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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