as the monitor ﬂares green with your laboured breathing
wondering where it’s all going to end –
my grandmother’s grief for her lost father
she carried all her life like a fever in her blood
which shook her and shook her
as the cities are shaken on the news each evening.
Thirteen years since pneumonia hushed her to sleep
only three since they put your seconds-old mouth to my breast
and turned me into a mother, hoping
against hope that love would grant you immunity.
I can still feel the weight of your whole body
as I watch the lights going out house by house
marking something none of us can remember
but which, like the darkness, is being passed on.
(after the photographs of Frances Kearney)
When I tell you Run along now, be careful
shrug off my words
like the coat you won’t wear to humour me.
As to the deaths you might catch while you’re gone –
heaps of collapsible aggregate,
deep pools, sluice gates, weirs,
barbed wire tipped with tetanus,
the boy, damaged and aimless,
with eyes the colour of nightshade –
pay no heed to them.
Read for yourself
the runes of acorn and rainwater,
the scrolls of young fern,
out of range
of all other texts and messages.
And when you return hours later,
self-seeded, hair in rats’ tails,
don’t tell me a thing,
even if I’ve the gall to press you.
That silence between us –
that’s where you must grow,
the ﬁeld where the sun
opens and closes its empty pages,
where time runs away with you.
In your only photograph
your feet are firmly planted
in their regulation issue
their blanched tenderness hidden
like something grown underground.
They say some men
walked towards the enemy lines
in a slow-motion trance,
their minds half-shot,
turning the collars of their greatcoats up
as if the bullets were a kind of rain.
Since then you’ve walked the length of a century
the way a newborn mother,
otherworldly after a sleepless night,
takes each creaking stair –
barefoot and lightly
through the rice-paper quiet.
I want you to come closer
like the deer that graced my garden one summer
advancing cautiously along the path
its hide flickering in the noonday heat
to almost within reach of my touch.
But you’re shy, being dead,
not easily glimpsed or lured
no matter how still I keep, how watchful –
the moon of milk set out on the lawn each evening
still full at dawn.
Perhaps you appear when we’re not looking –
bumping softly all night against the lit glass,
or as thistles in the poorer fields
charming wings and gold out of the air.
I know what my daughter’s carrying in her cupped palms
by the way she crosses the lawn towards me
as if it might still be broken or spilt
as if I’ll know what to do with it.
I dig a small hole at the back of the flowerbed
and she watches closely as I bury her faith
in me to mend anything, while the apple blossom
eddies down like a ripped-up picture.
When I was little you brought me
not your father, but his loss – slack and warm
in your hands as a freshly shot rabbit.
We laid it across our laps and stroked it together.
1 | Latch
16 Night Lights
18 At the Checkout
21 In the Wars
22 Early Years
22 1 Winter
22 2 Spring
23 3 Summer
24 4 Autumn
27 The Wave
31 Hot House
33 Observer’s Book
34 Running Wild
2 | Field
38 Private 2663
40 Lines of Desire
41 Homo Antecessor
42 Light House
43 No Man’s
45 1 Planting
46 2 Strimming
46 3 Scaring
47 4 Harvesting
47 5 Beating
48 6 Picking
50 Ovillers, 1919
52 A True and Perfect Inventory
54 Naming a Star
57 At the Thiepval Memorial
3 | Restoration
71 The Doll
72 The Casualty Book
77 I hope it wasn’t
79 In the Night Garden
‘Esther Morgan has achieved a spare, resonant poetry which aches for, and often discovers, instances of transcendence and transfiguration. These are moments of grace in an ordinary world... Often Morgan's is a fruitful world where presences can be felt in absences, like sunlight in a dusty guest room, but it's also a world of grave uncertainty... These are quiet poems, yet the perceptions can be breathtaking in their beauty and accuracy... Grace allows for still spaces in our lives, for a sense of the sacred that might visit us even... Grace is full of grace in more than one sense – Esther Morgan's third collection is elegant and profound.’ – Moniza Alvi & Michael Symmons Roberts, PBS Bulletin
‘Poems of outstanding beauty and a decidedly celebratory wisdom that takes nothing for granted. This is poetry of the first order by a poet who really knows how to sing’ – John Burnside
‘Esther Morgan’s poems are full of hints and mysteries. They dance on sensuous feet while keeping a troubled eye on the music that keeps them dancing. But there are joys here as well as anxieties, and it is the two that amplify each other into such clear, poignant and resonant shapes’ – George Szirtes
‘Themes of erasure, absence and isolation are explored in a voice so ingenuous, its language and syntax so plain, that it takes a while to notice quite how disturbing the poetry is' – Stephen Knight, TLS
‘Morgan works like an archaeologist, creating imagined histories of lives by uncovering what was previously hidden’ – Robyn Bolam, Magma
‘Esther Morgan’s poetry is wonderfully elegant, poignant and wise’ – Antony Dunn, Poetry London
BLOODAXE BOOKS LTD Registered Office: Eastburn, South Park, Hexham, Northumberland NE46 1BS, UK Registered Number 1656254 England VAT No 414 4062 89