Breaking the fast
When I am alone, toast is ceremony.
I cut bread thick, (cooking is art),
discover butter, for my cracked skin.
Toast must be hot, butter is chill.
I slide both in the microwave’s loud glow,
wait for the chime, heap strawberries.
But I must eat it where I am,
perfect, alone. Love’s toast is burned,
brought cold upstairs, with the wrong jam.
Though I read ‘Notes on Stars’,
yet I always forget
the planet, or comet,
until my blank noon.
But our milkman saved me.
I saw on the dawn’s step
the milk, then high Venus,
by her crescent moon.
They were a white iris,
as crisp as an eyelash,
a slim curve, a great blaze,
taut blue that too soon
is cars, is dulled daylight.
Look quick, you may catch them,
old Venus, though faded,
her smudged crescent moon.
The gamekeeper's wife
The village noted clean washing.
Where did the keeper go?
Under the hawthorns hung his gibbet,
strands of wire to show
shot crows, dulled magpies, squirrels’ plumes.
Torn weasels danced below.
When we took the gamekeeper's house,
I learned he had a wife.
I knew women named for flowers.
Rose, Daisy, no man’s wife,
kept house for brothers, grim with pills
trudged past me, shut from life.
Her house lay half a mile from lights,
I never saw her face.
The cobwebs held a reeking soot.
They heated the whole place
with paraffin. We tried it once,
each flame a fierce blue taste.
Did the house draughts consume us?
Books cracked me, then instead
I found a boy. Father, retired,
took briefly to his bed.
My mother read there, undisturbed.
Wisely, my sister said
they bought a bungalow. No well
in grass breathed apples’ rot.
No rose from an old garden turned
white petals apricot,
spared by the keeper’s childless wife
one warm hour, while he shot.
‘Good Muses keep hands clean!’
‘Do they?’ she frowns,
sets down the stable fork,
picks up the baby,
welds in the wartime factory
until the siren wails,
notices, in silence,
the whiteness of my nails.
He stayed in Crete. The family
beckoned him up, one day, to see
a small back room, a curtained niche.
A photograph? A daughter dead?
Or slubbed gold heaven, the icon’s head?
Cloth dragged the boards with its rough swish.
They held their ground. They stood in rows,
unlaced, like prisoners’, heels to toes,
eight pairs of paratroopers’ boots.
One was bashed by an olive tree,
one bent by rock. How carefully
they had been eased from each warm foot.
One listener asked, ‘Were they for spares?’
‘No,’ he said firmly. They stood there
polished in ranks. It was a shrine.
The deaths that were. The deaths to come-
By sea’s first sigh, the thyme-bees hum.
Eight pairs of boots march down the line.