The poetry page
(All by John Bernard Sunderland
Cosmic Questions: Time and the Expanding Universe.
Back at the other end of Time
there was the Cosmic Egg,
Which encompassed the whole of our Reality
in 'embryonic form'
(it might be said).
Spatial Dimensions were compressed
inside that pregnant mote
But expansion of Space and Time brought some disparity.
(By which we were borne -
and the Universe so blest)
Thus we reside
at this our end of Time
which as our "Present" is manifest:
And stretched behind us like a rubber band,
tension increasing as the Universe expands,
is the fabric of our Past;
by which we are tied
to our origin.
is an extrapolation
purely of human imagination.)
When energy of expansion slows
And Time's elastic tension grows
Then back the Universe will race,
All it's history in reverse.
Time and Space will then contract
Until in a single point they're packed.
The artist who aspires to be renowned
For work that flies across the common groove
Might owe it to himself, at least, to prove
That he can work with both feet on the ground.
And so, the poet who wishes to be crowned
In glory for the freedom of his style
In student days might find it worth his while
To write within tradition's formal bound.
And so, I offer this - a sonnet bare:
Lines eight and six with rhymes as it were rote;
Iambus five each line with none to spare;
Developed, turned, concluded (as I quote) -
And yet I must confess that for my part
I don't know if it qualifies as art.
Peek-a-boo mister man,
Bobbin' robin I am.
Dig me a worm as fast as you can.
Call me CROW.
i SCRATCH MY NAME ACROSS THE SKY.
Cloaked in black, pale flash of eye,
i strut and scrape and -
What is this i spy?
A ragged morsel
DEAD and RED on road it lies
i want I WANT those juicy eyes
something comes and
off I flies
Yesterday, today and maybe tomorrow.
In memory of a neighbour who we saw pass her
ninetieth birthday before old age started
to take its familiar toll.
She sees all
and keeps her counsel.
Sitting by the window day after day -
The curtain never flickers:
she sits back a little way.
In summer sun
she ventures to the garden.
Dabbles with a trowel here and there.
Engages us in conversation if we have an ear to lend.
Doesn't dwell on yesteryear.
Laughs at tomorrow,
We come home
carrying our fishing tackle.
She tells of a day she spent with friends
catching bullheads in a jam-jar, from a stream
that skirts a mill dam. She describes
the place we have just been.
She withdraws to the window
and watches generations as they pass by.
Quietly she waits,
Until the night draws in.
David caught a trout.
He brought it thrashing from the peat-dark waters of the loch,
magnificently flashing in the morning sun.
I asked him, "Will you eat this trout?"
He answered, "Yes". I asked again -
He had no doubt.
I struck it once upon the head.
It was unquestionably dead.
"Oh - ", he said.
On hearing an owl while standing
in the greenhouse on an autumn evening
having a sly smoke and contemplating
oncoming 50th birthday.
in the night air;
Weather's cold, I am old,
but you don't care.
You don't give a hootle,owl,
but you beware
For I'll give you a bootle, owl,
up your feathered rear.
A Lesson in Patriotism
A party was arranged -
Twenty-five years' service -
Gold watch to be presented -
Shake hands with the M. D.
(The company congratulates itself
on having survived long enough to employ someone for twenty-five years.)
Speeches were written -
The watch engraved -
Buffet arranged -
(a pre-determined number,
not counting staff who must be seen to get their perks).
Venue fixed -
The derelict canteen,
after clocking out, of course.
Party started well -
Meat pies consumed,
Speech time - so where is the Honoured Employee?
It was discovered that he had been made redundant a fortnight before.
This writer, here with pen in hand,
to be the better understood
(though not to overstate his case) would
like to explain just where he stands -
He considers himself not so much a poet
but rather one who merely plays with words,
often with results absurd,
naive, mundane, ridiculous or trite.
He admits to being not deeply motivated
and therefore does not shy away
from treating English as lumpy clay,
to be less composed, more rotivated.
Here will be no high-falutin
cleverly oblique allusion
to Gothic Arches or Elysian Fields:
since his schoolday memory yields
of verdant pastures not a trace; his school yard
was tarmac'd, with a bicycle shed.
Being something of a cynic, his verse rarely aspires to noble sentiment.
If the literary diner wishes
to partake of meatier dishes,
this writer will be content to provide a little condiment.
And now that illusions are all dead
it might as well be finally said
that his metre and his rhyme
are, perhaps, less than sublime
and his verse, whatever meant to be,
exhibits verbal entropy.
The cat had forgotten about winter.
I opened the door
the cat came skidding in.
With snow on its paws
leaped across the lintel,
and crashed into the wall.
Not ten minutes later
it was scratching at the other door.
Is there a subtle message in this poem?
Yes, there is: to my family.
It is to point out that in my actions I am more
solicitous to their cat than my words usually
indicate. After all, I let it in, didn't I?
I also opened the other door for it, even though
it looked outside and changed it's miniscule mind.
"B Terse in Verse":
words are best and all the rest
(retrospective title: NO COMMENT)
From the eye-lashes
a teardrop accelerates
until it splashes.
Our world is threefold:
We are born; and for a while
we suffer; then die.
A break in the clouds
and a stream of warm sunlight
flows through my grey world.
Climbing to the crest,
I find no false horizon.
This hill was my last.
The Young Angler
Wading through dew-laden grass on a wet misty morning,
Half-hearing the watery sounds of a soft summer dawn,
Silent and stealthy, stalking the river -
One person, close-bound in a world of his own -
Scanning the river and eyeing the sleek winding surface,
To search for those wide-spreading ripples, the sign of a rise.
Placing his trust in life's serendipity,
My son, or myself of forty years gone.
Quirrel quarrel, busy busy,
Squibble squabble splash and scoot,
Pick and peck and dibble dabble,
Puddle paddle, duck and dive.
Skate on water, wings a-flapping,
Catch a naughty neighbour napping,
Peck her tail and pluck her feathers,
What a bother!
One thing after another
I climb the hill of despair -
the hill of false horizons.
How many times must I climb to the line
of the summit that isn't there?
I climb as I long for the day
when I'll reach the peak of my sorrows;
And from that tomorrow, the path that I follow
will be downhill all the way.
After all this wearisome strife,
I find I'm accustomed to climbing.
Do I want it to end with a downward trend
that will lead me out of my life?
A man of many words.
On finding myself captive audience to a bore.
"I have a lot of words", he said, "Words mean a lot to me"
"Perhaps you haven't noticed, they're my speciality."
These words he uttered casually, committing them to the air.
They danced along sequentially and touched upon my ear.
I flicked them off and catching one, I spun it round and round.
It sideslipped, fluttered downwards, and I scuffed it on the ground.
"I heave a lot of sword", he said, "Sword mean a lot to me."
I took him by an arm and leg and swung him up a tree.
"I say what I believe", he said, "I believe in what I say."
His words soared parabolically as he tossed them into play.
They flew toward me clattering a shrill, discordant note -
But I caught one with a strong backhand and rammed it down his throat.
"Saliva what I be?" he said, "Lave what in be say I."
And saying thus, transfixed me with his artificial eye.
Squirming there, I told myself - "That's it, I've had enough" -
So I conjured up a cleaver and I cut his head clean off.
I stuffed his mouth with garlic, drove a stake right through his heart,
and shot a silver bullet into every twitching part.
"I say it with respect", he said, "But what I say is right" -
And I ran off screaming soundlessly in the blackness of the night.
With eyes clear-bright and heartbeat strong
the blackbird sings his living song.
The summer day is fresh and long
and life goes on for ever.
I see my daughter and my son
and with the blackbird they are one.
They sing out in the summer sun -
their song is, Now Eternal!
Now, Time flies by on tattered wings;
but still the blackbird strongly sings
and pays no heed to mortal things
in passing gloomy shadows.
Hand-in-hand with Time I fly
and see them with my time-worn eye
and call to them a fading cry
as they sing on, unknowing.
See me! Hear me! Touch me now!
I reach to them through Time's dark flow
too late. Their innocence, I know,
is only my illusion.
Their song will fade as, time around,
they wander from their summer ground
and moving on with dulling sound
they follow my swift journey.
An apology for an apology
(after causing a tobacco stain
on The Collected Poems of John Betjeman)
- and what is this? A stain'ed page!
These decorous lines so ignominiously muddied:
it might as well have been a full-blooded
defacation. It offends none the less
for being but rampant carelessness.
A sign no doubt of this cynical age.
Ladies in high heels:
(remembering a child's eye view)
beefy buttocks thrust toward the sky
on teetering stilts
that taper to a point; the toe,
which, tightly crimped,
scrapes hesitantly at the ground
its guidance system being so remote.
But then committed,
forward bundles the barely balanced bulk,
of mammalian mass.
Lean into the chill wind
that scours the crisp autumn grasses
as it rises to the crest of a hill;
And gather about you the bare grey horizon
that circles your solitude and banishes the world.
Linger on low hill slopes
beneath sparse canopy of rowan and birch,
where drip of rain through trees
and foraging of blackbird in fallen leaves
saturate your senses with these smallest sounds.
Rest on a seat of smooth limestone
at the side of a rippling stream;
And let your eyes follow the shadowy form
of a grayling that rises and settles again
and is lost in the twinings of water and light.
And when you learn that every moment gone
Contains the seed of moments to be born;
And understand that your mortality
Is only one side of reality;
And know that, while a whole world may reside in you,
The fact that you reside in it is also true;
Then, briefly, you may curse the blessing of your humanity,
And face the world again with equanimity.
A few Limericks:
The Carpenter went to have tea
With the walrus one day by the sea.
They were both spoilt for choice
Until up spoke the oys-
ster, "You're certainly not having me."
There once was a stuck-up young poet
Who said, "I think limericks are quite
"The lowest of verse,
"And what's even worse,
"I - but hang on, this isn't coming out quite right."
A four-legged spider named Harry
Decided he just couldn't carry
The burden he bore,
Being short of the four,
So he swallowed his twin sister, Carrie.
To be recited with a lisp -
A hairy great spider named Wince
Said,"I'm learning to walk with a mince.
I followed Miss Muffet
Once round her tuffet,
But I haven't clapped eyes on her since!"
And a little doggerel (just for a change!)
The lost fly
I lost my little paradun. It was a crying shame.
At first I cursed the weather, but I have to take the blame.
A moment's inattention and then a clumsy move -
And the rest of the day's fishing just wasn't quite the same.
I lost my little paradun. It brought so many a rise
until there came a monster trout that took me by surprise -
I wasn't watching properly. It made a mighty swirl -
I struck by reflex as it vanished right before my eyes.
I lost my little paradun. It flew into the trees
when I struck a little heavily and fell down to my knees.
It missed me by a fraction and shot behind my back
and hung in lofty branches where it wafted in the breeze.
I lost my little paradun. I couldn't reach so high.
So I gave a hefty tug - and it hit me in the eye!
I took the leader in one hand and reached out with the other -
and the damn thing pierced my finger. In rage, I gave a cry -
And somehow snapped it off the point. I gave up in despair
and dropped it. It was taken by a sudden gust of air
and it lighted on the water, whereupon that crafty trout
arose from out the depths and gulped it down. Well, I don't care.
I lost my little paradun. But why the fuss and bother?
I'll have a bite to eat, and then I'll tie another.
The River Wharfe
in a deceptively indeterminate way,
the water on the high ground of Cam Fell
And that which settles to the east,
drip by drip and day by day,
acquires permanence as it collects
in upper reaches of Langstrothdale.
The new-borne stream
is gently weaned in limestone beds
sympathetic to the water's needs.
Cups and hollows molded in the smooth grey rock
hold nests of pebbles where the water plays
then spreads in shallow pool on clean-washed stone,
reflecting cooler patterns of the sun.
Spills over one step -
then another -
and through a pile of pebbles, in dryish weather
slips away: disappears from sight
as though becoming shy of so much light and open air.
Deeply it delves into bedrock through hidden clefts,
leaving dry expanse of limestone steps.
Sun-dried clumps of moss darken the grey rock
where children skip from one step to the next
and put their ear to narrow rifts -
sometimes hearing water's music murmuring below.
emerges once again the water from its hiding place
and ripples with pace renewed and dances on,
enticing us to laughter in our wonder
at its fickleness.
In increments it grows
as now it flows between more lofty flanks of mother rock
upon whose slopes the rainfall sinks as quickly as it falls,
filters through narrow rifts and bedding planes
and in dark chambers, plunges over cool cascades
until it levels with the valley floor.
And there it issues in a gentle surge
and merges with the flowing river.
A river now - no more a stripling stream,
as it passes from Hubberholme to Buckden:
small as yet in force but growing in determination.