|Alison Brackenbury was born in 1953. Her new collection
of poems, Bricks and Ballads, will be published by
Carcanet in September 2004. New poems can be seen at her website:
Have you heard?
The clouds fold soft and grey.
They hide the sun's white face.
More rain sweeps on its way
The hills' heat fades in haze.
Can I recall her face,
The wild girl from the farm
Who drank unclouded wine
Who tugged whole tides of harm
Two children born and wrecked
Two marriages cast by.
I watched her walk this grass
Beneath June's empty sky
Lift her last child high
In her long yellow dress
Hair loose, bare shoulders sly
Her voice one slow caress.
If heartsease eyed the wheat
I do not think she cared,
If a wing's breath from feet
A lark spun up and soared.
She boasted, plotted, flirted.
But growing grey came hard,
More drink hung sour on breath
Green bottles heaped the yard.
Liver failure? She will die.
Down wet fields she claimed to own
The roe deer flashes by,
Yellow tail a dandelion.
Lost at home, in coffee
I splash Irish Cream. I stare
As its clouds unfold as softly
As the sunlight in her hair.
The story of Sigurd
"Tell me again, more slowly.
I did not understand."
"The young king, fresh from marriage,
Rode to a neighbour's land.
He changed shape with the other
Yet kept his own clear mind."
"But why?" "They thought (as you may)
To take what they could find.
There was a girl - now listen -
As bright, as fierce as air.
He courted her in his friend's shape,
His eyes looked through her there.
She stretched out her strong hand to him
But when he bedded her
He laid a sword with damasked edge
Between them, sharp and bare."
"So did they reach across the blade
To breast or thigh's curve?" "No.
Eight days they spent together,
Eight deep nights, sleeping so.
When they rode from her country
The false mind took the true,
A husband with familiar face
But not the man she knew."
"How can this end?" "Too quickly:
She plotted, so he died.
She held no thought for his kind wife
Who huddled, small, and cried.
She left her sleeping husband
Whose bed sank soft and wide
Stabbed her heart with the king's sword,
Then lay down by his side."
"This is an old, bad story
Whose truth cannot be known,
A knot now pulled too tightly,
The hand which tied it gone.
How can I understand it
Whose pain is not my own?"
"The blade you lay beneath your sheets
Will cut you to the bone."
(Included in "The Story of Sigurd", a fine press limited edition from The
Gruffyground Press, 2002.)
A fuel blockade
This is the war I thought would come
When you live on the rabbit the cat brought home
When you count the biscuits on the shelf
Two for the child and one for yourself.
The last war's tales are a muddled shout.
Today's news is simple. The petrol ran out.
And next, the milk? Is it right to buy
Two packs of cream crackers? The cars creep by
Like cautious animals, hunted, alone.
No customers reach us. Quiet as stones
We read in our workshop, not happy, not sad.
Men fight at the pumps, quite briefly, turned mad.
So is the air cleaner? Are more people kind?
Are we bored or released? We are slower. We find
Small jobs at home. Is there bread left? We fret.
The glittering road lifts away in my head.
The country is lost. We are trapped in the town.
No, the blockade is over. Barriers down
I taste smoke on the air; but no longer poor,
Sleep all night in peace. I wake up to the war.