Monthly Archives: December 2014

A flock of birds

Birds at Sunset 141230

A flock of birds swoops and circles
In front of the setting sun
Bringing another day to an end,
And even, as in this case, another year.
The birds do not make that connection;
They are more into circlings than endings.
And tomorrow they’ll be ready to go again
Making new patterns in the sky
Regardless of what the sun is doing,
Though perhaps drawing my attention
To the juxtaposition of chance events
From which I somehow create symbolic meanings
That pass them by.

© Peter Young 2014

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Resolution 1

Cigarette packets 141121A

You always said that you were going to give up smoking
but I still see you puffing away,
making excuses that expand and disperse
like the clouds that emanate from your nostrils.
Where’s your willpower. I’ve been using mine
to nag you, nag you, keep on nagging you.
So I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t work,
It doesn’t work, us doesn’t work, so what does work?
Burning the cigarettes to the end works, if you’re a smoker
And that’s what you are, a smoker, not some one who gives up.
The cigarettes give you the strength and the courage to keep going
at least for the moment. Until there will come a time
when the last cigarette falls from your lips, ash splashed
on your slightly burned cardigan, which in due course
will also be incinerated, as you will be my dear,
in the fiery furnace of the crematorium.
Your memorial will mention your determination
to defy me, but not your ability to defy nature
which took its course – as I took my course
away from you, to avoid your exhalations
to keep away from your stink, your dusty life
your lack of concern for anything long term
or short-term, come to that, other than your own being,
Which has now gone up in smoke.

Lac de Bannac Dog-end tin 091012A

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Today’s Special

Cathedral Café 140609 1B

Remembering, you thought that it was ‘just another day’,
A day like any other day.
But you’re mistaken, and shortsighted;
You forgot to look for difference.
Of course there was a difference, neither hiding,
Nor in the place you were looking – your paper, screen or book –
And it failed to grab your attention or give you pause.
Because you were too busy inhabiting that inner world,
A place you visit on a regular basis
Which makes one day seem like every other.

What were those special days,
The times you looked up from your thoughts or your guidebook
And became a contributing part of the world around you?
Perhaps on holiday in an unfamiliar city,
That place resting on its far deeper memories.
That became special to you, your eyes were opened.

But to the people who lived there,
It was probably a day like every other –
Except that you’d showed up, eager eyed.
They probably didn’t pay much attention to tourists
And in a way, you were grateful to be left alone
To enjoy discovering this foreign city.
Orange Statue 130423 1A
But soon, being a tourist becomes ordinary.
You forget that one of the joys of life is watching people,
And that visiting cathedrals and art-galleries
Only briefly acknowledges those responsible for their existence.
Another archway, bridge, or statue can be numbing;
But people and their idiosyncrasies never wear out.

So take a while, to pause, stop doing things.
At a sidewalk café in Albi, Arles or Aix.
The people there are special, so engage your gaze.
And if they return your glance, you’ll be special too,
For them. Two lives illuminated, two worlds
Where intersecting planes ignite your knowing.
You share the pilgrim’s recognition of separate paths
That meet and coalesce and then move on.
You’ve made each other’s day –
And this day’s special.

© Peter Young 2014

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Midwinter Sunlight

Severn Stoke Church Tree 141213 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evergreen holly, ivy decorate
Mantelpiece, hallway, door and living-room.
Luminous baubels, shining magically,
Mistletoe kisses, lighted Christmas-trees
Seasonal greetings, written messages,
Colourful cards all wishing pleasantries.
Chestnuts are roasting, hissing, spluttering,
Smouldering yule-log, firelight flickering.

Midwinter sunlight, softly heralding
Ancient beginnings, New Year festivals.
Fluttering snowflakes, winter thistledown
Softening edges, hiding harshnesses.
Cycle completion, past remembering:
What we have been through, learned from, laughed about.
Growing together, distant thoughtfulness:
Have we been loving, caring, comforting?

Now let us wonder: future mysteries,
Prophecies, wishes, hopes, expectancies.
Truth within hindsight, honest seeing what
Might have been, may be, could be, ever be —
Full of potential. Lifetimes traveller:
Where are we heading? Who is guarding us?
What is awaiting? New lives, clarities,
Things always wanted, fortune, happiness.

© Peter Young 2014

I wrote this some years ago, after attending a concert in the Brewhouse in Taunton for a performance by the Hungarian Folk Group Vasmalom. They were on a tour of Britain and had just arrived from Birmingham.
They played a piece of music – I think it was something to do with Christmas – with the rhythm: • – – • – , • – • – – or 3 + 2 + 2 + 3 which they taught us chant using the words Birmingham Taunton, Taunton Birmingham. I thought I would use this same rhythm for writing a poem.

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Singing Together

Cajarc Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each year I find myself drawn to singing carols,
With mixed feelings I take my place in church.
I don’t much like the worn-out tunes, and clichéd rhymes,
Obsolete sentiments and pious religiosity make me squirm,
And yet I join in with others in the singing.
Some verses I know by heart, known them since time began,
I look up from the hymn-sheet and notice the people.

This time of year they’re all wrapped up.
The heating system in a cold stone church
Does its best to enliven this ancient occasion,
Warming a way through the tinsel of tradition.
There’s something over and above the mere gathering of folk,
Together, singing. We ignite something that never wears out,
And yet needs to be renewed every winter solstice,
The return of the sun, the return of the Son.

This year with a walking group in an ancient village church,
Many of whom I had never met before;
Last year in France, with a mix of nationalities,
And the lessons and carols in a selection of different languages.
The traditional French “Il est né” at a cracking pace
Bringing delightful shocking relief from Watching Shepherds.
Singing “Stille Nacht”, each verse in a different language.
Struggling to pronounce the Dutch and Occitan.

The tawdry superficiality may seem corny,
But there’s something deeper going on.
The singing voices themselves reach out
To every choir in every place since time began.
Always connecting; it’s why we sing in groups.
Not just with our companions here and now,
But to all who have ever gathered in one place
To sing and briefly contemplate their lives,
This year’s conclusions, next year’s resolutions,
Hope of renewal, realignment with purpose,
Making sense of it all.

 

© Peter Young 2014

 

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Rarotonga

A distant memory in time and place.

The life in Nutwood turned me on
To stories, as I sat upon
My mother’s knee, so keen to hear
Fantastic tales of Rupert Bear.

Four cartoon pictures on a page
A rhyming couplet to assuage
All those whose reading skills were low;
A prose rendition lay below.

The Bear was often all at sea.
Washed up upon a desert isle.
And chased by savages (not PC).
He never stopped to stand a while
To feel the sun, eat coconut
Beneath the palms where fishes teem.
That image never faded, but
Lay dormant, just a childhood dream.

The year is 1983, and we find ourselves on a desert island, though not an island that is deserted. The place is Rarotonga, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. How did we get here? Not in a sailing ship as Captain Cook did, and who gave his name to this cluster of islands and atolls – but by air, following a zigzag route which crossed the international dateline three times, leaving in its wake a week with two Tuesdays and a missing Friday.

Come closer: we are about to witness a dream coming true. We’re here at the side of the road at the eastern end of the island. As you might imagine, this tarmac road is bordered with palm trees. Ah, here it comes; a pickup truck from Avarua, the main town on the island. It stops on the bend in the road. A man gets out, says something to the driver, and the pick-up drives off.

We follow the man through a small scrubby park to a curving sandy beach bordering a lagoon. Across the bay there’s a spit of land, covered in coconut palms. A narrow channel leads out of the lagoon into the expansive picture-postcard-blue Pacific, where a hundred yards out a white line of waves breaks over a coral reef. There is a gentle breeze; the sun is overhead and strong. The man sits on the sand and takes off his shoes.

I walked upon this beach of golden sand,
Went barefoot, felt the rising warmth.
Saw sunlight flicker through the waving palms.
And stopped to hear the swishing of the surf.
“I’ve done it now, at last, and here I’ve found
My childhood dream has just become a truth.”

I had got what I wished for, nothing less.
But soon the lapping wavelets did suggest
A creeping sense of boredom, I confess.
A nagging thought demanded: “So, what next?”

What next indeed! It’s what is known as ‘a threshold moment’, a magical time when reality shifts. A moment to be treasured, as it marks a significant milestone along life’s path.

An ending now in Rarotonga,
Time to part, be on my way.
My visit here need last no longer,
Nor any reason for dismay.

What evidence would vouch my visit?Rarotonga Map & Shell 141210 3A
What could I take? What souvenir?
An object that would be exquisite,
Distinctive of this hemisphere.

The man spots something in the sand. He gets up, walks over, and picks up a sea-shell. He turns it over, smiles back at the shell’s toothy grin, and puts it in his pocket.

I found a cowrie, perfectly designed
To be a memento, a means to teach
A salutary lesson of the kind
That silently says more than any speech.
I have it still, a way to bring to mind
Another life that once was in my reach.
Here, damp Worcestershire, is where I find
The time to deconstruct that palm-fringed beach.

The years have passed, I’ve changed a lot since then,
My adult attitude far more complex.
That Nutwood life was well beyond my ken,
Christmas Annuals no longer my effects.
The tea where I could dip my Madeleine
Did not exist in urban Middlesex.
“Be careful what you wish for”, but I say,
Appreciate the moment, then go play.

Peter Young © 2014

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The Yellow Fence

In February 2014 Worcester’s Football Ground began the slow process of being converted into a building site. The old fence alongside the canal was replaced.

Yellow Fence 140218 2A

And then painted yellow.

Yellow fence 140305 2A

It remained this way for several months, and in the summer, convolvulus grew over the top.

Old Football Ground fence 140704A

And then in September, some graffiti appeared.

Yellow Fence Graffiti 140921 1A

This was painted over, and in December the fence became a community project, where volunteers painted local scenes.

Yellow Fence Painting 141208 1AYellow Fence Painters 141203 5A

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Philip Larkin

Remembering Philip Larkin  
(9 August 1922 – 2 December 1985)

Philip Larkin and I shared a place and a time.
Living just round the corner from each other,
In Pearson Park in Hull,
He the Librarian, I the student.
But we never met, never encountered each other
Strolling through the park on the way to lectures
Or coming home from the library.
The only time I saw him: a film crew
From the BBC came to make a Monitor programme.
The camera, perched on a library trolley,
Tracked back, humbly, pretending obeisance,
As he walked through the Reading Room
Of the Library – a special occasion
On which we both turned up.

 

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The Bread Van

The Bread Van, Birmingham, 1950s Acknowledgment to Alan Nicholls

The Bread Van, Birmingham, 1950s
Acknowledgment to Alan Nicholls

The Bread Van

Give us this day … Only it was every other day with the bread man. Milk everyday, yes, but a loaf would outlast a pint.

Mind you, there’s wasn’t a lot of choice: the bread was mostly white, but in different shapes: bloomers, farmhouse with that dip in the middle where the baker had allegedly pressed his elbow, cobs, sandwich tins – the odd one out being Hovis. Wholemeal? No. But they all smelt wonderful once the doors at the back of the van were opened, that yeasty smell that created instant hunger.

Then the stick came into play. The breadman used the stick to retrieve the loaves from the lines of shelves running the length of the van. It was a well-worn wooden batten, its corners knocked off from frequent use, and it had a two-inch nail through the end. This spike, the protruding nail, was used to stab a loaf and hoick it forward. So everyone got a punctured loaf, but they didn’t complain. It was simple solution which speeded up the delivery. We thought “How neat” and nothing more.

The loaves were wrapped in a small sheet of tissue-like paper, rather as the French still do today, and handed over. As our loaf was not sealed, this meant we could give in to temptation and start nibbling the crust on the journey back to the house.

“Don’t pick at it!” my mother used to say, but I think she was tempted herself, because sometimes she asked for a loaf more crusty than the humble standard square loaf used for our sandwiches. Then we all dug in, picking and tearing off ragged pieces, so that soon there was not enough left for the next day.

But it was that nail that stayed with me.

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