The Colour of Poppies

This poem was written in November 2014 at a time when there were many events to commemorate the centenary of the commencement of the First World War…

The poppy that I wear is white.
Safety-pinned to my coat, self-conscious in its isolation
amidst a sea of red.

At the Cenotaph, at hundreds of ‘lesser’ memorials
scattered amongst market towns and village greens,
people stand, heads bowed, and for a moment
a precious silence falls.

No silence, though, in those far-flung lands.
Not poppy-seeded, centagenarian fields,
but arid, mountain-fringed desert.
Towns, villages, mortared to rubble,
Prayers called
from the remnants of a mosque.

A child, schoolbook in hand.
A missing limb
A missing parent
A missing brother, holed up with rebels in the hills.

Politicians speak but do not listen
to the screams of the souls of their dead.
‘No more, no more’ the chant of the grieving,
the wail from white-sheeted bodies
lining a corridor where lights flicker and fail.
No water to wash them clean.

Even I, immersed in the politics of peace,
Fail to resolve the conflicts at my door.
What hope for those, three thousand miles away,
caught up in war?

And, after all,
the poppies that we wear are red.

annedegruchy.co.uk image: poppies

© Anne de Gruchy


Home Sickness

This poem is another old one. I found it in my archives, complete with notes and alterations. I’m not sure, even now, that it’s finished or in final form. I don’t know why, but it spoke to me when I read it again, so I thought I would share it…

This place is not the same.
It creaks your absence in whale-boned walls
that bend and strain under weight of silence,
missing the sounds of communication,
the rise and fall of taken-for-granted conversations,
empty words scurrying between us
soft-lining corridor and room
with shared domesticity
until your leaving
strips them bare again.

I pace around the edges of the house,
avoiding corners where I might stumble on the scent
of a question,
the stagnated mould of a half-finished argument,
a fertile sowing-ground
ripe for your return.

I know you will return.
I know it by the legacy of threatening stillness
that challenges my right to build
bookshelves full of other voices,
other bindings than that of
me to you.
Held within this padded cell
I never heard the key turn in the lock,
focussed, as I was, on the softness of the fabric,
the silk-sheen cloth of your presence,
disguising frame of steel.

pared back to stone,
the walls still echo with your going,
yet when I call
there is no ripple of response,
no note of recognition,
to evidence my sole occupation.
Uninhabited except for dreams,
only the shadows move.
The silence feeds on your absence,
speaking volumes.

If I could
I’d leave this mausoleum to its ghosts,
but the key remains
on the outside.


Between the Generations

This poem is a very old one, written about my son when he was 7 (he is now 23). He used to love watching the hay being cut and baled in the fields below our house, and was taken under the wing of the owner of the fields who offered him a ride on the tractor. My son was too shy to accept! I include the poem now because I was looking for one which felt right for this time of year – and of course it brings back some wonderful memories…

Between the generations there is an old bathtub
upturned to form a seat of kinds
warmed by sun and bottoms three.
One, two, three
in a row
deep in contemplation of the age.

This seat affords a view unrivalled by benches marked ‘in memory of -’.
Framed by a blue sky,
dusty air rising above the purr of the tractor as it cuts its way
below the watching three
trailing clouds of stalk and stem,
buttercup and marguerite,
cranesbill, campion, vetch.
Better entertainment far than Coronation Street.

On the left: boiler-suited Luke, plumber by trade, owner of these fields.
Farmer, too, by dint of history and a family name
that rolled off tongues the same
three hundred years ago as now.
Time-warped fields – five, six in number –
hedged by memories laced with hawthorn and elder
woven with the passing of the years.

And here is Fred, eighty if he’s a day, chewing the cud with the cows,
mulling over the wisdoms of silent intercourse
that fold the day in
and send time into tread-water stillness
marked only by the bluebottle buzz of the grasses at his feet.

Between these two, you: my golden child,
harvest of my womb and grown
seven going on seventy.
Conversing deep, in your little coven of three, on things of import:
hay, and tractors, and the best bailing twine.

© Anne de Gruchy


Channel Crossing

Above decks the blue sky cries seagulls
and a dragged pull of cirrus cloud.
Children against the railings
hauled back by parents:
‘Can we go for chips, mum?’
The ferry heaving under,
bulging a cargo of fruit machines, TV lounges
and cheap french wine.

Below decks it is quiet with the stink of petrol.
Stephan shifts
feels the push of Jolanta’s foot against his thigh.

Fourth run today.
The captain, thinking about home, wonders what’s for tea
and will he be back in time for the match?
They could do with a washout, his team,
that or a miracle.
They never should have sold their striker to United.

The lorry is hot, sealed against curious eyes,
lettering on the side advertising a supermarket chain.
The swell of the sea
shifting bodies against each other in the cramped space.

A prayer comes to Stephan
a meditation.
He speaks it silently to himself, careful of the precious supply of air.
He thinks of the dress he will buy Jolanta
of the children they will have.

‘I feel sick, mum.’
‘Go to the toilet, then. I told you not to have them chips.’
The ferry heaving
the sky blue above
the hold airless, petrol-laden, bumper to bumper full.

when Stephan comes to me at the refugee centre,
the only thing he can remember about the boat
is the moment that Jolanta’s foot
stopped moving against his thigh.

© Anne de Gruchy


Baby Blues

This morning I heard you singing in the dawn,
imagined milky breath on red-raw nipple
his greedy mouth devouring you, eyes creased
crinkled as our sheets in the days when we used to make love.

Your voice swerved, pitched and plundered
a lullaby repertoire of hand-me-down secrets
each note staking claim to the divinity of motherhood.
My wife and child, swaddled in a halo of electric light
that edged me out beneath the bedroom door.

The notes rose, suckling the air. I pictured him
pink with the pleasure of your breast, intent on a conquest
already made, even as he had swelled, ripening,
moulding your body into his image under my hand.

The melody faded. Your footsteps padded to his cot
pausing in their journey back to our bed.
I sensed the betrayal of your kiss on his forehead
and wondered why no-one had told me
the truth about the baby blues.

© Anne de Gruchy