Eldershaw was published by Black Pepper in January 2013.

The following three poems from the book are displayed on this page:

  • Eldershaw — 1961 excerpt
  • The Fifth Element — April 1945
  • Murray Dreaming

Eldershaw

1961 excerpt

Her throat caught suddenly midsyllable.
Martin had unexpectedly arrived
At the flat she was now living in — alone,
As it transpired, since the affair with Lex,
For all of the transfigurative promise
It led her on, or off, with (there was madness),
Had self-combusted, swiftly, horribly.
“My elf,” he’d written after their first night,
When she was still with Martin, in such terms
Of tenderness and rapture she had not
Expected from a union man. “I’ll never
Be free again, you know, of your bewitchment.”
How soon until the palm across her jaw
That knocked her down, the last ten-shilling note
Snatched from her purse so he would not be shamed
By being penniless to pay his round?
And then there was the night, a Saturday
Before it all went bad, and they had on
Only their dressing gowns, when at the door
The knock came which they guessed the meaning of.
Now Martin had ostensibly come round
For rational discussion, to sort out
The practicalities that they were faced with,
But this was just a front, or, at any rate,
Her trust in him was so annihilated
That she suspected his most commonplace
And phatic utterance concealed some plan
To catch her up in further toils of blame.
His merest word was like a fork to probe
The raw wound of her spirit. Soon enough
The taunts and accusations were unloosed
Out of the gashes of their mouths. Deceit,
Adultery, unfitness as a mother,
He spat at her. And she threw back at him
His absolute hypocrisy, his boys,
And Wil. Where was the probity in that?
When was the final hour that he had shown
A vestige of concern, don’t mention love,
For their once living marriage? She was about
To lacerate him for his late revealed
Determination to claim custody
And cut her out of her most modest share
In Eldershaw, when something snagged her throat —
The biscuits she’d put out, no doubt — and blocked
Intake of breath. She gasped and hawked for air,
A shocking sound, rasping and stertorous,
As though it were another’s (later on
She’d ponder that with interest). She looked
For Martin desperately to thump her back
And help dislodge whatever fragment stuck
Deep in her windpipe, but he made no move.
He simply stood and watched. Perhaps it was
Delayed reaction, shock, and he would soon
Snap out of it and come to her assistance.
But no. She saw he’d not the least intention
Of doing anything. His gaze was fixed
And eager with a ravenous delight
For her prolonged distress and ultimate
Collapse. The same expression she recalled
In Wil’s abhorrent picture. Terrified,
She felt her bladder give and wetness flood
Her legs, as she stood hammering her spine
Against the architrave. Just as abruptly
As the attack had started, it was over.
Her thropple loosened and the breath swept in
In deep racked inspirations.

divider image

The Fifth Element

April 1945. Evan. Fire.

At some point in the flight, inevitably,
The Oxford would begin to sputter and stall,
No matter how precise were his instructions,
How clearly and methodically delivered,
How dire the consequences, should they not
Be followed faithfully. Up here in August,
The sky an excerpt from a pastoral
In watercolours, soft blue smudged with clouds,
And spread below, all stitched and hemmed with hedges,
And here and there the crocheted clumps of woodland,
Those meadows of unrealistic green,
So concentrated a viridian
You’d think that it would wash out in the rain
Like dye and stain the footpaths — floating here,
You wouldn’t know there was a war at all,
Not, certainly, a war that you were in
And might well die of, not so far away.
Amazing, with a little altitude,
How far his vision went — the width of England
All the way from the Wash to the Bristol Channel.
Too bad he could see across but not ahead.
And now the nose had dipped and down it went
In whining plummet, the white-faced trainee
In panic trying to regain control
Before that field, impossibly remote
From here, you’d think, reached up and through the glass.
Evan, who’d seen all this — oh, he’d lost count —
Dozens of times, was perfectly relaxed
And in good spirits. He secretly enjoyed
This part the best and usually turned,
As now, to tweak the trainee’s fear a notch,
And looked back ruefully with shaking head
At those exalted heights they’d fallen from,
Or down towards the cruel end that loomed
Below them. Judging to a nicety
The last safe moment, Evan snatched control
And pulled the plane up from its fatal dive.

That pastoral was over. In the war’s
Last months he does what until now he’s only
Been training others, and himself, to do.
What hand of destiny had chosen Bonn,
His favourite composer’s natal city,
For his first  bombing mission? “Thus fate knocks
At the door,” Beethoven said of those four chords.
He played that mighty music in his head.
Hannover.Magdeburg. Each time a friend
Or more would disappear. Wiesbaden. Mainz.
At first you steel yourself not to return.
Eventually, though you don’t lose your fear,
You step aside, you step outside of it
And move in some dimension parallel
To life and sense and self. Each one of them
Was both unique and interchangeable,
Each death was every death. Stuttgart. Mannheim.
How tempting to persuade yourself that you
Are destined to survive. Don’t think of it.
Then fearful March. Berlin. Bremen. Erfurt.
Berlin. Berlin. Berlin. Berlin. Berlin.
The cold cramped cockpit and the juddering frame,
The searchlights calling you to come to them,
Scouring the sky for you, the rising fire
That seems to climb as high, the abrupt thud
Of guns that shake you sideways, and the fighters
That, thank Christ, a Mosquito can outrun.
And down there Germany, a starlit sky
As though the Milky Way has come to earth.
Each chosen city angry as a star
Burning with energy enough to make
Whole worlds. He doesn’t know, or cannot now
Allow himself to think, as one more night,
Delivered of his sole four-thousand-pounder,
He flies away, how that pure stellar heat
Is melting lives from bone and boiling blood,
Volatilizing screams from a thousand mouths,
Setting the corpses of Vesuvius
In charred arthritic postures underneath
The buildings burst around them — if they’re not
Calcined from history — sucking outthe air
From cellars where the people cower, their lungs
Emptied and burnt out by the vanished breath.

divider image

Murray Dreaming

It’s not the sharks
Sliding mere inches from his upturned face
Through warps of water where the tunnel arcs
Transparent overhead,
Their lipless jaws clamped shut, extruding teeth,
Their eyes that stare at nothing, like the dead,
Staring at him; it’s not the eerie grace
Of rays he stood beneath,
Gaping at their entranced slow-motion chase

That is unending;
It’s not the ultra-auditory hum
Of ET cuttlefish superintending
The iridescent craft
Of their lit selves, as messages were sent,
Turning the sight of him they photographed
To code: it is not this that left him dumb
With schoolboy wonderment
Those hours he wandered the aquarium.

It is that room,
That room of Murray River they had walled
In glass and, deep within the shifting gloom
And subtle drifts of sky
That filtered down, it seemed, from the real day
Of trees and bird light many fathoms high,
The giant Murray cod that was installed
In stillness to delay
All that would pass. The boy stood there enthralled.

Out in the day
Again, he saw the famous streets expound
Their theories about speed, the cars obey,
Racing to catch the sun,
The loud fast-forward crowds, and thought it odd
That in the multitudes not everyone
Should understand as he did the profound
Profession of the cod,
That held time, motionless, unknown to sound.

In bed at night,
Are his eyes open or is this a dream?
The room is all dark water, ghosted light,
And midway to the ceiling
The great fish with its working fins and gills
Suspended, while before it glide the reeling
And see-through scenes of day, faintly agleam,
Until their passage stills
And merges with the deep unmoving stream.


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