The Connotation of the Strawberry  

 

Still the neighbours tell the story:

Back from a fortnight’s holiday to find
the front garden transformed into a shrine
to what once could have been,
the old gifts unboxed on the lawn,
photos from the sunshine years
clipped on the line with clothespegs
in public, like linen,
the front door blocked with a heap
of  laundry and dirty diary pages,
letters dripping with loss and lust,
remorse and rage, a lifetime’s pain
laced and knotted into the heap as if it’s
art, and the whole lot topped
with a strawberry. Legs apart
stood the neighbours, arms
crossed, planted pictures
of righteousness, as much a part
of the set as the heap. The police asked what

was the connotation of the strawberry.

 


*

All Saints       

 

I bought a plot of sky
to remember a world by:

passing stormclouds busy
at their business, flashing like horses

charging at us high up above
earth’s atmosphere, All Saints’ spire,

framed, strung, hung above
my northern fireplace. Home

is where the hearth is. South London sky
I’ve known to the bone,

run under in rain, sun, stars, moon,
heart empty, heart full,

run for years till the years boiled
and burned away into the air

then drifted off elsewhere like passing
rainclouds. There are men who deal

in land, but land’s not moved: land
just waits, wherever you left it,

waits to be walked out upon
again, whenever, prefers muck

to money any day. I buy sky. Blackheath sky  
came boiling up for me out of a bargain

basement. The topmost tip
of All Saints and a rack of passing rain

hoisted on my Lancashire wall, nailed
to Pennine stone, are all I need

to deal with the years, to blow them
away over the heart’s

horizon, or to frame them,
air them, eye them, own them.

 

*

 

Back of Greenwich


You were born by this river, shadow of its currents.
It delivered your days and night on its tides
and your mother’s too, till the blind ferryman
called time, tolled a bell, rolled in a mist

a ship’s horn can’t sound through. Peace
sweet as deep water. She’d left that body
you said as we stepped
past silent cranes, long-emptied warehouses,

it wasn’t her anymore. As labour and breath
have been drained away by the river
so all our words run out of time
to silence on the face of the water.

We’ve forgotten each passing boat
by the time its waves reach us,
pleasure boat, garbage barge, the saffron flash
of a police launch are much the same

just beneath the surface.
Likewise people pass through the world
rubbing shoulders, trading wisdom,
leaving traces, making waves.

How you found in your tumble dryer filter
her hair, from the sheets.
How you find in the shadows of the morning
her words, thoughts.

She thought she was carrying you.
You thought you were carrying her.
Either way now the river
slips its currents in knots and turns

the city’s debris to the open sea,
at low tide lines its banks
with gifts rolled in at random
from the unfathomable sources of everything.


*

Traditional Irish

Wake Up, Susan. Skiver the Quilt.
Fasten the Wig. Strike the Gay Harp.
Trim the Velvet. Toss the Feathers.
Rouse the Grouse. Banish Misfortune.

The names are poems, so are the tunes,
chords calling from the dark
wells of memory, running you down
the scenic route and back to where you started:

Evening was Waning. Anything When You Die.
The Fisherman’s Widow. The Lilting Banshee.
The Night Dance. The Lark in the Morning.
The Rising Sun. The Morning Dew.

The impossible caterpillar
of the concertina. The Gravel Walk.
The wind singing in the wires
of the fiddle. The Swallow’s Tail.

Play for Sixpenny Money, or free gifts from
The Maid Behind The Bar
or The Drunken Landlady:
The Glass of Beer. Drops of Brandy.

Going to the Well for Water.
The hidden stream of the mandolin.
The drowning tomcat
of the pipes. When Sick, is it Tea you Want?

The unwatched kettle of the whistle.
The Pipe on the Hob.
The ascetic steps
of the bodhran. The Musical Priest.

The tunes are finished poems,
sculpted out of air
hanging in symmetry
resolved in harmony

clicking into closure
each one unique
as a hammered-on handful
of fingerprints.

The Ship in Full Sail.
Your passport portrait stored
by the plainclothes on the night ferry.
The Trip to the Jacks. The Hangman’s Noose.

Every medley tells a story:
Over the Moor to Maggie.
Drowsy Maggie. The Trip to the Cottage.
Tripping Upstairs. My Darling Asleep.

Over the session security
cameras monitor the march of
quavers, mix the visuals
for a closed circuit bootleg.

The Girl with the Handsome Face.
The Hag at the Churn.
Kitty got a Clinking coming from
the Races. I Buried My Wife.

Jigs and reels, slides and slow airs,
hornpipes, but none of the rebel songs
the landlord says. The Home Ruler.
Home Brew. Wordless poems for the passing

trade, scenery for the traffic at the public
bar, ink for the ears for an hour.
Give Me Your Hand.
Take Your Hand Away.


*

 

 

Hit the Road - poem with live audio

articles by Michael Bruce

songs by Michael Bruce: info and samples of recordings - or live video

buy an ebook of poetry by Michael Bruce

 

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