overdubs from Charlotte Smith
To the River Adur
Along the river-track, the concrete dug-outs
and flinty Saxon churches tell a walker’s pulse,
while light planes glide to bump the field
and circuit the flats again, full-throttle. Ghosts
of poems haunt the refluent Adur. Lee Harwood
pausing on this bank to lift his ear to catch the skylark’s
witter against the engine drone. By dusk, in his notebook,
the long shadow of a beech stops well short of allegory –
as I step into somebody else’s ‘romantic setting’:
mantled rocks fringe a classic stream of unlikely wild waves,
the meadow a blanket of Sorrow rather than misty-wet clover.
A grisly event took place in Lewes. Bearded men dishing out
self-satisfied shoddy. Robert, promise never to organise
a 1960s conference! Must off to plunge in the briney, Lee
Written in the church-yard at Middleton in Sussex
St Nick’s was washed away about thirty years
after my death, half a century after I perched on its flint wall
in the October moonlight, my feet in the swell,
my face salty with spray, tapping on my Psion –
as soon as they append your town’s name with ‘on-sea’
you’re in trouble; sea levels and longshore drift crumble
the clear edges of England, like French marauders up the Adur
imposing EU Directives by the ghost-bridge at Botolphs –
tapping about bodies tipping out of floating coffins
into the brine, gloomy-Halloweeny-style, wreathed
in weeds, and rising on the bleaching tide to admonish me:
Cheer up Charlie-Girl, you’re only dead once!
No. You’ve escaped the names on your tumbling tombs;
I’m dead over and over, washed over, but never wished away.
The sea view
Big Bo-Beep is having his kip, his flock nibbling
the soft turf where my emigrants once panted
towards the French coast squeezed between sea and sky,
now locked in detention centres, milking the NHS.
He dreams of a pastoral past when ‘trannie’ meant a radio
for Father to listen to the Test Match on these cliffs;
and of future free trade with … No-New-Zea-land-Lamb!
bleats a dream-ram, as a colonial cowboy milks himself
and melts away – no sheep-dogging delight tonight!
He’s jolted awake to matching dark patches, in sky, and on sea.
Are they grey EU gunboats firing on our freighters,
our entrepreneurs smuggling flammable cladding,
the dead and the dying dumped in the English Channel
as France dowses England’s chalk redoubt in cheap cheese? No.
Robert Sheppard’s most recent publications are Micro Event Space from Red Ceilings Press and Twitters for a Lark from Shearsman. The Robert Sheppard Companion (edited by James Byrne and Christopher Madden) is out now from Shearsman. He is currently working his way through the sonnets of Michael Drayton. A treatise on metre, Pulse, is forthcoming. Sheppard lives in Liverpool.