the hard pavement that bordered the roads, until in the school changing room, we finished.
Further back, I remember the picnic we had in Sniggery Wood. Must have been summer. That means in the stuffy wood, there may have been moths, butterflies, bird song, unknown to us, possibly a snig in the grass. In my memory glass, I see me, my mother, my sister, and from next door, Mrs Cook, her son and daughter, and their rough coated small white dog, Louie. Maybe we did carry a picnic basket into the wood. Egg sandwiches, tomato and lettuce sandwiches, pork pies, we ate, maybe, swigs of pop, as we called lemonade, we drank. It is what happened after the picnic I remember most.
We strolled up the dirt track in the bright air, away from Sniggery Wood, on our way to the small village of stone cottages called Little Crosby with its Saint Mary church. I lagged behind. The others strolled on. I stopped, looked south, watched a moth fluttering on the edge of a crop field. Whatever it was the farmer grew in the field, wheat, barley or rye, I did not know. I just liked the way the long yellow stalks swayed and rustled in the low breeze. I did not want to follow the others. I wanted to walk in the field of stalks that were taller than me, and smelt better than bread and flowers. So I stepped forward, off the dirt track. My right foot failed to find hard grassy ground, only air, and I fell, down, into the stink and mud of a ditch I was blind to, that ran between the south edge of the dirt track and the crop field, for the summer growth of reeds and grasses kept it hid.
I squelched and struggled in the stinking mud that was up to my chin, my hands had nothing to grip on. The side of the ditch was steep and slimy.
“This is it,” said a low, cold voice, hardly there, thin as the reeds. I expected to die in the ditch. Help, I cried, more than once. They will never hear me, I thought, too far ahead. But the dog did. Louie barked above me. The hand of my mother lifted me up. Caked in mud and ditch slime, I could not speak. I stared all the way home, my brain blank. Amazed I still lived.
No, Sniggery Wood is not much of a wood but it was all we had, nearby. It is a gate to some memories. It is not far, a short walk away, but I have no wish to go back there.
“Enter these enchanted woods, ye who dare.”
I liked the line. It made me pause, smile. The rest of the poem and the poet who wrote it is shed from my memory. The line made me feel sad, too. I knew those woods could only be found and entered in fiction, a tale or a ballad, or in a dream, not in what is called the real world. Even in a forest of fine trees, there are no magical beings or mythical beasts to be met, no goblins, dwarves, elves, wizards or fairy folk. Certainly there is no enchantment in Sniggery Wood. I once imagined a tramp in a long black coat slept in a ditch near Sniggery Wood, and an old woman who lived in a white cottage not far from its miserable borders was a witch. With other children, I ran, scared by her front garden gate. The children we were are gone now. Sniggery Wood remains, will stay where it is. Its only threat is a snig in the grass.

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The Scream

The Scream

( Lines on the life and works of Edvard Munch, born 12th December 1863, died 23rd January 1944 )

Your sick sister.
The doctor left her.
Tuberculosis, his diagnosis.
You knew, however.
It wrenched from you your mother
when you were younger.
Stiff on her chair
with her dropped head.
World to ignore her.
Your sick sister,
her irises red,
her head heavy on the pillow.
Hectic lines on the walls.
Daylight too bright, had to curtain the window.
What else could you do
but work with your tools,
the craft of the painter?
Her face strokes of pale white on the canvas,
her clothes black smudges.
The room bare, no life could be lived there.
The death of your mother,
your sister, your father,
the death of your own life
that waited ahead.
Your study of dancers,
both living and dead.
You painted the skull headed phantom,
its mouth torn wide open,
hands too thin to give its ears shelter,
tortured by the scream
that cut through the cold bones,
the dried veins of nature.

The Duchess of Alba

The Duchess of Alba

That’s how they were then.
They’ll never be that way again.
These portraits on the walls.
They were real people.
The Duchess of Alba by Goya.
She was real.
She is gone but her portrait remains.
We cannot get back there.
Locked in our time, as she was locked in her time,
we are ruled by the pendulum.
But we can be still.
Attend to now.
Forget our life and time.
Consider the brush work on canvas,
colour, shadow, light and line.
European aristocrats.
Think of them.
When not posing for portraits
by painters like Goya, what did they do?
It seems they hunted, rode, travelled,
had children, wore jewels, entertained,
followed fashion, feared revolution,
looked after their estates.
Painters and poets have this in common,
thought Goya, when they study nature,
they seek for its essence.
In those who posed for him,
he sought for the lamp lit within,
that animated character,
sculptured spirit and skin,
and if he found none,
that must be captured, too,
the void must be faced.

World Mask

World Mask

World mask carved itself,
layer by layer,
revealed one constant,
a dual nature,
half harper, half harlequin,
half holy one, half demon,
half shark, half dolphin,
half maiden, half dragon,
half ram, half lion,
half Abel, half Cain,
half Moses, half Pharaoh,
half Messiah, half Caesar,
half judge, half hangman,
half emperor, half hermit,
half kingfisher, half vulture,
half swan, half crocodile.
No tools, no engines, no blasts
could remove the mask.
The revealed face cannot be imagined.
No one could conjure its name.

Clyde the Conversational Clam

Clyde the Conversational Clam

Clyde the conversational clam
was philosophic, ocean deep,
liked to pose such questions as:
why do gasteropods cling to sleep?
and, what is water and why is there so much of it?
Fellow shell fish had no answer,
being mute as molluscs, limited as limpets,
blessed with barely barnacle wit,
but a few of his listeners, he stimulated,
like Octavian the octopus, Kronus the crab,
but some sea urchins wished he would be silent,
got self encrusted on a lobster pot and hauled away,
that his talkative stream would find its dam,
that in an oyster his voice could be hid.
Many folk of fin and scale agreed.
Felix the formidable squid certainly did.

The Ambitious Poet

The Ambitious Poet

A monument of twenty first century poetry,
such was the work he wished to create,
leave behind, after his unavoidable death,
acknowledged as such by the literary elite,
the professors of literature, high brow literary critics,
the snooty guardians of wilful, erudite obscurity.
After much mulling, he decided that an attempt
at such a work would be fake, not sincere,
so he carried on writing poems in the way he usually did.

Spring Song

Spring Song

Bird spring song, printed on the air,
pitched too fine and high for attempts at translation.
It is heard in notes not words, that is why.
Is music not speech, signals not conversation.
Still, as a playful test, I attend to one bird,
piping outside my window, in the bush behind the shed,
and try to translate its song into human tongue:
Marga-reet, Marga-reet, join me here, it seems to say.
Your singing lesson is due.
Come, quick as a gull flies after a fish.
I cannot cancel your singing lesson.
Come to me, promptly, speedily.
Converse with me, in my tubular song space.
I never ask for much, please grant my wish.
Rejoice with me in this fresh time
of nest building, chick feeding.
Marga-reet, cherish the choral way we always had.
Summer soon, long winter gone.
Spring brings our kin of feather and wing
to flutter and sing on the wind ways.
Add your notes to our knitted song screen.
Marga-reet, hear my call.
I am impatient to chirp beside your lovely form.
Universal unison, eternal essence,
I sing in the cleansed air.
Our twittering, chattering lines have no conclusion.
Winter’s great grandfather wisdom
buds in the green brain of the spring child,
born to grow to be the youth of summer,
who will mature to muse on wood and water,
clad in autumn’s leafy cloak.