Poetry from Margaret Royall


From a secret drawer Aunt Phoebe 

takes the unctuous lavender oil and

gaggles of barefoot children run amok through 

wildflower meadows, dry tongues of summer

yearning for sarsaparilla and calamine balm

to soothe the itch of post-war deprivation.

She hears the electric hum of bees in lupin throats, 

watches fingers pluck flowers from Nissen hut walls,

breathes in carbolic soap from the hard-scrubbed nails

of her dad, stripped off to wash in the kitchen sink,

drooling as her mum lifts milk-topped scones from 

the blackened side-oven – Mrs. Beaton’s, of course!

On elbow crooks and freckled wrists, she drips

the oil, cuts on her fingers stinging like vinegar. 

Too much, intoxicating, filling her pretty head

with sickly-sweet confusion – gasping for breath,

wheezing from the burn of excess, as though

the lavender fields might soon be pulped to dust … 

Those fields in France, crackling with spit-roast 

hedgehogs, where carefree gypsies danced, caroused

and jumped the devil’s cinders, their nostrils teased 

by a lavender sea, fused with basil and thyme.

An idyll in a bottle, nostalgia’s pangs released 

whenever Aunt Phoebe performs her daily toilette.

Her clockwork days marked out in rhythmic bursts,

obedient slave to social expectations.


Some days we were like birds, flying blind 

on winged prayers, in search of Nirvana.

Other days ballerinas, arms draped over the barre, 

legs extended in arabesques, practising our pas de deux.

Or hedge sparrows with pretensions of grandeur,

craving the pomp of power; shy peacocks 

in stolen plumage; Java green embroidered 

with iridescent blue, kissing feathers of coppered ochre,

strutting our stuff when the jazz band played. Shy girls

with sugar-brown eyes dancing round cheap handbags, 

peering coyly from beneath curtain fringes, minds

transported as the dissonant riffs reached a heady climax.

Our world seemed too beautiful, overwhelming, 

all sunlit uplands and naked beaches, where

summer came but never went. We were there,

clothed in excitement and eager to explore,

quick to respond when chance came calling, soar into

life’s blue yonder, outcome unknown, but worth the risk.

Some days now I recall that charming innocence …

childhood moments of heart-stopping magic; souvenirs

to dine out on in the dark days of pestilence to follow.


At the end of the lane, you stood still,

photographed wild roses

scented like forgiveness.

I thought of the French boudoir,

peonies spilling from the tipped vase,

red blood on milk-white sheets.

You laughed that curious bubbling laugh,

like milk boiling over on the stove,

afraid to expose your vulnerability.

I remember our time together in Rome

chasing barefoot through dusty piazzas,

dancing to the tune of illicit love.

You bought me an opal ring

from a tramp peddling impossible dreams, 

forgetting that opals bring tears.

Memories are all that survive now,

blurred, warped by the passing of time, 

cutting, pasting, and saving only the best bits.

Our paths ran parallel for a time

but we knew they would never converge…

Just postcard dreams now, no message, no address.


The gentle hours of morning rise from the

velvet cover of scant moon over water,

stillness so deep it fills the space like 

a hypnotic drug.

I rise, drowsy-headed and limp-limbed,

flinging wide the creaking casement window,

gazing down on the shifting shingle of a 

single moment, into an ever-evolving mosaic.

Silhouettes of jet-winged scavengers picking

at ochre-grey-green pebbles, triumphantly

tugging at skeleton fish bones washed up 

on last night’s high tide.

Brine-drenched breakwaters sag beneath

decades of memory, heavy as church lead.

Out to sea sailboats at anchor indulge in the 

bliss of a snatched Sunday morning forty winks.

Overhead the thinning cloudscape yawns,

casting off the stale sweat of night. A chilly

off-shore breeze suddenly catches my tangled locks as

the town steels itself for more undisclosed adventures.


She rocks rhythmically in her chair,

her eyes dulled by grief, skeletal fingers

clutching rosary beads, chanting mechanically

‘Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine’

Dementia gnaws away at her brain

as she clenches her fists, howls

like a caged wolf, searching

desperately for her beloved cello.

Then, as if by magic it appears, a Stradivari,

propped up by the Steinway grand, 

pleading to be picked up and played again,

its bow sprawled across the piano lid, 

resin box still unopened.

A sudden draft from the open window

breathes life back into the stale air.

Haunting sounds unlock iconic images,

transporting her to lovers’ beds, concert halls,

summer gardens and back-street alleys –

a heady rush of half-remembered liaisons, 

ecstasy and pain intertwined.

Final chords crescendo then trail away 

into the invading gloom of a winter twilight.

One last brave ‘da capo,’ then finally silence.

Her weary frame crumples in dismay.

She attempts to rise from her chair, pleads 

one last time: ‘Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine’ 

Margaret Royal

Margaret Royall was shortlisted for the Bangor Literary Journal and Crowvus poetry prizes 2018. Her first collection appeared in 2017 and her poems have featured in many journals and pamphlets, most recently The Blue Nib, Hedgehog Poetry Press. Her prose/poetry memoir of childhood, The Road to Cleethorpes Pier, was published with Crumps Barn Studio in May 2020.

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