Archive | Poems

The Cliffs at St Margaret’s Bay

A mighty edifice, built not of block on block, but grain on grain.

How many years? I run my hand along the black flints set in chalk, would read them as a blind man on a line of braille. The fossil claw and ammonite become a code.

It is in awe we know there walked a ruling species without words or law, as self-assured as I may tread this pebbled beach.

I raise my eyes to where the sun beats on the Downs. There the wind blows through the empty sockets of a ram. It moans an organ note so deep and clear – intones a valediction on the knowing sea and speaks a truth that I am ill-equipped to hear.

Cliff at St Margarets

© Caroline Fox Betts
2005

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Torch

Brother, I, am the only memory that holds you now. And I hold you. Daily, everly, evergreenly, like the pines that named the cottage, pine, and its other meaning. I do hold you.

Brother, where did you go? Your heat, and your existing? Was it dissipated in a moment – absorbed – your leaving simply merging with trees and soil and stars and a hare’s breath on an April moorland?

Here. You are here. Ever here – in here. When all I have to hold for any, is a monochrome of a boy. A boy. I hold you.

And brother, what material we shared, I passed, and in other lives, a part of you will carry on when I stop remembering.

And then it will be settled, like a coloured strata, fixed. We shall be a stripe in rock – our matter, for all it matters, trapped with other stuff, for geologists, or perpetuity of a kind.

Brother, you gave me a flame in our last together – a flame like an Olympic torch or wax taper – tapering off to flickering dreamlands.

Brother, fox or hare, only half believing in your leaving, I do hold you.

All That Was

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Garden

How do you leave your own garden –
the years of nurture, slowly sculpted paths and places?
How do you leave the garden’s gentle answer,
its soft reward like a lover’s sigh?
Perhaps you pivot on a leathery heel
like a compass needle moving shakily.
Perhaps you hold your chin high
avoiding the garden’s many eyes.

Leaving is easy, as journeys are easy
to begin – just one foot in front of another,
but it’s the living without, waking too early,
lost for a moment, and a sudden ache,
remembrance, and your garden’s green call
like a fledgling chick, a wilting leaf;
like Adam for his maker.

Be still and know it never was your garden.
You were a temporary janitor.
Be still and know it will grow and evolve,
but cease to be the thing you shaped
and after years of separation,
be like a friend so changed you will be puzzled
at old alliance, as puzzled as God might be
by what he once created.

Roundhill-Cottage-Garden

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Foreigner

I am not the daughter of cranes and towers
swinging gibbets over muddy estuaries –
not the child who ever sailed
the garbage barges of paranoia.

I do not resemble the perfect rigor
of fame in marble,
or speak the language of black umbrellas.
I must explore the intricate history in a drop of water,
pan it for its worthless nuggets.

I cannot guide you round fountains and plazas,
up broad stone steps to great museums,
I am too distracted by the sound
of winding roots in the dark cool earth;
by butterflies dreaming of past lives.

I have to consider how fragile each day is –
each glass balloon; follow my mother
the ponderous moon, discover that difference
which splits a moment, one from the other.

Odd one out

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Pink

Moon-crazy I might lose her
I must stem this red tide.
Her unlearned words swell inside me,
well, before a bedroom mirror.
She tugs insistently at my elbow
with all her unspent curiosity,
wants to play with lipstick, earrings –
dress herself in my old things.

I see her in a filmy aura, playing
being ballerina, dusty barefoot in the loft,
a whirl of ostrich feather and tinsel,
to a found Dancette and 45s –
or hoof-clacking kitchen flags
in grownup shoes, hat umbrella’d,
her trailing hem –
trailing off like sleepy words
to fall exhausted on the sofa.

I’d smooth the silk-tails
from her face, count freckles,
brush the downstroke of her lashes with my murmur –
watch her sleep, her sea-deep sleeping.
Oh my daughter unmade daughter –
every moon’s revolve I lose you,
lose you over –
you nameless, lovely unstained thing.

by Jodi Cox

by Jodi Cox

 

 

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Naming

Once you were nameless –
a breeze spinning the sycamore seeds
shimmying, while below
your father carved in rough bark,
sun rouging the back of his neck,
his teeth squeezing a stalk of rye,
winking at a girl, one long summer
when you were just the skittle
of sea on shingle
trickling between her bare toes.
Stretched and languid,
she chanced on a pebble,
smoothed with a hole
through which she peered and framed a future…
You were salt zest on her shoulders.

Syllables –
I summon them between my lips,
exhale vowels
and with tongue and teeth and soft palate
create the consonants –
repeat them roundly,
till your mouth obscures them
and the heat of your belly
melds with mine.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Struldbrugg

A modern luxury – growing old –
the fraying armchair’s hard embrace,
blued lips mime forgotten names,
while twilight dusts the stranglehold.

Fragile bone and failing sight,
a foggy stumble through the head.
Gulliver is telling tales –
a voice that flickers through the night.

Sunlight shafts the parted drape,
lights the garden’s neat coiffure –
the discipline of vegetation
masks the clock, belies the cure.

Antiseptic bites the kiss
met in taxidermic glaze –
touch, the practised latex hands,
that clean away the spittle, piss.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Courting Professor Alzheimer

Funny, what we do with memories,
most stored in the mind’s untidy loft –
blurred beneath a dusty shroud,
which does not come like house-dust –
pale, from the light and motion of living,
but in a still, dark filtered, quiet decay.

In more frequented rooms, auto-biographies
cherished in thick, padded albums,
an inheritance for future generations –
selectively framed, recorded and played
are ever embellished or sanitised
by a tongue’s fond fireside polishing.

Yet there appear gaps – from an impatient vehicle –
youth’s reckless open windows – accidental losses,
like a plastic bag fluttering in a winter tree.
Other voids resemble snipped-out silhouettes –
scratched erasures – removals buried under patio slabs.

So creeps a late wandering – haunted, vacant.
But ah! Those vain life-long attempts at the indelible –
the spoiled rug rolled coldly around weeping wounds –
that messy history, bundled into a car-boot one dead night,
fly-tipped and exposed, to ruin someone’s
favourite beauty-spot – or opinion of you.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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High dive

What was that tune?
I cannot name it now,
but do recall us flat upon our backs,
the close-cropped grass,
and baking of white sun,
a flawless sheet of sky
edged with skylarks’ call,
and feeling, for a moment,
believing that,
if gravity would just let go its parent-hold,
I’d free-fall eagle-spread –
be swallowed by the blue.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Pissenlit

Bitter, milky, hollow stalks.
We picked and blew dandelion clocks,
filling the air with clouds of down,
flouting warning and superstition –
resultant damp on morning’s mattress.

Now the minutes lift my thoughts
curry them off
to germinate somewhere.
I’m still that girl on the yellow polka lawn –
it’s only the wind that changed in caution.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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A time to stop counting

i.m. Nigel Fox – 1956 – 1969

There he is, running –
chipped red Dinky toy fast
in palm – he’s spinning, giddy
in carousel sunshine, freckling
him over in shadows of linden.

Resounding a toll on this avenue of flints –
he’s running, yet gliding, silent on thermals,
absorbed in a kind of childhood nirvana,
he’s passing the caution ‘Beware of Adders’
where a chestnut colt snorts in its paddock –
springs like a clay pigeon fleeing its trap.

Between the archives of home and school –
safe now preserved in curtailed youth
is the certainty of sticklebacks rushing the weir,
or wind brushing oceans of green barley feathers.

Memory: rings laid deep at the linden’s heart,
a potential of fire in the dark core of flint –
it’s turning to view the path once travelled,
hand shielding sight in benign setting rays
and knowing what’s causing gangling colts
to bolt from the gate for apparently nothing.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Junction Eleven – 21.12

In the chasms between moments
lies a sudden aberration,
comes the tarmacadam smack –
merger
servant with its master –
blood and oil

Pulse flash, gas blue
spin of fairy lantern glows,
sirens hovering orange
in the pan-black.

Is it the planets’ misalignment,
a screen’s cascade of binary language,
passage to another matrix?

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Hourglass

And you struggle to express
the way your heart’s eurythmics
leave you ringing in an afterglow,
just from a chance encounter –
the current object of your teen desire.

I, with my poet’s mouth, full
with ready metaphor,
place a quiet hand over yours,
recall it tiny, held between
my thumb and index,
see my own youth’s waste and spill –
of poured seed to a silo’s draw and drain
in feeding swine.

Hand on hand
I feel that smooth sand flow,
its steady, constricted flow.
My glass ebbs into yours,
and I whisper a hoarse ‘I know’.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Equivalent II

A blank page –
it’s a silent score by John Cage,
Andre’s bricks in The Tate Modern
and all we leave unsaid –
all that really matters.
I turn it to an origami bird,
cup it in my hands and blow it like a kiss,
the only sound – paper wings that crackle,
drift the world on thermals –
a thought in every tongue.

That should be a poem –
the unnameable at its christening,
silent chords of being
in the rhythm of our breathing –
the fabric of our lives
in sudden thrill of highlight,
which strikes a recognition,
steals us for a moment
to strain into the stillness
our own interpretation.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Dear Tracy

There’s no change:
this room backing railway track,
sooty viaduct shading tangle –
deep-thorned bramble…
it’s not a path to Sleeping Beauty,

the sagging curtain, naked
lightbulb, bed unmade, a life’s detritus…
not a work of art for Saatchi.
In stale air, shadows rumble –
pit of mattress, pit of stomach,
hollow cheek and wide eye.
Night carriages pulse the line,
dark veins, nerve endings,
a skeleton mesh, in skin, of leaf, on land.

And this, (in case you didn’t know)
behind the beauty of imperfection,
nothing, no – disturbed dust, that name
scratched in red brick a hand’s span ago.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Each moment is a stepping stone

There’s a story hiding in the woods –
it hangs like mist among the boughs
waiting for a mouth to fill.
It’s made of wishes never voiced,
discarded words from poets’ bins,
ideas lost in last night’s wine.
It hovers in the patient shade,
stirs sorrel leaves and celandine.

In midday sun, from furrowed rows,
a strawberry picker slowly stands,
concaves her spine with hands on hips,
gazes west – there is a dream
she cannot name;
it’s in those woods.
And in the filed where crows pick stubble,
edged by bleached-bone, dry-stone walls,
a spirit lingers of tanned hands
that placed each untold rock with falls.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Brink

You climb the narrow ledge and path
and grasp at tussocks on the way –
plait your fingers through coarse strands
held in soil, thin as old man’s skin.
You climb.
Below, reduced to toys, the ferries come and go,
make trails that wash against the weed-black boulders
far below.

This is where one finds perspective,
high at the crumbling edge of knowledge,
where rusting gun stumps wart the downland,
and cropped grass heals the scars of bombing.

Here sanity splits a cliff from sky –
foothold from wild precipitation.
Here lingers ropes of twisted air –
despair which took that step too far.
You dare yourself a lean and peer,
your hands’ extended fingers, upward curving at the tips,
are a remnant instinct – twinge of wings.

You pull away,
scream inwardly at your birdbrain devil.
Something calls you back,
like the kittiwake’s echo off polished stones,
the wind through picked-clean shells,
or the bitter sap of wild cabbage
in your nostrils’ flare.

You try to brush the white stuff from your clothes,
but take a little of Dover home.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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Midnight Pumpkins

Something like glitter,
perhaps confetti
and a wish is granted.

But perfection is contained
in a stolen bubble
which bursts itself for the sake of freedom.

Freedom is an island waiting for discovery –
discovery is a circle under a spotlight
and you were in it.
It felt like a moment …
fifteen, they said.

A moment is a whirl,
abandoned in chardonnay, heady on roses.
Above, a mirror-ball like your planet –
reflections of hope and make-believe.

Later there is panic,
a hectic flight –
a flight of steps (perhaps a fall)
and something indelible is left behind

to be told as a story, perhaps a warning.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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One For Sorrow

… and I’m rinsing out cups of morning coffee,
metered water flows unchecked.
Through the window I’m looking at
a magpie sitting in spring willow.
Buds hang like droplets on wire –
and I think, whilst drying my hands,
“give us time”.

And I’m driving the car into town,
passing the parched summer verges,
waving mentally, “morning, Mr Magpie” –
one tugging at a flattened rabbit.
I’m wondering at the miracle we ever met
and pray, turning a blind corner,
“please – time”.

And I’m cutting off rosehips in a cool breeze,
pulling at tawny, drying leaves,
marvelling at the existence of children,
two for joy, made from history –
no regrets, but I’m wishing,
“if only, time again”.

And I’m putting rubbish bags out
in snow – black on white.
It’s early hours, most are sleeping.
Nostalgia is a moth fluttering at the lamp,
a shadow on light,
and a waste of time.

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

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A Picture on Shoreline

I love this one …
see how you take on
the language of the tree –
the branch you grasp
above a shoulder height;
your other arm crooked with knotted fist
against your hip.

You reach … all angled –
framed irregular geometry.

What says the tree …
cliff-slid and beach bleached
as he is?

© Caroline Fox Betts 2010

 

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