Snow was a kind of hand-wringing heat;
mine burned psychedelic red with it.
Where your footsteps trod, it cast
blue shadows like a methane fire.
Crystals, so many
I couldn’t get the maths straight in my head,
falling feathery, light … FeatherLite,
my nan’s eiderdown,
all put away now inside some cupboard.
We walked through blue and yellow snow.
There’s still waking from my father’s beery kiss
above the bed clothes to the same cold sheets,
but there’s no narrative,
the man in charge left long ago.
There were ashes from the stove, a smouldering pile
our caretaker in school carried past us in a pail.
I wanted to dip in my hand,
to know the true meaning of heat.
Outside on winter days the coal heap –
each lump a headstone to lost lineage,
hands now cold and neatly folded,
fingernails seamed with black that wouldn’t scrub.
Snow from the East was drifting like sleep,
me at the coal house door with a bucket,
the coals spilling an ellipsis, my first dumb phrases
printed over the white page.
The PET scan seems to show the brain
as receding lava flows, and so too the earth from space
– spots of memory, still glowing cities –
all folded away inside the petals
of a moving star; Mother Nature’s brushstrokes,
her deft and intricate hand over the glass,
on autumn mornings my fingertips pressed there,
each print a numb, dripping galaxy
that woke slowly to its own pain.
I’m ice floes shattered,
the seamless glaze of awareness gone,
where the chemical stream gives out.
Starlings, a memory charred black,
drifts of them over the wood yard,
the sky behind ash white,
astounding in their first moments
on my mind’s happening…
and ordinary as aired beds,
pyjamas on the radiator.
My father’s beery kiss above the bed sheets.
Who was it tunnelled through head high snow
to light a chapel fire and, starved through,
before kindling flames saw
in a half-trance vision of the future only flames?
Memory is mash, it makes lumps
that get stuck in your throat.
Stale toast crumbs inside my pyjamas.
As if snowblind I’m gazing from sun to shade.
If only I could make out the shape
in the darkness like a lost loved one.
I can’t always get out of was back when,
silver and dark, falling and softly falling.
Tea leaves flock to the bottom
of the china cup, where the glaze has cracked.
My nan’s thin lips are moving. Fine white hairs
below her nose sway with each out-breath she makes.
She bends a bent back further to peer
into the possibilities, rooms beyond rooms
in that seaside hotel we holidayed in
– the dazzle of a bare light bulb in a wardrobe mirror
my own shape reflected there then gone
in each room the door left slightly ajar,
and in the last on the windowsill snow
– settling, falling like feathers – hers,
each flake diffusing
into unfinished background darkness.
I remember on moonless nights that sea of fire
our cold fists could never catch.
Note: silver and dark, falling and softly falling – this line is taken from ‘The Dead,’ a short story by James Joyce published in 1914.
John Barron’s poetry pamphlet The Nail Forge was with Tall Lighthouse. He has previously published work in Antiphon, The North, Poetry Salzburg Review, Pennine Platform and Dark Mountain. He is a long time gardener and is passionate about land rights, nature and ecology. Both the Permaculture Association and the Rewilding Network offer sustenance, he finds, in uncertain times. He hopes to set up a community land trust in Yorkshire to grow food sustainably, leaving space for all the other forms of life we share this planet with.
Call to action: Please support the valuable work of the Permaculture Association.