Aye, At Philippi

J A Cole (1920-2005)

“Why, I’ll see thee at Philippi,”
my Dada said to me. Me?
I dodged in alarmed bewilderment
the stag-ey words filled with sure intent.
Dada looked me straight in the eye.

I’d just joined the family crowd. “Hi,”
I’d offered and nothing else. Why
was I addressed? This satisfied lament —
all the stuff about Philippi —

ward-sick Dada gave to me. I
got it two days later but by
then he’d died. It was my moment:
to his famous last words I was meant
to reply: “Aye, at Philippi.”

He’d have been 99 today, 10 Jan 2019.

Centenary

Dartford 11nov18

Silence falls on the sunlit square of turf
outside Dartford’s library. A soldier
with a rifle, all plinth and age-stained bronze,
looks on. Poppy people stand with closed-eye stares.
November colours shuffle in the trees.

The silence is the thing: the unfilled gap
between. I think of dugout silence,
the fire step, the Woodbines whiled away;
the rat-lice trench-foot days that screwed the minds
with silent screaming shells of wasted fear.

I think of letters written to and from;
the scareful hope of waiting for the post;
the silence in the reading of the words.

I think of silence in the unlived years;
the stories that cannot be forgotten
because they did not happen. I feel cold.

I walk back up the hill to where young George
is playing Sunday morning football. There is
no silence here. Teams of boyish men
criss-cross open fields, fighting foot-to-foot,
attacking and defending, launching volleys,
and firing shots on goal. Then, as a cloud
bursts, an arch of rain-refracted light
crowns the shouts of peace and freedom.

péage

No prayers nor bells: we shoot in scuttling shells
up and down the line. We go and return,
passing Arras, Béthune and Neuve Chapelle,
the Bois de Noulette, Messines and the Marne.

From Calais, past Flesquieres and Verdun,
with only the Alps in mind, we hurtle
through demented days, dusks gilded by sun
and black rain, in skirmishing battles
of the road. Through grey-day pallor we see
the brown, wide-open acres where they fought;
and sense the eerie emptiness reploughed.

At night, headlamps flare and brake lights bleed
sudden fear of hasty death into my heart,
spearing the tensioned tedium like a dart
whose aim is true, then redirected, then gone.

All around here they died for us;
now they lie under stones etched and erected
to the left and right, at Mametz and Loos;
at Langemarck, Vendhuile, Cambrai and Lens;
on either side of this paid-for auto-route,
dotting countryside, cresting horizons.

Between Le Touret and Richebourg L’Avoue,
on land once used by field ambulances,
thirteen thousand men of no known resting
place are remembered. It’s ground holding
my great uncle Jack, too. There, inside a fence,
under mown lawns, lies John Wesley Davies,
31, of the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Further on, teams of gleaming windmills now stand
where once cold trenches were dug. In place of mud
and bloody hell, turbines mourn in silence:
generating clean warmth, dry light, hot food.
These are monuments also: testaments
to doomed youth on euro no man’s land.

In volleys to and fro, we, the fragments
of dead men’s shattered futures, pass fast and
glide, stuttering only at péage
queues. In our comfortable distress, our health
and holidays, our years, we have the breath
they did not have. In our petty rages
we drown the fading echoes of their cries,
their tender patience, their lingering goodbyes.

The lunatic, the lover, and the poet

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The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
are of imagination all compact.
One sees more devils than vast hell can hold—
that is the madman. The lover, all as frantic,
sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt.
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven.
And as imagination bodies forth
the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
a local habitation and a name.
Such tricks hath strong imagination,
that if it would but apprehend some joy,
it comprehends some bringer of that joy.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Act Five Scene One. 

Peak Green

peak green

Peak Green

I see Young George in the kitchen window.
He’s playing keepie-uppie on the grass:
kicking and flicking and watching in stoccatoes
of concentration. He’s changed since last
time I saw him. Before, he was scoring
self-commentated goals and finessing
his celebration routine. Now, he’s grown
across the shoulders, in calf, chest and crown.

In June, the youthful year, warmed by soft rain
and dowsed in sunlight, comes of summer age.
The earth has nursed pale primroses, impish
bluebells and bright bloodwort; now come
dog rose pinks and bold shades of fern and sage:
confident adult greens that banish
winter browns and show no fear of autumn.

for Sarah C and John K, with many happy returns of the day

Lifejoy

Lifejoy

Surprisingly, I hear wind in the eaves,
smell freshly cut grass, and feel morning rain
dropping on the paving slabs. Quietly,
I take small pleasures: sparkling puddle nights;
friendliness; remembered anniversaries;
and white flowers sprayed on late May hedges.

Normally, I’m full of anxieties –
or if not full, full enough. Routinely,
now, the London days are easy and free,
non-threatening, reassuring and calm;
and the trains, the petrol, the rope and heights
are covered by a rising tide of balm.
The waters will, of course, fall back again.
For now? I’ll savour lifejoy’s summonses.

Dungeness, May 2018

Shrunk

Flyer4

Edwina is my rinkydink. She and I
walk a fine line: hours at a time.
She talks, listens, and watches me cry
hours at a time. Hours at a time.

We’ve discussed my ingrowing multi-layered
sadnesses, the malfunctioning neurones,
the crosses and noughts, the things I fear,
the petrol, the rope, the heights, and the trains.

The scrappy form paper I’m about to sign
records my treatment plan. It précises
cataract wisdoms shapelessly aligned
to the vapid news feed of my insane days.

It shrinks the agonisingly tangled
months of unrelenting mental pain
into three sloping lines of banal,
barely legible, longhand chlorophane.

“What is this for?” I asked. “It’s just paperwork”,
Edwina said blasé. “Yes, but what is it for?”
I raised my gaze. She gave me a blatant look.
“It’s for”, she said, “the Coroner.”

#mentalhealthawarenessweek
#endthestigma

 

Devotional

The morning fog lay heavy on the hill above my house;
the frost sat in the grasses, on the benches, and in the trees.

I noticed chestnut buds, firmly formed, shapely but not sticky;
crispy orange shopping bags caught in twisted bramble thorns;
and the muffling of ordinary noises of the day.

The sun was there, invisible, above the circle of stones:
I sniffed the cold, looked round again, and wandered off back home.

 

Devotional

For Jo and Peter Fraser
London, January 2018

Annabelle Emma

Annabelle Emma

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Annabelle, may I have a word?
I am your mother’s godfather,
your Granny’s brother. Your sister
knows me as ‘GUR’. I have a thing
about writing and these embroidered
lines are for your Christening.

As you grow, you’ll observe the life
that is your home. Sounds will surround
you; as will subtle and profound
feelings, fragrances and flavours,
cooling waters and warm delights.
You will learn to be a walker

then a talker; you will begin
to assert yourself, to believe,
to dream, to think and to perceive
difference. In pictures, at first,
you’ll learn to read; your scribbling
will take letter shapes; you’ll be versed

in words, phrases and sentences;
sums, science and geography,
history, French and philosophy.
Each thing you learn will add to you:
giving you strength in common sense
and understanding of value.

Friends will come and go. Some will pass
like the night, others will endure
throughout your days. As you mature
you’ll find some bright, some saturnine.
The best you’ll do is find a path
of gentleness and fold your time

in easy company. You’ll make
mistakes, feel anger, fear and hate;
but don’t let bad stuff dominate.
Balance wrath with patience; cleave
pride with modesty; put brakes
on envy, greed, excess; and leave

your lazy head behind in bed.
Wear your hair pink, if you so wish,
but not beyond age twenty-six;
pierce your ears, perhaps twice,
but not your lip, nose or forehead.
Tattoos, meanwhile, are hard to like.

Annabelle, please enjoy yourself.
Please yourself and please those who share
your life. Give of yourself and wear
your mindful, soulful heart above
the nuts and bolts of health and wealth,
and what will survive of you? Love.

robertspcole@gmail.com
@robertspcole
07974 357 237

Note for the curious: search ‘London Poems’ and ‘Wet Zebra’ or go to amazon, or http://www.robertspcole.com