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‘Passing Phase’ and other poems by Stephen Kingsnorth

By Stephen Kingsnorth

Passing Phase

They built, to fill, sarcophagi,
but groundsmen dug soiled body holes
for reasons cutting maintenance,
when time to face the passing phase;
obsolete in necropolis
so shelter found in holy place,
then ossuary for later bones
to save some space, babushka dolls.

False, empty, bottomless the pit
though capped recumbent effigy,
what model found to fashion wings
of seraphs, cherubs, putti things?
Lapidary hopes to be fulfilled,
inscriptions set in stone, deep felt
soft moss intrusion, serif filled,
to death from birth, font families.

Thus death was spread, within, without,
mausoleum, entombment crypt,
dolorous depictions were waived
to focus eyes on better place,
and wall-lodged, three-side decorate,
a trinity of hieroglyphs
skeletal rest of travellers,
journeymen led to other space.



Displays in my domestic rest,
each space stocked counters, labelled things –
next phone books, entries itemised,
by list for shopping, catalogued:
this landscape spread hints, hinterland,
my intercontinental shelves.
Above bedhead, showcases reach,
a backdrop to the bolster change;
named, numbered moulds, Iberian,
like isthmus, beneath dado stretch;
carved brush-pot, juice-stained, Mandarin,
resides beside the bamboo lamp.

Under my window, framing world,
found travel treasures bought, back home
to house distant prompts, memories,
exhibits holding out brain-food –
when lost, needs-must aids to consult –
museum, story, family.
Stored cord-tied blood-line vein lodes mine,
memento-mori, valued loves;
smile-stand-out lip stick, speech which glowed,
grandmother’s teacup, pinky, sipped,
her father’s letters, scribed and marked,
his mother’s cream jug, gold-top poured.

Closer yet to these nearer days,
repositories of evidence,
witness statements, writs large in hope:
the letter, palace, life’s award,
city freedom, sheep flock may herd,
barred medals ribboned, service proved.
Passed sibling’s grave face, children wards
of guardian angels, nursing staff;
parental musings, balanced rhyme,
joint bonds, long past maturity,
reflections on redemption found,
savings book, well-turned sacred text.


Dreams and Nightmares – Howra Station

Twiggy trees and quant cottages –
but model snaps, these can mislead –
impressive skill, we assume real,
roundhouse and reefer seen – but then
nostalgia loco rattles out
which sounds like Percy’s tawdry track.
Then maybe slower drag so long,
but not the steam or soot, nor smoke,
the firebox, timely steel appear –
and fiddle yard suspect confirms
it’s hobby, not the street-scene here.

Small models all en-gauged impress,
but scaling down should not mask sight,
by hoodwinking, the blind or buff.
From attic trainset, junction move,
to droning worldly stations, we
find saddest waiting rooms unearthed.

Why here no wail, or howl, rail squeal,
a signal horror, tender norm
abuse, despair, and daily round
to clear catenary though-put,
limp girder-huddled corpses, kids,
now railed beneath infamous span.

Sleepers lie tampered ballast bed,
but grit about the travel swarm,
conglomerate, lakhs demurrage,
like Hooghly’s flow, timetabled trains,
harmonic rock, smooth journey way,
through scapegoats lain between the rails.

On platforms, lines, the Telegraph,
or Statesman banners, railroad news,
face, ears put to print gutter beds,
copy on morgue-materials,
heads circulating thinnest rags,
spare sheeted print allotments claimed
for haunches too thin so define,
ribs spindling below hollowed eyes.

Red tunnel flag of Nesbit child,
a happy ending, buffer stop;
so British Railways, lion’s roar,
its ways lost back when Beeching spoke;
The Lion’s Dev, a precious child,
in lonely box hideout reclined,
but stock-in-trade, he tracks way home.

Here Kolkata’s bare platform young
search left and right, see run-around,
as beg and steal from rubbish dumps,
detritus for detritus, dwell
in siding shunt, hole terminal.
Religion’s railing cant rewards
investment, or reborn, is this,
such benefit, a fallen flag?

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