New Poems for 2014


Titles:

Fourteen months (In memory of KB)
Decree Absolute (For our daughters)
Hill


Fourteen months (In memory of KB)

The consolation of imaginary things is not imaginary consolation.

Roger Scruton

September comes but we do not go to Sicily
September comes and cancer is diagnosed.
Beguiled by wine we are almost persuaded there’s some mistake,
but blood does not deceive; cancer is spreading through your bones...

By spring it is in your skull, pressing on the nerve to your tongue.
You struggle to eat; even liquids are a problem. We are afraid you will choke.
Before radiotherapy a mask is made for your head to protect you from errant X-rays.
Afterwards your hair looks like Charlton Heston’s in a film I once saw about the Normans.
When I tell you this you remember the film and laugh…

Every time I see you I want to bring you gifts.
I want to bring you Botticelli’s Graces from the Louvre;
curving-soft companions of Love
wrapped in the blue-pink tissue of evening sky over Florence.
I want to bring you a Balthazar of champagne encased in last winter’s icicles;
golden liquid apples to bubble in our blood and giggle through our hearts.
I want to bring you π captured in Pandora’s emptied box,
each numeral traced on a fragile chocolate leaf,
each leaf infused with orange, lemon, vanilla, chilli, rose—
you can choose, but of course you must begin with a 3…

The only thing that’s different is you’re dying and we know why.
But everything is different.
When we are in a room together you are apart, in another plane;
a study in perspective for some Renaissance painter who intends an angel —
I see the feathers that will wrap soft about you outlined in red-brown chalk.
And I want the angel to be Raphael, striding to land,
hand stretched out to take your hand.
And I want the angel to take our hands too
as we struggle to keep hold of you…

At school the sick room was white;
a room for aspirin, for period pains, for fear of Latin tests.
Now it’s wherever you are.
Colours and light shift between home and hospital, but fear remains…

Late summer the ripple-mattress techno-bed arrives
and you are master of the control panel.
Rails prevent you falling out and us climbing in.
Just as well.
Our love could crush your fragile bones…

I mean to tell you why Socrates was not afraid to die;
that for him death was either a single night of dreamless sleep
or a chance to walk and talk with the dead.
And if the latter, to wait for us in un-minuted time as we search for you
and ask you to forgive me if I am distracted by Achilles
watching beside a black ship for Thetis to step from the wine-dark sea.
But rehearsed words are never said as we dance a strange dance about your bed,
do-se-doing each other and carers, we come and go and come and go
and come...
and go...

November returns and we watch fireworks through the dining room window.
I’m in charge of plunging us into darkness as each blue touch paper is lit,
thinking all the time of the pain you feel against the air-filled mattress and pillow-mountain.
You’re the Princess and the pea, but still you cry out with joy
as gold and silver showers fall against the ghostly Silver Birches.
And later we all hold hands and you tell us that you’re not afraid;
that this is the night you want to go to sleep and not wake up.
And all you say this night is composed and condensed by lack of time,
filtered through your wrecked body,
rhythmed by your struggle to breathe and edited by love,
so that dying makes of you the poet…

November ends and a toadstool has pushed its way through brittle-sweet leaves.
Fairies dance beneath it, swinging garlands of red and orange berries above their heads.
If you were here you’d see them too; you would not want us to stop the clocks.

© 2013 Sharon Ashton


Decree Absolute (For our daughters)

We are apart, but are not separate.

     The shifting distance between ex-lovers

Cannot be so easily measured. Let

Others quantify the love that covers

Space and time bounded by us. Let them try

     To gauge from a beginning of long sweet

Kisses, mouth against mouth, thigh against thigh,

Through longing for each other’s breath and heat

To those ends that were beginnings — clusters

     Of tiny cells which multiplied and flowed

To bone whose marrow echoed ancestors

     And foreshadowed those we will never know.

Until they mark true the line of past bliss

Who can nullify such love as was this?

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


Hill

Each day I pass her twice;
mornings bending work-ward,
evenings tipping homeward.
Headless but ever female, she is living-lazy;
breasts turned to catch any morning sun,
and today, April ploughing done,
the bones of her right hip and shoulder thrust skyward
as if they would tear her rippled skin
and burst from chocolate into blue
which I know they cannot do,
but then her magic is strong
and if she were my mother
I’d be home already,
clambering over her ancient curves
into the warmth of her folded soil,
echoing her post-coital sighs
and curling, sap-suckled,
inside her snow birthing sheets
waiting to be pierced by harvest stubble
and sewn with unbleached sheep
and black silk crows into her tapestry.

© 2014 Sharon Ashton


Poetry in Practice

I began Poetry in Practice a year ago.

Inspired by projects like Poems on the Underground  and Poems in the Waiting Room  I had the idea of introducing  poetry into general practice waiting rooms as an alternative to the usual out-dated magazines.

Poetry in Practice provided a themed collection of poems each 2 months; some by well-known poets, others by less well-known, local and contemporary poets (including myself).

And as a large number of children sit in GP waiting rooms, I also offered poems written for and by children.

The project was successfully trialled at the surgery where I work as a practice nurse. The poems were presented in A4 folders, each page inside a plastic cover so that they could be wiped clean if necessary.

After its first year, one of the GPs wrote:
"Four years ago we moved to our new Health Centre building. It is modern, spacious, clinically efficient and initially was somewhat soulless.

"One of the partners came across an organisation called Art in Hospitals which leases quality artworks for health premises. We spent money from some incentive scheme or other on pictures which have helped considerably and continue to give pleasure.

"We have had Sharon’s ‘Poetry in Practice’ booklets in our waiting rooms for over 12 months now. Sometimes at the end of the day I sit for a moment in the waiting room for a therapeutic read. Frequently I see patients reading them and have had many comments about how much it is appreciated and enjoyed.

"We can all provide cast off magazines but poetry in practice is something different. The poetry is thought provoking and appropriate to the setting.The fact that it has been produced specially for consumption in the waiting room makes the patients feel that a real effort has been made on their behalf."

Dr Simon Martin. Bridgnorth Health Centre.

This year Poetry in Practice is expanding into other general practices and a dental surgery. The project is non-profit making, though practices are asked to contribute £5.00 per annum to help cover ink/paper costs.

Anyone interested in the project can contact me via: correspondence@sharonashtonpoetry.com

 

New Poems for 2012


Titles:

Bell, book and candle; candle, book and bell.
Coleton Fishacre
Elizabethan Girls

Ghost
The Red Shoes
Athene
That boat
Gloves
Lamas Flush


Bell, book and candle; candle, book and bell.

I read the scrap of paper
torn from a homework book,
red- margined, turquoise - ruled,
headed Wanted Back ASAP
(underlined twice)
and beneath, in exaggerated letters un-joined:
Lip gloss/ nail varnish you borrowed last term
Patterned tights you borrowed for Sophie’s party
Jade’s butterfly slides with blue stones from Accessorize
Skinny jeans you borrowed in year 8 (or cash - £30)

And I think this a clever charm,
when even mouthing the words
can cast the ink-looped spell 
to drag a young girl
into young girl’s hell.

And I think for her I would fly into their rooms
as they slept; turn into boulders on their chests;
conjure boils for their faces and necks;
summon cellulite, spots and pus from old piercings −
but all I do is make my own list, then burn this,
signed Sarah, Kate and Jade, with a kiss.

© 2012 Sharon Ashton


 

Coleton Fishacre

Love is the greatest thing
The oldest yet, the latest thing
I only hope that fate may bring
Love's story to you. 

R. Noble

I might have met you there, windows for our back-drop,
 a blood-orange sun, a burning sea, and me
making an entrance, stepping down with care, scented hair,
Je Reviens? Je Reviens, stepping into Lady Dorothy’s saloon,
primroses in my hair. Stolen from clots in the garden?
Not stolen, exactly, but lots, some pinned at my left hip,
piercing the eau de nil satin tracing my bones. And flat breasts?
Tracing my bones as I step down the shallow wooden stair,
a probability of shimmying later, ‘Love is the sweetest thing’
The rhythmical transfer of weight for love is surely the strangest thing?
‘What else on earth could ever bring
Such happiness to ev'rything
As Love's old story…’
You’ve forgotten me!  No, I just hadn’t got to there – black tie certainly,
and sleeked black hair Excellent. Silver cigarette box, slender. Monogrammed?
Monogrammed. Would you care for a cigarette? I rather think I will.
And cocktail?  I rather think I will. Pall Mall? What’s in it?
Gin, Sweet vermouth, Dry vermouth, White Crème de Menthe
dash of Orange bitters, served with fresh mint, and shaken of course.
Oh, I’d leave all that to you.  A wise decision.
Shimmy? 
I’d love to… Be careful of the primroses.


 

Elizabethan Girls      

I watch them diminish in rooms
sweet with straw-matting, heads
bent to candle and winter-light;
Elizabeth, Nan, Grace,
Lettice, plying hare-bells, pansies,
honesty and roses
for unknown husbands, who don’t give
a damn for girls’ stitches.

Beneath samplers their restless young
knees conjure English hills.
French knots of un-dyed wool are sheep
clinging to Shropshire slopes;
un-trimmed black silks the flapping crows
gleaning Derbyshire fields;
forgotten pins the straggling posts
loosened by Norfolk winds.

Child-fingers embroidering scenes
of old England to warm
a marriage-bed. But fevers take
girls in a moment, and
nothing is left to chance, fathers
will sign indentures, and
barter still younger sisters, for
dead un-bedded daughters.


 

Ghost                                                                   

The stain is still there
where you and the dogs come in
and on the upstairs landing
wretched begonias shed
red petal red petal red
how like canon-shot the doorknobs are
round and sure shrinkers of space
between here and there
though space has no meaning now
I am wherever,
motes briefly shaped
by the memories of others
dust on a window sill
drifting sometimes
through eyes and mouths
of the hollow Greek helmets
we brought back from Rhodes.


   

  The Red Shoes

     Tap, tap, tapping
     I wait
     between bed and chair
     until
     without warning
     they are there.
     Greedy,
     I strap them on,
     criss-crossing red ribbons
     about each ankle,
     all the time
     tap, tap, tapping
     teasing-out rhythms
     until
     the music comes,
     and I dance
     on toes
     too soon perhaps?
     Too late−
     I’m out
     through the window
     up, up against the moon
     to jeté with cow and dish and spoon,
     dipping down to clash with Dawn
     and do-se-do John Barleycorn,
     set pas de bas to puffins at sea
     cherry toe to cherry beak
     until
     without warning,
     I am shoeless again
     between bed and chair,
     feet ribbon-cut and burning,
     tap, tap, tapping,
     waiting…


 

Athene                                                 

Her beauty is teasing-strange,
enticing without promise of sex
as she plays with men and their myths;
shape-shifting for Odysseus,
but no glance back for Marsyas
peeled to strawberry flesh.

Her eyes are the grey
of skies before lightening cracks
of armour dulled by rain,
of oceans and pools in winter
of veils on women mourning
of the ashes they scatter.

Her flesh is pale beneath greaves and breastplate,
and when she undresses
in night’s shifting light,
she is stroked only by owls,
dropping soft about her,
turning all her nights to autumn.


 

That boat

(After Catullus 4)

That boat you see, tourist in this land of travellers,
says it once brought clay urns to Pithacusæ to
store wine and grain, and sometimes babies, stillborn,
slipped into those second wombs by silent husbands.
Then, so it says, it churned Paestum’s mosquito-thick
marshes, ferrying worshippers of Poseidon
along the coast to build a town on cliff edges.
From there, it boasts, it danced through waves unmoved by
Sirens’ songs, until it reached Surrentum’s limestone
cape, and squeezed its curved timbers between a cleft
rock to spy on nymphs, who slept beneath oak and sweet
bay as Neptune flowed back and forth between their legs.
But these are old stories. Now a diving-board for
plump brown boys, it drifts in Naples’ harbour (observed
by Vesuvius and armoured trucks) and wonders
if anyone remembers Castor and his twin.


 

Gloves

If you’re going to Rome
there’s a glove shop I always go to when I’m there,
not far from the Spanish Steps
not far from the room where Keats died
not far from that narrow room.
I can give you directions.
I bought my mother the softest pair there
cashmere-lined
the colour of sunshine through red wine
so lovely
she never wears them
they’re still in the tissue.
I bought myself an un-lined pair there
second skins of periwinkle blue
so fine
a perfect match for the scarf I have
from Ravello.
This pair?
Silk-lined strawberry sorbet,
Don’t you just want to lick them?


 

Lamas Flush

Like trees diseased in spring that heal
and bud again before autumn,
your May-bald head is covered now
with a soft down
that dances with the barley.

 

All poems © 2012  Sharon Ashton