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2 poems by Philip Gross

Limestone, Singing

We call it silence because it's out of our reach, our small senses

– the millennia of tiny dyings,

wave-crush, mute drifting of shell and bone; the sheer weight

of time, its sleeps and its convulsions.

Everything after that could be its dream,

folded under its blanket of mud; we find its fragments, waking:

blunt fist-sized nubs in the furrows,

scored by the plough, the ploughshares buckled and cursed,

or at the field's edge, heaped into cairns; bared on the slope

where capsized strata break through,

cracked and carted, rattled down the kiln's throat, born again

through fire, as quicklime; whole fields

stripped, grubbed up in a clanking

of buckets and chains, the tireless cough of diggers, tramway trucks,

conveyors, hoppers – we find their rust-

remnants in the brambles as the opencast returns to earth –

first lichens, then low things, wiry moor-grass, yellow tormentil

and silverweed, thorn-scrub-clumps,

one by one, and windblown seeds, bird droppings, our rich

neglect, and time, and there's lark song

scribbling its inscriptions on the sky

as if this was the only morning there had ever been or will be.

To Seed

Old seed-head, drooping

with the weight of generations,

give us a nod in passing.

We are the young ones here,

we once-onliers, we blurs

against the sun, we shadows

with no purchase on the grass

now a trick of the wind makes it flow,

makes it a tide race, baffled,

backwash counter-seething

into its disparate selves

at the moment of turn. Stand still,

we could deceive ourselves

this is much about us,

heads filled with explanations

till they rattle – the more so

the older we grow. We shake them,

mouths open so words

like seed-fluff lift into the wind.

Like now. As if you're listening,

stiff stooping grass-head, mown

for good, we’d think,

this year – the field harrowed,

kept, our desire lines closed,

and whether you're leaning askew

at the field's edge or deep

in the library stacks of the soil

looking up 'savannah' old friend,

spare us a nod as we go.

for Zélie


Philip Gross’ Thirteenth Angel (Bloodaxe, 2022) was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize. He is a keen collaborator, e.g. with artist Valerie Coffin Price on A Fold In The River (2015), with Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (2018) and Welsh-language poet Cyril Jones on Troeon/Turnings (2021)


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