‘radiant with bovine life’ (E.M. Forster)

‘It’s raining but I don’t believe it’s raining’ (G.E. Moore)



Docks, nettles, self-sown
   sycamores, willows
thunderstruck by their own
  brilliance, sap-boiled,
boughs gone scissor-handed.  

 The cow is there, now.
Do not move suddenly
      or she’ll scare. 

Scrutinise the lining
   of flies. First thistles
then she tongues down a slip
  of overhanging willow.  

 She is there.

     A woman sleeps rough
by the chained punts, money-spiders
    criss-crossing her back.

Attempting steps down
  from Fellows’ Court,
the poet, grand old man,
 white-haired with stick.

                 The living image of my mother
whispers to her companion:
                  ‘I like walking full stop.’

High summer’s over.
                    The great elms motionless,
yellow blotches on their leaves.

                   I’m there – in the meadow –
I have proved it to myself.



I’m not down some
grey-muzzled road
off the old Kite

nor chalked up
and ICES beneath

a pyramid
of canned peas
there since rationing

nor standing any week-day
dusk by a temporary
bus stop on Pound Hill

nor head-down
over the drop handlebars
of some five-gear

Gentleman’s Racer
sporting tweeds
and cycle-clips

nor behind a crack-pot
hollyhock by spiked black
railings past the U.L.

but simply blistering off
in globules
that have collected

according to the laws
of surface tension
on the bonnet

of a permit-holder’s Polo
under paving-stone-
cracking sycamores 

down Grange Road
contemplating that turn
up to the Maltings



What rough beast…
                                Jon Tipple in ‘The Granta’
all randy laughter, Eraserhead hair,
         fingering shrapnel from the till,
                       collaring a chilled draught Guinness. 

Love’s bitter mystery…
                                     The trace of down
on an arm can do it. T-bone, fillet, rump.
         ‘Green leaf or mixed, dressing for the salad, sir ?’
                        Grant me an old man’s frenzy.

 What else have I to spur me into song ?                                                                                                                                     Ah, there, across
the mill pond towards the new Pizzeria,
          those punters with the pole playing silly buggers
                   right next to that swan. 



Ground Floor between Fiction and Poetry.
The second time in as many days. It comes at me.
The smell from where she sits between Travel
and Crime is enough to make browsers wrinkle
features in ‘what is that ?’ disgust. She stinks.

Because clothes for sleeping rough, layer upon
layer, are being walked in, underneath the visible
leather-sheen great-coat and cap. Auschwitz ?
That liberation shot at the wire ?  No, here, beneath
the 3 For 2 CD offers in the Borders Summer Sale.

The truth is, she impregnates every last page of verse:
the entire Carcanet list, the brand new Armitage,
the Collected Muldoon, the Selected O’Hara, the new
Billy Childish, 101 Poems That Will Change Your Life
you name it. We all track on by, join a queue

to pay by plastic. She exits into Market Square, freeing
up from under the cap her long streak-grey hair,
making her way beyond us. I keep finding her
days later, unremitting, unbearable still, in page
after page of Paul Celan or Miklós Radnóti.



                             I’d made it — broken the back
of Anna Karenina on a three day week
of eight hour shifts, barely conscious
of the world out there: the lines at Grunwick,
the National Front, the exiled Shah. All done
in top floor digs on the Lensfield Road, a room
with a view over a carpark and a criminal
Edwardian fire escape. Oliver’s army was here
to stay. Talk over the chicken chow mein
was of ‘narodnost’, commitment to the cause.

Then to the place of labour: working flat out
on bed or floor, a production line of borstal specials
and Maxwell House brews from the communal tin.                                     

Snow drifted through
                                   the second night;
an easterly wind jittering the string
of the primitive extractor fan. History
was one vast steppe. By dawn, water
at Hobson’s Choice was laminated in ice.

My classic set in Linotype Pilgrim fell apart
at the death– individual leaves came away
in my hands from the creased black spine.
The only thing to stick was an image of Kitty
and Levin under the Milky Way before the run
of blank sheets you get at the very end.



a place to graze the eye
   note the levels
   here a shimmer  
of springtime buds    

 the glaze of mist 

you point out to me
  carved in stone
     a bird stilled
  for centuries       

        its crest
on a college wall       

but quiet now
   from a lilac bush
badly in need
   of cutting back 

        a robin
ups and leaves 

   for Coe Fen
 on to the place
where rivers join 

         is it



A stone wyvern –
                                   weighed a ton.

Midnight prank there come dawn.
Snow dusted the college lawn.
We knelt, shaking.
                                      Then it was done.


Peter Carpenter has a New and Selected Poems forthcoming from Smith/Doorstop in 2012, following five previous collections. He is a regular essayist and reviewer for London Magazine and The North. He was Creative Writing Fellow at the University of Reading during 2007-08, was made a Visiting Fellow at the University of Warwick in 2000, and has taught at Tonbridge School since 1992. He co-directs Worple Press.