The Old Woman Of Yerevan
I stood in the kitchen,
up early to catch my plane,
to fly from Armenia,
back to England again.
It was mild for November,
no sign of snow or rain.
The silence was broken,
I heard a noise, far below,
a steady stroke on hard ground,
a slow scrape, to and fro.
Puzzled, I took a step,
looked down, out the window.
I saw an old woman,
sweeping dry leaves in a heap,
in the glow of a street lamp,
with her broom worked to keep
her city of Yerevan
neat while it was in sleep.
Her wrinkled face was calm,
she did not know she was seen.
She had made it her chore
to keep her city clean.
I saw the strength in her stoop,
that her mood was serene.
Sometimes when I am still
and silent in my room,
I see the old woman of Yerevan,
sweeping streets with her broom.
Dint In The Flint
O ye bins and badges, herons and badgers,
ye throstle throated thistle thorn tub tenders,
ye clapped cloud cymbal tinkle tappers,
hear ye of the knight in the green shadowed wood,
at rest from the quest of the quibbler,
his head on a mound asleep to trickling water sound,
sheltered by his first star of summer shield.
Ye blue sky wind blown wing flyers,
awaken and wash my youth eye in my wise age,
let me follow a leaf through legend’s rural page
to embark on a rowan stage.
And ye that walk but cannot be heard,
talk on a higher pitch than bird,
let me sense you are there in some far off dell,
let me sway secure inside your chrome city bell.
O ye wind jammers on the wet pyjama seas,
O ye pelican bills on the pecked pirate parrot trees,
let me fetch berry baskets back
from the last black berry picking outing
when there was pleasure in the smile,
joy in the shouting.
O ye sparrows and finches
that chirp in the backyard near
take me back to then to be clearly here.
O ye attic bards, basement bards,
O ye walrus whiskered wine merchant
watching Wagon Train on Wednesday
when the weather forecast is due.
Better wrap it up while the vintage
tastes fine as any antique brew.
Ye that are finished with perfection
detect a dint in the flint that no one knew.
The birds have gone from my garden
as if vacuumed from the air.
I pledge my heart will not harden,
still a child bare foot on the stair.
Armoured Knight stands guard on my sitting room shelf.
His post was once on my bedroom window sill.
He is part of my past.
An ornament I bought in a gift shop in Woolacombe
on the North Devon coast.
Souvenir of a summer.
1970. I was eighteen. Worked in a hotel kitchen,
my brain blown open by ocean,
I pined to find words for what I could hear in sea gull cries,
far and high in the sky,
yearned to see white sailed boats voyage out from coves
Photographs of sunsets never developed well.
My camera could not capture
the hues of heaven I saw on the western horizon.
Armoured Knight I brought home in my haversack.
2017. Sixty five now.
Years ago, I somehow managed to break his lance.
Now his right hand grips only air.
Once I had to glue him back on his black plastic stand.
But why now the mention?
Recently, late one evening, I turned my CD player on,
leaned back in my arm chair.
My body light, forgotten, I attended to song,
became just an eye,
my spirit clasped by the top joint in the stalk of my spine,
aware only of words and notes in the air,
my gaze came to settle on Armoured Knight,
stood guard in his place on my sitting room shelf.
His helmeted head suddenly moulded into a mask.
The mask melted to reveal a bare face,
that of a man, a captain of soldiers.
He stared at the ground. His face pale, bony, stern.
His thought on battlefields behind him,
wars he had witnessed, weapons used by men,
from bow and arrow, sword and spear,
rifle and cannon to machine gun and tank.
He grew more macabre than a ghost,
a foul portent, ill omen,
till he could be given no other name than Death.
There he stood, Death himself.
Cold, battle boned, sword sharp, hard.
The spell broken, the vision vanished.
Armoured Knight restored himself.
An ornament. Nothing more.
Feeding Ducks In The Park
I bought two buns from the bakery.
The shop keeper would have thought they were for me.
I had to smile on his wrong assumption
as through park gates I passed
into the green of grass and tree.
On my way down paths, between mown lawns,
I went to see the aviary.
Rare birds from foreign parts,
I studied through wire netting.
Peacocks stamping over gravel
remain in my memory.
In time I turned away,
continued my journey.
The smell of mud and water grew stronger,
the air damper, the closer I came to the boating lake shore,
till they were there, finally,
what I had come for,
some of them resting,
others web footing over wet roots and stones,
the ducks I had come to feed, a pleasure not a chore.
It was freedom, release from routine,
to throw bits of bread to them, chunks of my buns.
I smiled to watch them
squabble and quack over every crumb.
And when my white paper bag was empty,
I sat on a bench, under a tree.
Felt light, at peace, for it was done.
The ducks had come, eaten my buns to the last crumb.
I stood to go, stroll away.
They quacked and waddled after me.
Maybe I will sit there one summer
when my hair is grey and my legs are numb,
and smile on the memory of when I was younger
and I spent an afternoon feeding ducks in the park.
If I had nothing much else to do,
and blew loud on a kazoo,
I could almost sound like you,
ducks stalking rudely after me.
Where did you learn to be heartless?
Who taught you to be cold?
Cry to drain the darkness from your eyes,
try and haul back what you have sold.
I say to those who think and speak
from a negative root.
I prefer rough winds in an anorak
to stale air in a suit.
Cheerful times, things done for a lark,
like feeding ducks in the park.
Here is my rusted helmet,
this is my broken shield.
You may wonder how I survived it,
what happened on the field.
I believed the king was right,
the rebel leader wrong.
Out of the great battle we fought in,
the minstrel made a song.
I rest now in this chapel,
seems the true place to be.
Say a prayer and think of what happened,
if anyone is free.
It ever was a tangle,
it ever was a mess.
The doctor was right about the wound,
the pain grows less and less.
I loved the woods in summer,
I loved the stars at night.
I was moved by fine words on the page.
Wish I knew which were right.
Now read the final pages
that will complete my tale.
Though mist and shadow lies on my quest,
I know I did not fail.
The Wreck of the Royal Iris
Alas, the Royal Iris, the old ferry boat’s gone.
A seagull’s cry shears the sky.
Something to sadden a sailor
or anyone, like me, who remembers a time long gone by.
They left it to rot, down south,
on the banks of the Thames,
to lean to one side, a relic
Charles Dickens might have lifted his pen
to take as one of his chance inspirations
for some descriptive work,
maybe in Great Expectations.
The wreck of the Royal Iris,
they left to shadow and dust,
ink black, burnt brown bread,
dark orange yellow rust
that ate its engine and crust.
Cold air they let bend back its hull,
allowed jagged edged holes to appear,
left its ropes to mould with no strength to pull.
I studied its newspaper photograph,
smiled in my mind,
to remember a time, simpler, more kind.
When I was a schoolboy and I stood on the shore,
among seaweed and shells,
and I watched the Royal Iris go,
cut its way through the grey Irish Sea,
out from Liverpool Bay.
Not one of the big ships, not that impressive to see,
but magical, lit up with lights,
as the sun dipped in the west,
and I had all my life before me.
In ways, that time was the best.
I strayed into long ago,
somewhere in the east,
yes, the Orient.
Time moved slow,
like the wings of a cormorant.
I made my way to a stall
in a market square,
shiny stones drew me there.
The old jeweller said:
“Did you know,
this earth sits on a sapphire,
and by its glow the sky is blue?”
I told him of that I was unaware,
but what he said made sense of all of it.
Who I once was I never knew.
To where I was, I had lost the clue.
Among these turning wheels,
the truth we strain to know.
The cold chain we grasp,
to fly or fall when we let go.
There was I,
a sailor not long stepped ashore.
A strange harbour to explore,
haven for ships with scarlet sails.
I stayed in an inn,
slept without dream.
When I woke,
I felt I had the key to a paradise.
These oceans I would voyage,
accept what was shown to me,
till I knew I had found
what I was looking for,
that which my eyes alone would ever see.