He would not chase the plover limping over stubble.
He was my father who brought in wood and lit
the hissing lamp. And he would sit, quiet
as moor before the fire. She drew him
slowly out of silence. She had a coat
made from a blanket and wore boys’ shoes.
She was small and had red hands, firm-boned,
and her hair was greying. The house was stone
and slate. It was her house, his home,
and their family, and they quarrelled often.
She churned butter, baked, and scrubbed floors,
and for forty years he laboured the raw earth
and rough weather. In winter we made mats
from rags with pegs. We guarded ourselves
and were close. We were poor and poorer banking
each pound saved. Each year passed slowly.
Now he lives in the glass world of his shop,
and time is grudged. Ham and tinned meat
and vegetables are his breathing day.
He works harder and is unhappy. She too
stoops through the labouring year, is greyer
and grumbles. Nothing gets made any more
but money that cannot be made. Nothing
means happiness. The light comes down wires,
water through tubes. All is expensive, paid.
Silence is gone from their lives, the city
has taken that poised energy. Violence
is articulate. The deliberate motion is gone
and he moves with pain through time that is work
that is cash. He will not notice the crashed
gull fallen in the storm, the grabbing sparrows.
She cannot ease him into speech, or be content
before the broody fire. She is in fashion now.
But seasons pass them without touching.
They will not feel the winter when it comes.
a long flag
striped once by the river,
wandering blue star
of the heron.
In the light’s early silence
the farmers crank the old box Ford
full of chickens. The cock croaks,
he has counted his wives,
some are missing,
plucked and stiffening
under the market awning. Nothing else
but a pheasant’s stuttering,
a distant bell sound. I see
in the starry river
the keel mark.
Tightened into the bank’s
wooded side under the steep
hill’s stone shadow
a Viking boat
is still vanishing.
Playing field observations
In the light before rain
counting the hard little
yellows of the dayseyes I went
down the sea-opened valley –
a neat country it’s said
of parkland and flood plain
squared like the blind man’s garden
between the waters.
Sang goodbye to the elms,
glimpsed by the canal
blue smokey lift of a heron,
accepting my birthday.
How the shadows move in
at such news and are strange
in the light. This feather
left for his marker my brother
the crow had dropped by the goalpost
seems a dead man’s finger
keeping his page
in the unfinished biography.
From a recording made at Ken Smith's home in London (on 29 July 1998) drawing on poems from both The Poet Reclining and Shed originally released on cassette on The Poetry Quartets 3 (Bloodaxe Books/The British Council, 1998). See page for Shed for the other poems.
Five poems by Ken Smith: 'Being the third song of Urias', 'My father with two knives', 'My father fading out', 'Years go by', 'The Donegal Liar' (from the Bloodaxe collections The Poet Reclining and Shed). First transmission: BBC Radio 3, 4 August 2002.
BLOODAXE BOOKS LTD Registered Office: Eastburn, South Park, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1BS, UK Registered Number 1656254 England VAT No 414 4062 89