The Aftermath Inspector won the Poetry on the Lake International Poetry Competition, 2013. It was later published in The Interpreter's House.
THE AFTERMATH INSPECTOR
The boy wakes to the red call in the green night.
Unmoving on his narrow bed, he hears
his father run downstairs to fix quick tea, and then
his steady dressing – overalls, gauntlets, waders –
according to what kind of aftermath it is.
Hours until he's back, hours the boy wonders
how many yards of buckled track, how many carriages.
He imagines arclights, inspectors gathering screws
and bolts, identifying scattered parts.
Later, his father props the waders in the shed
and sits. Resting, he says. The boy stays close,
waits for him to search his bag. A trophy from the site.
Over the years he's brought three merlin feathers,
the cracked skull of a hare, one perfect ammonite,
a roe buck's antler (velvet still attached)
and now this grey stick with the sway of a swan's neck.
The boy watches his father place the keepsake
on the store-room shelf, he sees him
climb the stairs to wash, and dress
in other clothes for other work, as people do
who witness engines burst open in the dark.
I wrote Airman when I was writer in residence at Woodlands Organic Farm. It was first published in Resurgence and appears in Treasure Ground. It has been broadcast on BBC Radio Lincolnshire.
Flying Officer Ray Bédard, aged 25, of 439 Squadron RCAF, was flying from RAF North Luffenham in a Canadair Sabre MK2 on 23 June, 1953. He broke from formation and was killed after bailing out while his aircraft was in a steep dive. The plane crashed in a field by Whitehouse Farm near Woodlands.
There's still the geometry
of lanes and dykes and hedges,
a spirit-level horizon. East, the North Sea
sheet-metal smooth to the sun.
West, a thousand fields beyond Long Tankins
hundreds of nameless shades of green.
Now, as then, the invisible skylark
rehearses, rehearses. The marsh harrier
glides low over wheat, drops on a vole.
Hares lie in hollows, unblinking.
The next is from my sequence Self-portrait without Breasts, which forms the central section of Excisions. This poem has been published in The Sandhopper Lover (Cinnamon Press, 2009) and in Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme, Vol 28, nos 2,3.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE SURGERY
'Cast me and I will become what I must be'
We’ve oiled my shoulders, collarbone,
breasts – olive-scented, shiny
as greased rubberwood, I’m primed for casting.
You soak chalky bandages, wrap me
in slapstick layers of white –
a sacrament to tender body and life.
Working fast before the plaster sets
we smooth wet dressings onto slippery skin –
keep my contours, take my shape;
at every fold and ruck we stop, look closer
to remember. I lie death-still, encased,
breath slow-drawn, not to crack my shell:
an end and a beginning. Beneath the carapace
I hum a lullaby – you lift the curves away,
cast off my breastplate,
air moving like shadow over sentenced flesh.
Here is one of the poems I wrote when I was working with life prisoners at HMP Shepton Mallet. It was published in Smiths Knoll.
At the second razor fence
she turns right
for the visitors’ locker room;
she leaves her stuff
and takes the key,
pressing it into the corner of her pocket
like a lover’s keepsake,
something reassuring to touch
knowing that later
she’ll wriggle the key
and spring the little vented door
to reclaim the purse,
the driver’s licence, the paracetamol,
the blockbuster she was reading
this morning, as she sat in the sun
on the steps outside
waiting to go in.