Living on Dreams
Beyond the sitting boulder he stoops
aching into the storm-flushed beck,
picking out bits of quartz for luck –
giants’ teeth sheered in battle.
She hears the dogs scratting in the yard,
boot scrape at the kitchen door – Sam
wrapped in a scarf of moss and bracken
rubbing and whistling into cracked hands
his face the colour of Eden valley stone.
Over steaming porridge, dogs tangled
at his feet breathing like dragons,
he bursts to tell her how, in one night
turf pocketed all the hazel nuts,
how buzzards above hedges of mist cried
like feral cats, how rowans dripped
blood beads to a handful of fieldfare,
how ash and haws have risen like Birnam Wood –
outnumbered gorse, how he’ll set to in Spring
fix gutters, mend wall gaps.
In learned silence she takes his jacket,
shakes out the creased year,
smell of swollen river, spoor, seeds, thorns,
and hangs it back on the door
I’m not thinking
about walking along the book-lined hall,
holding the warm bakelite handle,
opening the door to her bedroom
aged in Lily of the Valley.
Not thinking about taking seven steps
across dark-glossed boards to draw back curtains,
gaze at herons statued to the river, nuthatches
nesting in a box grown high
and mossed in the apple tree
and a stoat scurrying his route across the lawn
that is no longer there, the jay returning
frost after frost to a bare table, giddy dogs racing
through the remains of a gate lost in woods
where I wanted picnics and games to last.
And through the slower notes
playing out this evening’s sunlight
that will settle a while in the same oak branches,
burn the same stretch of water to gold
before the clear press of a dancing moon,
I’m trying not to sink below cold ground
where snowdrops are nudging towards the surface,
towards the sound of a mother
calling children in from a winter garden
and without thinking, turning round.
Where the fold breaks your face from head to chin
sea swells to a rocky shore below Connemara.
A pink skirt drips thrift and shells listening
to skylarks above a deep porch
where you stand arms wide as a sail
hugging me in to search
for tobacco-thick jumpers, letters unsent, tea cold
and staining the kitchen table.
This is not just a photograph
my father’s smile, me running to the swing
of big bones honed by the bay, his eyes
wise as harvest moons pitched in waves –
summers rolling out rolling back
on the mantelpiece – filling a gap.
He’d signed in pencil on the inside sleeve
in a stained book I rescued from a damp box.
Origins of Some Naval Terms –
an account of ranks, uniforms,
pay and punishment at sea.
I sunk my nose into pale amber pages
everything beginning with T,
tonnage, touch-and-go, to try
and he did but never quite managed
to heave to in Mum’s new world
after hauling in the drowned
off Crete night after greedy night.
Cast onto civvy street, he drifted –
scraped along on West End bit-parts
and snifters in dreary afternoons.
I was Dad’s favourite during his hopeful visits home.
Curled into his loose jumper
smelling of lanolin and Navy Cut,
I held his warm salt-cracked hands
and ate his perfectly fried eggs.
One Saturday evening he took me for a treat;
happy with chips and Vimto on the bench
outside the Golden Rule, I waited and waited
until he emerged – pitched against the glass door skin-wrecked,
strange hands on the wet street.
Notes in Lemon Juice
We didn’t say I love you then out loud
inside the turkey shed opposite the hotel.
Too scared to tell
we sneaked under the stone arch
and crawled along the inky tunnel
scraping our hands and knees
to reach the straw-filled hovel, dragging candles,
paper stolen from Dad’s desk, and lemon juice.
The book said how to write the thoughts
that gathered and smouldered in our pillows
the winter through – feelings we couldn’t make visible.
We learned to stroke out letters blind and shaking
one by one. Outside slate roofs flamed,
that July when rain forgot to rain.
Bio February 2021
Kerry Darbishire lives on a Cumbrian fellside. Since her mentorship with poet in residence Judy Brown at the Wordsworth Trust in 2013, her poems have appeared in poetry magazines and anthologies including Artemis, Obsessed with Pipework,
Birmingham Journal, The Dawntreader, Interpreter’s House, Ink Sweat & Tears, Mslexia, Fanfare, Ver Poets, Ware Poets, Forward, The Alchemy Spoon, Finished Creatures, The Unpredicted Spring. She has won and been highly commended in competitions including: Aurora Writing East Midlands, Canterbury, Plough Prize, Settle, The Grey Hen, Mslexia, The Charles Causley, Norman Nicholson Society,
Borderlines, Folklore. Kerry has two collections: A Lift of Wings and Distance Sweet on my Tongue published by Indigo Dreams and the story of her mother, ‘Kay’s Ark’ published in 2016 by Handstand Press. She is a member of the Brewery Poets, Dove Cottage and Write on the Farm. Her new and third collection jointly won the
Hedgehog Press Full Fat Collection prize, and will be published in 2022.
Notes on above poems:
1. Living on Dreams – Published in own collection: Distance Sweet on my Tongue. Indigo Dreams.
2. Without Thinking – Published in own collection: Distance Sweet on my Tongue. Indigo Dreams.
3. Old Photo – Published in own collection: Distance Sweet on my Tongue. Indigo Dreams Publishing.
4. Wasted – Published in own collection: A Lift of Wings. Indigo Dreams Publishing.
5. Notes in Lemon Juice – Published in own collection: Distance Sweet on my Tongue. Indigo Dreams.
featured photo by Jack B (Unsplash)