Polly

Writings and Witterings


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Beyond The Veil

Handkerchiefs, white twisted prayer,
sobs breach and break the mourning air,
death takes, will not be second-guessed,
a shroud beneath the lychgate rests.

The shelter with its angled roof
hears clattering of horses’ hooves,
covers the dear departed, blessed;
her shroud beneath the lychgate rests.

The bearers seated by the corpse
know flesh, bones, come to nothing, naught
to ponder, but in time accept,
a shroud beneath the lychgate rests.

From lych to church seems overlong,
they pause, they pray, they chant their song,
to see her pass this way – none guessed
a shroud around the lych would rest.

A hot ague shook her life away,
the children sobbed, begged her to stay,
but death took life, it sucked her breath,
a shroud beneath the lychgate rests.

Yet that was then and this is now,
time changes, untracked: marriage vow,
photo backdrop, bride with guests,
a shroud beneath the lychgate rests.

Spectres, spirits of the passed,
plague actors in the wedding cast,
this shady place does it oppress
if shrouds beneath the lychgate rest?

‘Death is the only deathless one’,[1]
time lingers brief, they’ve just begun,
this is for life, no trial or test,
a shroud beneath the lychgate rests.

Fading out the nuptial glitter,
shadows cast by bygone sitters,
carnation wilts upon his breast,
and shrouds beneath the lychgate rest.

The charm of years, a pretty place,
he gazes down on her sweet face,
craves togetherness, wedded, yes,
a shroud beneath the lychgate rests.

Polly Stretton © 2017


[1] John Payne (1842-1916)

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Two Companion Poems

These are two of the poems that I wrote for Mike Alma’s poetry anthology Voices of 1919 published in 2016. There is a special performance of Voices of 1919 poetry by distinguished local actors on National Poetry Day, Thursday 28th September, at Elmsleigh Hall, Elmslie House, 8 Avenue Road, Great Malvern WR14 3AG–7pm until 9pm plus an interval

Bells Toll

Eliza Ruscoe at number thirteen
cocks her head, hears the bells toll,
she can tell the time by this and John,
husband, signalman, will be home soon,
carrying the metallic whiff of Brasso-clean levers
and fusty yellow dusters, faintly grey.
She serves stew, high in vegetables,
war-grown in the garden
where hens peck;
it used to be full of flowers,
now all chicken shit and veg.
She thinks of her boys
and their hollow legs,
smiles,
looks forward to filling them up again,
thanks to an absence of telegrams.

Polly Stretton © 2016
First published in Voices of 1919 (2016)

John – the Signalman

He uses the yellow dusters
with the red, blanket-stitched edges
to shine the upright levers,
covering confusion and fear.
He was brought up with a stiff upper lip;
a trembling mouth was a sign of weakness.
He shows no worries for his two boys,
or ecstasy on their return,
though he feels it deep inside.
Deep down inside his joy
sits, welling up,
and his chest lifts,
a picture of pride in his sons.
His well-ordered existence
for once made a pleasure,
for they are coming home.
Coming home.

Polly Stretton © 2016
First published in Voices of 1919 (2016)

Front cover - Voices of 1919


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My Brother’s Coming Home

Nurse, mother with baby
and big brother,
stand outside the bleak,
utilitarian Ronkswood hospital.
Big brother, a little boy, is excited; it’s time
to take his brother home.

‘Look at his tiny hand, Mum.
‘Why’s he wrapped like that?
‘When will he start talking?
‘Does he cry a lot?
‘Dad says he’ll be sleeping
‘and won’t want me playing trains.
‘Is that right, Mum? Can I, can I
‘play with trains again?’

‘He won’t be playing trains with you
‘for quite a long while yet,
‘but he’ll need his big brother,
‘and look, see what he’s got?
‘There’s a little tiny gift
‘that he’s brought along for you.
‘Can you see what it is yet?
‘An engine, royal blue.’

Polly Stretton © 2017
Written for the George Marshall Medical Museum, Worcester Royal Hospital

This poem was part of a project organised by Charley Barnes for the Curator of the George Marshall Medical Museum Louise Price. Follow this link to see fellow poet on the project and Worcestershire Poet Laureate Nina Lewis’s description—find out more!

 


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Take A Look At This…

A good friend of mine, Heather, whom I haven’t seen in far too long, says ‘I have performed this piece so many times now! Getting on for 40 this year alone. Here is the original recorded version by request. The live performance has developed and I take more time over it now – CRT commissioned a 6-minute piece and it turned out to be exactly that length without me having to edit it. It’s good to hear the real Emma and Nancy, and the lovely engines I recorded, and see photos of some of the ‘Idle Women’. The next time I perform it will be at the Barley Mow, Newbold on Monday. See www.alarumtheatre.co.uk for the remaining tour dates.’

Watch this YouTube of the poem, it’s amazing!


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not sorry yet

Some of the children attending the Living Library at a local school asked me for my favourite poem. I asked ‘by another poet, or my own?’ They wanted to know about my own.
not sorry yet holds a special place in my heart, so I’m sharing it again today to celebrate children who not only ask interesting questions but read poetry as well as fiction. Also to thank Librarian Linda Bromyard for organising the event.
And, btw (thanks for asking!) my favourite poem by another poet is A Subaltern’s Love Song by John Betjeman 🙂

Meadow Run Away

four-year-old legs pumping running away
ma shouts after me ‘come back’ sister wails
ma is livid i pushed the bowl downstairs
this is how she sees it it is my fault
a tall ten-pint goldfish bowl three goldfish
i run down the meadow behind our house
it is hay-making time yellow grass scent
and dust tickle my nose and make me sneeze
sneeze stops me for long enough she catches
me i have glanced behind in my run and
seen her struggling with my little sister
but ma is grim-faced and determined that
i will be caught and punished it was an
accident i tripped knocked into the bowl
which bounced down each stair fish flying water
arcing the finest mirrored droplets splash
the sound of breaking glass tinkles downwards
she comes out of the kitchen babe on hip
and roars ‘nooooo’ i flee out the open door
my legs pump i feel my heart i hear my
breath coming jagged i smell the hay i
sneeze she catches me she screams thrashes me
and at each step thrashes me again all
up the meadow back into the house she
is crying hot angry tears me howling
mortified indignant rebellious
an accident i sob my jaw jutting
i am but four-years-old not sorry yet

Polly Stretton © 2012

not sorry yet was first published in my debut collection Girl’s Got Rhythm, available from Black Pear Press at £7.00 +P&P


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Open Door

Keeper of Keys – Brooke Shaden

Keeper of Keys – Brooke Shaden

The keeper of the keys
to worlds we wish to live in,
where secrets float
and the impossible becomes possible.
We have a story to tell,
something on our mind.
There’s a light
to show the way,
a seaweed dress
against the lamp’s sway,
on the bleak bare shore.

Polly Stretton © 2014

Written to dVerse poets prompt by Grace, who features the photography of Brooke Shaden