Waterloo Field

Deep, deep the sleep of heroes laid to rest
In hollows watered by their youthful blood.

Deep, deep the silence on the smoking plain
Where horse and rider will not rise again.

Deep, deep the ploughshare’s furrow like a wound
Across their common grave in fallow ground.

Deep, deep the yellow of the ripened corn
Which falls before the reaper’s scythe at dawn.

Deep, deep the snow whose icy funeral pall
Bedecks the dead and slowly covers all.

1987-1988

For Mother

When evening light the garden fills
And shadows fall across the lawn
Beneath the oak,
Down the long path
With trug of windfalls
And a bunch of mint,
I see you coming,
Smiling, to greet us.

March 1993

Shooting stars in Autumn

Where are you now, dear hearts, from what far bourne
Do you survey the lives of those who mourn?
Too soon, in quick succession through the night,
Your tired spirits took their final flight,
So stars in Autumn shoot across the sky
And in one moment fall to earth and die.
But on your journey, loving, brave, upright,
You shared with us the burning of your light.

For Granny and Bumpah
April 1993

Tiananmen Square

The Student’s Poem

Last night as I slept in Tiananmen Square
I dreamt a new age had begun.
White peonies bloomed in forests of jade
And a bridge joined the earth and sun.
Our bicycles flew on butterfly wings
And they carried us far and high,
On currents of hope we floated along
Like kites through a cloudless sky.

But daylight breaks early in Tiananmen Square
And our time for such dreaming is done.
The tanks start to roll with the first morning light
To the crack of truncheon and gun.
A blind man cries out: “I can hear rifle shots
And I smell the smoke on the air.
Oh, tell me, please tell me, what do you see
In the vastness of Tiananmen Square?”

How blessed the sightless! “The smoke pall hangs thick
On the bodies of wounded and slain.
The petals are bruised and the peony heads
Are bowed down to earth by the rain.
The butterfly wings are crushed in the mud
And our blood flows away to the sea.”
Oh, the tears are flooding his sightless eyes
And my own bitter tears blind me.

Deng’s Poem

When I was their age
I was crossing mountain passes
Deep in snow,
My feet wrapped in straw,
Doubled up at night
With cold and hunger,
Soaking
my swollen chilblains in urine
To relieve the pain.
When the thaw began,
We were all captured
And the Nationalists
Clubbed us black and blue.

Now from where I sit
On my lacquered chair
Upholstered in saffron silk,
I hear the gunfire
In Tiananmen Square.
In fact, you should know
My hesitation
Was short-lived,
For the choice between
Men and orthodoxy
Is not difficult to make.
We, too, paid a price
For all we conquered.
We turned the country
Upside down but now,
At my age, I don’t
Really want to live
Such turmoil again.

In the dark, still pool
Below my window,
A giant carp swims
In constant circles.
He was there before
We began our march,
He will still be swimming
When I am gone.
Give me your arm
And walk me to the pool,
And bring some pieces
Of rice bread with you.

The Mother’s Poem

I begged him not to go
But how could I
Expect him to obey
When all around
The youthful current flowed
So swift and strong.
Last night on my old sheets
He wrote in black
His hopeful testament
And by sunrise
This morning, he was gone.

This is his only
Picture I possess,
Taken by the Gate
Of Heavenly Peace
In last winter’s
Early snowfall,
Not far from where
He fell and died today.
They cradled his head,
Red as a poppy,
Then bore him away
On a builder’s cart.

He was my only child
Which pleased the Party.
Now they have taken
My one child away.
Alone, I hear
His footfall at the door
But it is only
The night wind
Trying to enter.

Reciting the poem in Tiananmen Square in 2005. Celia Cummins, Judy Smith and Victoria Smith

Reciting the poem in Tiananmen Square in 2005. Celia Cummins, Judy Smith and Victoria Smith

 

 

Traveller

We are, forever,
Sighting, approaching
Or retreating from
Unexplored shorelines.
Footprints on sandbanks
Seeking higher land,
Fresh tracks on shingle
Downwards through gullies
Out to waiting seas.
Unfinished journeys,
Always casting off,
Never arriving…
New conquistadors
Watching for omens,
Birds, constellations,
Driftwood on currents,
Voices in the wind.
Each successive shore
Spread more seductive
Than the one before,
But no abiding
Haven for the heart,
Still less for the mind.
At the tide’s turning,
Anchors are lifted,
Islands receding
To hazy horizons,
Leaving images
No more permanent
Than spray in the wake
Of dawn caravels.

9 January 1991

Lichens of the mind

I come each year to where my father lies
And read again the polished granite stone,
Which tells me that he died on such a date,
At such an age and may he Rest in Peace.
The formula is bare, so much unsaid,
And with each year becomes more indistinct
As images I hold become concealed
Behind eroding lichens of the mind.

August 1985

Tired railway sleepers

Tired railway sleepers
From long disappeared lines,
Shoring up the earth in
My vertical garden.
In the frozen small hours,
Do your fibres vibrate
In time to the rhythm
Of the five o’clock train
Heading South to Nivelles
Or distant Charleroi?
Tired railway sleepers
From up lines and down lines,
From shunting yards and sheds
In the back of beyond,
From bridges and cuttings,
Tunnels and viaducts,
Do you still groan under
The weight of ghost wagons
with frail human cargoes,
Transported to God knows
What final solution?

February 1995