‘Ilkley Crags’ and other poems by Stephen Kingsnorth
By: Stephen Kingsnorth
Far from south western sibling tors
these stubby crags emerge from peat,
amongst scrag season’s heather, gorse;
but mother loved these Yorkshire moors
so different from her Exmoor stags.
Yarn Dunster lass, strode tussocks, tufts,
the billowed gale, church choir let loose
to chant baht ‘at with ducks and worms,
while homeland turf tells country girl
within must sacrifice the air.
As had the combe, she treasured dale,
till Bristol sent, where Wesley’s wharf,
worked pre-war hovels, fetid slums.
A brass-plate pinned – Deaconess Court –
to gate post is memorial,
the only clue to heritage,
Methodist training college site.
She studied, wrote, had classes there,
played tennis, age of twenty three;
foot fault line here, goose step not far,
raised hand for serve, straight armed salute –
love all on court, nineteen thirty six.
Bleached bones, pecked bird food on the roof
thick-laid, thin pickings, asphalt skin;
with box – rubber gloves rare worn then –
and as with arcade claw machine
my arm, articulated, swung
joints to box, cardboard, mouth agape.
For decades Sunday lunch remains
were thrown to flat top garage span;
shilling for scouts and half an hour,
Dad’s war neighbours aerial scanned.
When he fire watched did he stand here?
Did he chew spam and make it last
or take some home in sandwich tin?
Were the searchlights pointing to sky,
or daytime dogfights, streaming clouds –
Spitfires from nearby Biggin Hill –
watched by the many, though a few?
No weekend chuck on rooftop then
when he, as special constable
after day’s farm work kept the peace.
Dad wrote when asked, but never spoke
of war, a common stance I hear;
I did not question, ask of past.
Was I fearful, stirring the mud,
sediment then too grim to face?
Coventry by the voices from
pre-teenage and stepfather years
stretched into courtship disapproved,
engagement, lay preaching, marriage,
and then the loss of firstborn son.
Inside the pantry door, as boy,
despite the pigment off-white gloss,
a scar, scraped wood, smooth surface torn;
the shrapnel through the kitchen came
a decade prior to my birth.
Within a yard of kitchen sink
wounds are covered with thickened paint;
door tight shut, means daily, hidden
shelved things lie cool beside the gauze,
where out of sight means out of thought.
Up The Creek
Though yet kids mingle in the street
below the north Kent railway track,
our daily destination norm,
The Rec, for playing, growing up,
both learning give and take a risk,
for muscle stretch and helping hand
short trouser-knees me, they in dress.
Grandmother’s house, cut through the lane,
and there from maypole hung the chains,
to throw ourselves around, again,
by concrete through-the-tunnel, climb,
with grazing edge, slide without sides,
a balanced cone as witches hat,
all grass or paved, hard underneath.
Unstabled block, a horse to rock,
for fifteen swinging at a push,
see-saw to spring, though bumping back,
harsh metal scars in chip-thick paint,
revealing coats laid decades through,
but not the jumpers, woolly hats,
or broken promise, don’t turn up.
But superseding, longer haul,
permission granted, ‘off you go’,
The Rec to Creek at Faversham,
the mudded clog of hulks congealed
in Swale, bleak trail of brick and brew.
The tide when low is slow recalled,
sun glance on water, briefest show.
I never once saw bright sails flap
or business done, or engine run,
or squirl of gull scream, spilling air,
but grey brown ooze in black and white.
To dreaming boyhood, pirate wharf,
at least the barrel’s roll on sward,
and sense of smuggle, misted sludge.
They buckets worm, I walk the plank,
or point the sword at foggy back,
the Sunday thermos, brandy flask,
perhaps the man from revenue.
Then ludo calls, so homeward snail;
Creek held for hours of fantasy,
for fun and frequency The Rec.
Stephen Kingsnorth (Cambridge M.A., English & Religious Studies), retired to Wales from ministry in the Methodist Church, has had over 100 pieces accepted by some thirty on-line poetry sites, including Literary Yard; and Gold Dust, The Seventh Quarry, The Dawntreader, Foxtrot Uniform, The Writer’s Café, A New Ulster Poetry Magazines, Vita Brevis Anthology ‘Pain & Renewal’ & Fly on the Wall Press ‘Identity’.