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New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

Highly Commended Poet – Chris Hardy

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EACH SUMMER

Forty pounds for the Summer.
Jed took the big window out
and banged a frame and casement
into the hole like a missing tooth
he’d made in the white wall.

We fitted a new window to leave it open
and let everything that was out there,
moths, cats, ants, beetles, rain,
come in, if it wanted to.

And gourds of scented air
that emptied in the rooms,
filling the house with
sleeping fields and hedgerows.

Each morning a nest of ash
shivered in the grate as a breeze
like water round our feet found its way
from the window to the chimney.

Then we mended brickwork,
roof and doors but kept the falling barn
of dried out planks wavering upright
in the wind and dust,
where swallows lived each Summer.

 

BANQUET

Clouds of scented dust drop
from the iron-wood tiles of the club.
A buffet of chicken, egg, potato curry,
rice, chopped banana, coconut,
diced chilli.

My father at the bar,
holding a tin of fifty
Navy Cut.
My mother by the window,
a hand of bridge,
iced Gin-and-It.

In the pool we display.
You wrestle him while she
hands off her rival,
rides your neck,
long deafening legs
clutch your ears.

We cannot eat or drink,
lying on the bank’s
sharp grass,
simmering with
centipedes and ants.

The tree snake looped
in the bougainvillea
is unafraid of us,
who like her
firm green coils,
her soft black fork.

 

PROFESSIONAL

After the interview,
where I could see the sky
behind my questioner’s
tired face,

I was appointed,
despite my jacket
that smelled
of the sausage factory.

A degree was all
that was required
to teach the children
of the Harrow Road.

The Head was furious
when I walked in at 11 am
sure I wouldn’t have to work
on day one.

On the way upstairs
I saw a man throwing kids
back through a door
as they ran out.

It seemed a sort of game
they’d agreed to play.
Later he told me
he was moving to Bodmin.

In the classroom
the girls sat patiently
in the front row
while I grabbed the ball

to stop a match being played
behind the desks.
With a piece of chalk
I wrote the date

on the board and said
write that down.
They did.
We began our education.

 

GIBLET

A sparrow hawk
has pinned a starling
on its back, wings spread
on my soft lawn.

The starling is alive
and strains its head
to watch the hawk
tear out feathers,

skin, heart and lungs
on a string.
I do not interfere.
We are superior to a hawk.

When we do the same
we know what we are doing.

 

A STOP ON THE WAY

Instead of asking,
This one or the next?
turn into a lane
where signposts promise
quiet hamlets
settled in fields.

One offers ‘St Stephen’s Church’,
a Victorian tower on older walls,
and a pew labelled
‘In memory of Lucy,
who loved this place’.

Summer heat but after rain
the grass and trees welcome it.
We sit awhile, long enough,
then drive back to the highway
that heads west over the hill,

the highest point round here.
Beyond it farms, rivers,
lanes and crossroads,
all the way to the coast
where we must go
together.

 

DEFEAT

French coins showered from a train
stopped on the bridge over Latchmere road.
Tired soldiers emptying their pockets
of change, lightening the load.

Their pale, fag-hanging faces
grinned down at us scrabbling after
silver bouncing in the gutter,
which we could not count or use.

The brambles in the lane are
heavy with fruit this year.
Black and sweet from Summer rain,
and before that heat. Weather
to make the grass grow quick
so it must be cut, and cut again.

 

HOLDING THE LINE

Her father was a sailor
who sought the shortest route.

Her seamstress mother
sewed a neat straight hem.

She fitted gyroscopes that made
torpedoes run a fast white line

and raised two kids
when that was done.

*

She knows time
to the minute.

When to rise,
when to eat,

when to go out.
If the gardener

is late
she is afraid.

The clock goes quiet
each afternoon.

She watches light
in the tree outside,

that as it fades
alerts the ticking

in each room to start
the habits of the night –

wash, dress, wine,
a narrow bed.

*

She calls to say
Don’t feel you have to visit

this old woman.
Her diary plans her fate,

she cannot read
her ticked off past

and walks quickly to
her next appointment.

 

A MATTER OF COURSE

Look what life has done,
rounded our edges,
coloured in our black and white,
bowed our shoulders,
loosened our clothes.

What was anticipated
has run through our hands.
I caught some of it,
even the sun and sky today
are my portion.

The rest I was afraid of
or couldn’t grip,
decisions lying on the mat
before the door was opened,
before the question was asked.

Sometimes I go back,
see my sandaled feet
in the shallows,
and when I turn
folded green hills,

a road winding up
between them,
which goes to places
I cannot name
but know.

 

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