The Birds Still Sing

When we miss someone, we feel the absence of their touch and see that they are not there in the stillness of our personal shadows, but it is when we notice the absence of their noise that the missing becomes hardest to bear. That is when we long for an absent-minded hum, a footfall, fingers running up the piano, a burp, a cough, a sneeze, or the clink of a spoon in a tea-cup – anything that tells us they’re home.

A cappella is all that is best about the human voice – its genre hopping versatility, its energy, the beauty of its harmonies and the ear popping acrobatics of its beat boxing – so much so, that when it is suddenly switched off, the world becomes a much quieter place. We had an a cappella group living with us for a week last summer – this is for them and the void they left behind.

*****

Do you know that the birds still sing?

And the grass soft mourns,

whispering

where youthful feet once fell?

Leaves, timid, dare to shift and shuffle,

in zephrous breeze,

hinting at lingering laughter lost.

While dew drop tears falling

splash

and my soul misses their noise.

*

Song filled our ears

for one summer week – long lived.

Now the wind

blows a crescendo of nothing

to collide with the notes in my head;

silent notes – the memories of music shared.

Shared music that will be shared again.

And joyously again.

But listen now,

for I had forgotten that the birds still sing.

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Remember me

Help for Heroes  http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/

This poem in its rambling fractured style is meant to reflect the mood and memories of a wounded soldier of unspecified age and unspecified war.

*****

I once asked a youthful love

to remember me.

To remember me

in every minute of her day.

I made a promise

to remember her.

Did she remember me?

*

Does anyone remember me?

Cry out “I remember!” if you do.

And in remembering, remember ‘us’ too.

*

I remember ‘us’ in my waking and my sleeping

I remember ‘us’ in every minute of my day.

That ‘us.’

That band of thrown together ‘us’ –

Our friendships forged in foreign land.

*

Across ground rent by battle our torn feet fell,

in foul mire slipping; seeking

Silence. And escape from hell.

Faith destroyed, we lost our way –

forgot to stop; forgot to pray.

Shivering, we lay, shattered –

shot through with seering pain.

And exhausted; slept,

beneath a heavy, choking rain.

“Get up! Push on!”

And weeping, up we lept,

To stagger forward, on and together on,

midst ricochetting, screaming death, poised

waiting to snatch our breath.

In dark gloom, fog  and shrieking noise

we ‘pressed on,’

til rupturing,

the earth exploding burst,

spitting sand shards into eyes,

and lips grit-crusted, mocking thirst.

*

I hear her voice, a melodic memory,  in my hollowed ears.

And whilst falling, with intense rush I sudden remember me,

in flickering flashbacks; cine

moments – tossed chaotic – adrift on life’s lost sea.

*

In a nighmare, black, I wake

my eyes on fire.

Somewhere, a muffled half-heard singing, that I strain to hear

with ears ruptured by the blast.

Somewhere, sweet scent blows through open window –

green fields, gorse and honeysuckle.

Somewhere, in dreams I walk, with red balloon.

Red.

Red dripping blood. Red haemorrhaging into sand.

Remember me! I cry! Remember! … re-mem–ber –

morphine’s gentle push down slumber slide.

*

Later, much much later, my fingers find

her last letter; paper crisp

against my heart.

Unread and unanswered.

Years on, unanswered still.

Did she remember me?

*

As  autumn’s curtain draws on summer

And birds soar in sweeping last farewell,

Like leaves that float and turning fall

let luck grasp at memories dropping through zephyr breeze

and let us pause to remember

my friends,

those whom I did not join,

the nation’s fallen bravest best.

Remember them, the dead.

But also remember me, the living –

remember me.

Touch the Earth

Touch the earth – sweet slumber; stirring.

Stroke sentinel shards of early green; rising

Skywards. Day’s onset, dusted white,

Melts to morning dew. And soon, vapours  ascend

As noon’s sun wakes from winter’s rest.

*

Hear the footfall – the gentle, imprinting footfall

As history walks slowly on; across the earth and on.

And passing; on.

Who are you,

– but a blade of grass,

Growing where your seed fell?

In barren sand or fertile soil,

Feel the earth beneath your hand.

Earth is reborn once a year – but

you  are not of her forever.

How many Springs will you be

or not be strong?

Can you better the lives of the eternal throng

Renewing this Spring, with this earth that made you?

*

All is life.

To live for.

All is death.

To live for.

Them, you, us.

*

In this we are one; together.

Could it be – we breathe; we hope; we live anew?

We feel the Spring.

And it’s watchful waking; waiting for our story.

Castellina

Castellina

This beautiful hill-top town in Tuscany is responsible for much of the magic that has inspired my writing – both this poem and The Twins of Orion (see under Writing: Children on this site). I also mention the incredible 442 – their bravery in Italy in 1944 recognised by more purple hearts than any other American regiment. Ever.

—–

There’s a picture on my wall; a post-card

Framed.

Of a narrow street

Where buildings rise and reach to kiss;

close but never close enough,

beneath a cloudless sky.

*

The colour picture focus falls, bright

on figures ambling by,

dreamlike browsing paintings hung on shaded wall.

They , unhurried

waft through colonade of potted flowers;

red.

*

Shadows cling

where cotta roofs

brow-heavy

darken

cream facades.

And  iron clad

mouths of glass gape wide

in uneven scatter  across uneven stone.

As ancient

windows, mottled black,

look out.

Dare we look in?

*

History sits at peace

on pavement; here

resting in the morning sun.

And watches the feet of a gentler time,

a happy time,

a time of trinket laden memories.

The lives of man

here settled.

Calm.

*

Calmly strolling through a

fortress.

Do they notice?

The strong, resilience of this

Mediaeval town

atop a Tuscan hill.

It

stands proud behind

Sangallo’s walls.

Impregnable.

Defiant.

Listen. Hear it’s quiet roar.

At its peak

the Rocca ramparts

rise,

its fortress fingers

thrusting

crenelations into Italian skies.

*

It stands

it stood

it witnessed

Seige and fight and battle.

Ancient sentinel of  the Chianti league

guardian of land, law and power.

And site of purple heart citations

as on a sunny July day in 1944

it heard

the distant rumble of approaching guns

it felt

the artillery of war

it bled

the blood of buildings smashed,

of lives destroyed

and  evil purged and fled,

as  ‘Going for broke’

the 442nd swept through Italy

in a wave of bloodied allied victory.

*

Now

pastel painted feet

in shoes

stand and shuffle,

where once dirty soles

flitted

across polished stone

polishing feet

polishing away history.

*

I shut my eyes

and breathe

and dream until I

smell the dust-dry air,

feel the warming sun,

open my ears

and children shout.

I hear their feet skid and run

and the thud of their ball

on that polished stone.

Autumn

When summer’s embers fall and fading, glow.

Between 1911 and 1915, Richard Strauss wrote an utterly incredible piece of music depicting an Alpine trek. It begins before dawn and ends at nightfall. Unable to write music, this my attempt at a tribute to a late summer, early autumn, sunset. I had ‘Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64’ as my personal ear-worm, as I linked these words together.

*****

On storm lashed slope,

my summer music trips.

And falters.

That vibrant rain, once bright,

slowly sifts

into  drizzle; a hazy pall.

A mellow melody murmers,

grows

and gently falls.

In notes that,

careful, step

from stave to stave. Then,

with late effort, climb.

*

Hold the sound.

Hold

and linger.

The distant timpani

hold. Feel the

high sighing strings

slowly sink

through breeze stirred dance

and float

disonant depths down,

to rest on a waiting earth .

*

Breathe.

Inhale the sonorous minor key.

Sleep through the colour change;

the rainbow painted red, as

Nature’s pallet, ageing, browns

in dusky desication. And leaves drop

as summer waves her last ‘Hurrah’

On mountain top, stand lightly;

with wide embrace hold the setting sun.

*

It slips.

It slips away.

Turn now to Autumn’s amber glow and

catch your totem shadow.

Shiver, as

dew heavy falls; in

sudden twilight chill

hear the music fade.

Remember

I wrote this – thanks to a flat white coffee and a dog walk – on the morning of National Poetry Day in the UK: Thursday 2nd October 2014. The theme was ‘Remember’. I meet a lot of elderly people through work and the quiet dignity of one couple earlier that week inspired this poem.

I remember electricity in our hands –

Sparks of fire twixt fingers twined –

With footfall fleet in ceilidh dance

as love locked us, laughing, in spinning reel.

My love, do you recall?

I remember winter’s kiss of snowflake, fall

On cheeks flushed hot neath veil

And your eyes with water filled

When my step rang on stone of stern kirk aisle.

My love, do you recall?

I remember a tight-lipped man, come home from war –

My trusting boy with wounded soul, weeping “Move on.”

“Move on!” you cried, til gentle tilling of the land and lowing of the beasts

Taught you to smile again.

My love, do you recall?

I remember tears running down your smiling face,

Speechless, cradling our child in your trembling arms

Promising inside to never let her go,

To fill her life with love and dreams.

My love, do you recall?

I remember your awful coat – ripped cuffs and pocket-gravel –

How with wry knowing smile you spoiled your faithful dogs,

The trees we planted and stood back and watched grow

And the garden we nurtured together and the seasons that passed.

My love, do you recall?

I remember our friends – those who sailed into our lives,

Anchored up and stayed, still dearly loved,

and those who lingered a while, loitering,

then travelled on beyond our realm, lost.

My love, do you recall?

I remember the chattering excitement of building dreams

For hope and happiness shared.

I remember sitting midst insect hum at dusk

our bench, our place, our quiet time to talk. To plan. Together.

My love, do you recall?

I remember the sneezing fizz of champagne,

Spluttering of words and family smiles

At wriggling grandchildren hushed

And glasses, high clinking, toasting sixty years of our love.

My love, do you recall?

I remember tears when first you said goodbye

On our bench, at dusk, while still you knew me, knew you.

I still bring you here. But it is to the silent stranger sitting between us

That I tell my memories of a life we once knew.

My love, do you recall?

Please, if you remember anything,

remember

I love you.

To a mouse

This is an ode to a mouse that I discovered in my garden. Poor wee creature. Robert Burns provided the inspiration – I merely played with the form and words of his poem.

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
Thou cannae swim – nae crawl nor breastie.
Thou shoudnae ha climbed intae ma pail sae hasty
Wi oot a paddle.
I wad be laith tae flood an drown thee
Wi murdering puddle.

I doubt na, whyles, thou may ha thieved;
What then? Poor beastie, thou that lived!
A seedling frae my glass-housie tray
Was but a sma’ request;
An’ when the summer comes this way
I’ll get a garden wi’ the rest.

In my housie, too, thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! Trap sheared your tail of a’its stibble
That wee bit heap o’ wires an’ felt
Cost thee monie a weary nibble!
An’ me an electrician’s bill, for a’ thy trouble
An’ bleak my mind turned murdering-bold
An’ my heart ran full carnreuch cauld.
But the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ before more traps I could deploy
Thou thought tae swim. An’ drowned.
Amen.