Memories bursting like tears or waves
On some lonely Adriatic shore
Beating again and again
Threshings of green sea foam
Flecked like the marble Leonardo
Chipped for his ‘Moses’.
And my tears came as suddenly
In that dream, criss-crossed
With memory and desire.
Grandad Nicky had worked
Down the pits for a pittance
To bring up his six children
But nothing left over for more
Than a few nuts and an orange
For six Christmas stockings
So hopefully hung, weighted by pennies,
Stretched across the black mantle.
So Lawrence-like and yet not, grandad
A strict Methodist who read only a vast Bible
Hunched in his fireside chair insisting
On chapel three times on Sundays.
Only in retirement did joy and wisdom
Enter him, abandoning chapel he took
To the Friends or Quakers as they called them then
And somehow at seventy the inner light
Gruff but kind was my impression:
He would take me for walks
Along abandoned railways to the shutdown
Pipeworks where my three uncles
Worked their early manhood through.
It would have delighted Auden and perhaps
That was the bridge between us
Though we were of different generations
And by the time I began to write he had died.
All are gone except some few who may live still
But in their dotage. After my mother’s funeral
None wanted contact: I had been judged in my absence
And found wanting.
Durham was not my county,
Hardly my country, memories from childhood
Of Hunwick Village with its single cobbled street
Of squat stone cottages and paved yards
With earth closets and stacks of sawn logs
Perfuming the air with their sap
In a way only French poets could say
And that is why we have no word but clichй
‘Reflect’ or ‘make come alive’ or other earthbound
Anglicanisms; yet it is there in Valery Larbaud
‘J’ai senti pour la premiere fois toute la douceur de vivre’-
I experienced for the first time all the joy of living.
I quote of their plenitude to mock the absurdity
Of English poets who have no time for Francophiles
Better the ‘O altitudo’ of earlier generations –
Wallace Stevens’ “French and English
Are one language indivisible.”
That scent of sawdust, the milkcart the pony pulled
Each morning over the cobbles, the earthenware jug
I carried to be filled, ladle by shining ladle,
From the great churns and there were birds singing
In the still blue over the fields beyond the village
But because I was city-bred I could not name them.
I write to please myself: ‘Only other poets read poems’