Shirley Bell is a widely published and anthologised poet as well as an experienced workshop tutor and writer-in-residence. Her poetry is archived in the Special Collection in the University of Lincoln’s Library and as a result, she has collected together all her published poetry from 1982 to early 2016 in her book, Dark is a Way and Light is a Place.
She has been writing poetry since the 1980s, and has read widely all over the country, including appearing at London’s South Bank Centre and the Arvon Centres. She has been a Literature Consultant for Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts and edited their magazine, Proof.
Her poetry has appeared in many magazines, and anthologies including Faber and Faber’s Poetry Introduction 6, Six the Versewagon Poetry Manual and Anvil New Poets, which have featured large selections of her work. The Wide Skirt also published her pamphlet Hanging Windows on the Dark.
Tell it to the bees.
The garden hums. Bees guzzle in the throats
of the lush flowers and butterflies clot the blossoms.
The simple flowers are full of nectar. Sometimes
the hives are dressed in mourning. Someone has
rapped softly and told it to the bees. Their hive servant
who managed their perfect world has gone.
As the coffin settles in its grave so gentle hands
lift and set down the colony with its waxen cells
like catacombs. And reverently lay out their share of
funeral meats and drinks at the entrance where the bees
dance their maps; carry the pollen in their baskets
to feed the hive in their secret waxen chambers.
Cells dripping with nectar metamorphosing into honey:
that gold that gives the gift of prophecy. Telling the bees.
But there is a stutter in the rituals. Threats grow like
the larvae in those perfect hexagons. The doubled flowers
flounce their skirts. Nectarless. The bees in their quietened hive
are alive instead with Varroa mites, crawling in their plush.
And all the words of prophecy roll on the tongue.
Foul Brood and Nosema,
Colony Collapse and neonicotinoids.
Tell it to the bees.
The Lady Chapel and the Virgin
You have been my harbour.
Safe as stone, quiet
as the grave slabs beneath
my feet. I have wept here
for my damaged vessels;
filled them with hope
and tears. Then
everything was inundated.
The sea spilled itself
and filled you up. Kneelers
bobbed along the aisles.
Today there is no altar
in the Lady Chapel, it is
flotsam, and two gilded angels
are sulking back to back.
But it has been rinsed clean.
And she is still standing,
with a candle at her feet.
Her face is as mild as milk
and her infant’s face is
carved with light.
Full cold moon on Christmas Eve
It’s a full moon on Christmas Eve. It hangs above
the blackness of the quiet rooftops, the frantic scribble
of bare branches and the Christmas lights that climb
the walls, surround the window panes, and light the trees
inside, illuminating the waiting packages intermittently.
Its frosted face is pocked with the impact
of all those meteors and the tiny tracks of adventurers,
I suppose. I don’t recall seeing this before so I hesitate
on the step, my key in the door, my son’s dogs
howling with their broken loneliness. I, too, am lonely tonight.
But my solitude is as intermittent as those lights and
this moon. I look it up. It’s called the “full cold moon”, for December.
But it last appeared on Christmas Eve in 1977 and won’t come
again until 2034. It’s special then. I think of stockings, presents
and the house, full of family I’m ashamed I didn’t always want to see.
This year I’m dodging Christmas. So all the ads are strangely
unimportant, as are the shoppers, frantic in Tesco.
And like the moon, I’m on the outside, looking in. Somewhere,
someone is going to be born tonight and will lie, fists in mouth, in
the arms of its tired mother. Like any other dying god.
Dr. White, last time I came you were counting on your
fingers. “Four and twenty blackbirds”, you said, “baked
in a pie” that just you could see. “You are only as old
as the woman you feel.” No-one answered. “And that’s a joke,”
you told us, sadly, but no-one got it.
Today you are rocking and reciting. It is poetry.
My mother says, “Hello,” and so does Dr. White.
“Hello, hello. Hello. Go so, go low, go slow. NO!”
And, “Where? there?” “Would you? Should you? Would you?”
Then, “Go!” says Dr. White again and I’m wishing that I could.
But I have only been here for twenty minutes. A carriage clock,
its mechanism slow as treacle, turns to and fro, sealed in its case.
A DVD of Pearl Harbour is cycling through the start page. “Play”
it instructs us. Or “Pick a Scene.” Every now and then a plane flies
across the screen. Dr. White is shouting, “NO, NO” he says.
He is surrounded by etiolated women, sitting in special chairs.
Their necks are stretching towards whatever light remains.
“Shut up” they say, often, severally, but Dr. White just goes on
and on, rocking and chanting his dreadful incantations.
” Shall I hit him with my book?” my Mother says, and laughs.
Now I say “NO, NO” to her, and I sound like Doctor White.
Violet tells me what a wonderful doctor he was. I look
at his long, clever fingers and his wits are pouring through them,
and joining the other memories lost from all these fogged heads.
I can hear him when I leave. “Where? he is saying. “Where?”
Several Tests of Dementia Severity*
100 and all is clear and transparent
I know my name
93 my name is isador browne ansell muth matio finnerty
an artificial construct legion or noigel even
86 this is a watch and this is a pencil
with the pencil I draw a watch face
79 it is the 26th November 2012 it is 11.15 am
on a fine spring day in 2012 in autumn
72 I have told you this
no ifs ands or buts
65 I read close your eyes and
I close my eyes ‘No read it’
59 no 58 ‘What is your name?’ I write what is your name
but you will not answer
51 and is a table like an orange like a dog
I live in this dlrow which is world backwards
44 and 37 say the objects
37 or 44 did I pass
you are you you cannot pass or fail
30 11 30 I say the world is creeping away
it is the dlrow now
23 is a banana like a bookcase and a horse
what is your name what is my name
23 I close my eyes
I do not want to read
23 no buts or ands or ifs
it is 16.15 on a dark day in November or 15.1
16 /9 in 2012 which I write with my pencil
while consulting my watch
2 I draw on my watch with my licnep
0 I have no nam