Literary Yard

Search for meaning

‘Alfred Wallis’ and other poems by Bill Arnott

By Bill Arnott

Alfred Wallis

I drop to a knee, graveside.

Behind me blue-green water thrashes unseen reef
with granite stacks and blackened blocks of basalt
sending streamers strafing skyward
towering ivory ribbons splashing frothy white
reversing ocean-liner celebration out to sea

The grave I’m kneeling at, home to one
who never knew celebrity
now has a name in certain circles
artists, painters, connoisseurs
lovers of The Craft
who may/may not know what they like
but idolize the man lying beneath me
almost certain turned to dusty calcium
no trace of flesh, hair long gone
grim smile of exposed teeth
in open jaw and gaping mouth
a look of manic joy and dark delight

There is no glamour in the ground
beneath six feet of earth
compacted peat and compressed sod
long since laid to rest

It’s Alfred Wallis who lies here
below my bended knee
the painter who pursued his art
when no one seemed to care
painting water, boats and life
the manner that he knew
genius in a childlike eye

I think that’s what I love
about this man of depth
we know him well and yet so little
uncomplicated to a fault
brushstrokes overanalyzed
beyond the point of reason, now
a man who simply loved to paint
and painted love as well
in water, boats and seaside views
like what’s behind me now


Gobletful of Porthmeor Rock and Roll

Walking sandy shoreline joining pincer-points of land
a rocky crab-claw grasping at Atlantic

limpets, whelks and cuttlefish-bone litter wave-tamped shore
with discs of slate like Lilliputian blackboards

sun set some time ago, I shuffle through the black
angled slope of beach my guide and line of breaking waves

something different in their sound, this evening somehow new
a noise like throwing countless dice at walls in shadowed lanes

each rising surge of water tumbling on the shore
tonight is spinning fist-sized rocks like Stone Age chorus lines

rows of Neolithic dancers kicking with the tide
their score the roar of wind and wave, their band the sea and shore

these walking rocks, a rolling stroll, the sound surrounds me all around
somewhere a Bronze Age man my age smiles at the symmetry

when he was here more land was near, sea was lower, far away
what we’d call Lyonesse, in time, where Gwenevere was lost

to Lancelot, besot with Gwen, beseeched his men for freedom, ran
across the sand from Camelot, beyond the end of land

where Perceval and every knight were finally at rest
each wayward haggard wanderer lay down to Scilly’s barrows
abandoned chalice dusty, boxed in someone’s attic

at peace, like you
like me, and all we see
or long to be, on nights like this
at one, ensconced
in endless darkened sea


Skull Cinema

The path is made in the walking of it. – Zhuangzi

A film unwinds
with soft spinning hum
of reel to reel
contented tail-wag
of light on a wide white screen

Images, memories
flicker and fold
an origami dance in 2D
dusted mercurial
gathered and spliced
revealed on a wide white screen

Dream-sown thoughts
woven in needlework
spindled, spun
knotted and purled
sewn into tapestries
hung from a wide white screen

Footfall arteries
pulse of the tide
cadence primordial
ECG pings
pace left to right
trail on a wide white screen

Each stride-vignette
a chapter, a verse
the journey a palette imagined
producer, director and writer
to merge on a wide white screen

Stories walked into tangible
adapting, common screen
congenial comfort shared solitude
burst into kernel-pop thoughts
remembered, real-time, and lived
on a wide white screen


Force Eight, Abigail, and Captain Phil, a Madman

Aboard a pilot cutter, Abigail
fifty-four feet of wind-powered teak
reinforced steel
struts, strakes and keel
race ahead of force eight
the gale on our tail
heaving up and heaving over
twelve-foot heaving swells
that break in icy froth of spindrift
strafes my face
saline sting of airborne surf
buckshot cut on skin
whipped water – black and blue to white
beaten, tethered, lifeline, cleats
deck-tacked, sufficient play
to make my way, midship to stern
our huddled hands hang on
waves thrash
submerge by half, our ship diminished
merciless Atlantic, Celtic Sea
dilutes the fear, leaves me bereft
the feelings that ensue
post grief and trauma

penetrating calm

leaves one accepting
grounded, finally rounding home
olly-oxen free!
we all come out from hiding
real selves emerge after the storm
newborn nautiluses
shell-less, drifting on a tide

above, beyond, hang herring gulls
fixed-wing as kites
while gannets plummet, suicidal
gold tipped meteors
smashing in the sea

now, Captain Phil was always
miserable it seemed, he hated us
for reasons we won’t know
then realized we weren’t a threat
in fact respected him
to which he followed suit, one night

to the sound of seven thirsty sailors
sopping up each bit of booze
to a song by Great Big Sea
our drunken crew joined in the chorus
captain quaffed a vase of gin
danced hornpipes as we clapped and laughed
a modern eighteenth century crew
but scurvy-free

later, last of the liquor lingering
lazy as a tapeworm
by another stretch of silent shore
as sea-wobbled legs find focus
in the style of Polaroid film
blurred memories emerge, in chevron wake
a storm riled ocean, chased by rage, the gale
gripping mane-like crests we ride
each plunge of bowsprit a harpoon
spear plankton-sparkled waves
through endless, endless night
relentless steersman at the helm
our Ahab, Captain Phil


The Allure of Sir Winston

Somewhere in London, alone
amongst eight million, I’m flagged
beckoned by dark-wood Edwardian pub
white painted exterior timber and beams
geraniums hang like plump ruby earrings
one door ajar signals me with a pssst
I say who, me?
take absence of objection as confirmation
and proceed, beneath, between fragrant bobbles
stooping slightly under lintel, enjoying a moment
of feeling overly tall
inside the pub a long and chocolate coloured bar
lacquered in a century of elbow polish
generations of spilled beer, saturated smoke
where more jewellery is on display
piercings run the bar length, taps of every colour
thrust like spikes and studs into the counter
bitters, ales, IPAs, and ESBs and stouts
while porters bookend ciders
along the floor a scuffed brass rail
resembles anklets, hammered straight
snapped free from anchor ball-and-chains
this place could be a thrift store, antique shop
like someone’s granny’s attic spawned
their offspring then exploding
teapots, model planes and railways
tennis racquets, piggy banks and porcelain
every type of instrument
flutes, drums, and clarinets, violins and saxophones
squeezeboxes, banjoes, baritones, a sousaphone!
hangs from the ceiling, the only dusting
must be when punters sneeze
and now I’ve pissed off Andy Capp, standing
by the seat I’ve chosen
tiny ancient man in ancient tweed, actually huffs
despite a row of empty stools I’ve clearly chosen his
I take the low road and ignore him
immerse myself in an imperial pint, snap newspaper
in front of me, international sign for Do Not Disturb
a further awkward pause …
Andy lets out one last huff and finally fucks off
while I pretend to understand the cricket scores

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