Three Poems for Strandlines by Ruth O’Callaghan


Ruth O’Callaghan starred in Strandlines 1.0’s ‘Cabinet of Artists’. She is an acclaimed poet, mentor, reviewer, adjudicator and workshop leader: see for further details of her published poems and poetry-related activities. Her next collection of poems will be published by Shoestring Press in 2020. We are delighted to have three of her poems written specially for Strandlines.




It is February. From the tracks beyond the cemetery

the last train defies the dark, defies the dark


beyond the cemetery. It is February. Onto the tracks

a body may fall, fall from the bridge


the bridge that springs over the tracks, the tracks

on which a body may span, horizontal


east to west or west to east, never north to south

south to north. Horizontal.


Too late, too late to grind the brakes, the brakes

too late if a body breaks on the tracks.


The woman at the window sees the man on the bridge

to the man on the bridge the woman at the window cries



Spanning the tracks that the driver can see

but not a body spanning the tracks


there is no body spanning the tracks as he moves on,

moves on defying the dark


beyond the cemetery. It is February. The rails are sharp

the night is clear, he is on time.


The driver’s on time. All is ordered in this dark. He’s taken advice.

He can implement procedures. Procedures.


Vera climbs the stairs of the bridge, sees the man on the bridge

hears the cry of the woman at the window but not the word.

She is alone.


He cuts a swathe towards the tunnel. He is on time

he is a man who defies the dark


he is a man moving on, moving on through the night

the night is ordered, he is ordered


the driver’s on time. He’s taken advice. He keeps his hand

he stays his hand, he can implement…


The boy asleep under the bridge hears shuffling on the bridge

hears a woman’s cry. He doesn’t move. It could be a ploy.


Procedures. He knows procedures. He knows this track.

He knows the exact, the exact point


to release, to release pressure. The driver’s taken advice.

The air is clear. The rails are sharp. He is a man defying the dark.


The man on the bridge hears the train on the track, hears a voice calling,

footsteps dragging. He turns. She is cardigan-ed not white-coated.



It is February. They are beyond the cemetery. Beyond fear.

The fear on the face of the man in the train of the man in the air.


The Strand Christmas lights, by Pierrette13, via Wikimedia Commons.


Vasilije: Christmas Eve: The Strand 


He skirled towards me, a rasp and hawk of a man,

his mouth adrift in his face. He volleyed forth words


repeated over and over whilst inquisiting the shifting sky

the way you seek beyond the fluencies of light,


uncertainties inherent in the night’s sequence:

the way shepherds scoured hills, on guard against wolves,


only to be ambushed by a hustle of angels,

by hallelujah upon hallelujah flinching still air


and that one star that even now hovers, uncertain,

above those precious wild words.


View from Charing Cross Bridge / Hungerford Bridge, pulling into Charing Cross station.




Beyond the window – glass, plate –

the clack and stubble of Monday


where pavements flow an oil-slick

of workers who gallopade, glissade


side-step, smile apologies. Behind him,

his faithful Gaggia infuses a keep-heat mug


in a rage of steam, its screech a rival

to the planes that once coiled his valley,


strafing the grey-green haze of olives,

eclipsing the cries of cicadas in the long grass


– him already knowing only the male shrieked –

as he huggled within the reek of his father’s thin body.


Josif knows now from that particular clunk-k-k

that his old friend is close to serving his last.


He prays they will struggle through this lunch.

Placing a biscuit beside the cappuccino


he shumbles towards the glass-topped table

too soon finger-smeared, grieves the passing


of easy-wipe formica, the taking of small cups

over conversations in sunlit squares, accepts


the flicker of eye as Hvala*, contemplates

the silent elegance of a close-furled umbrella.



*Hvala  Thank you


Strandlines Editors

Strandlines Editors

The Strandlines editors got to know each other either through working together on events for the first iteration of Strandines, or through related research interests. The group includes expertise in medieval, digital and eighteenth-century matters; in hair work and memorial culture, authors’ rights and churchyards; in drones and undergrounds; in soundscapes and life writing. We share different forms of fascination with London, and can occasionally be found discovering more common interests in one of the Strand’s pubs.

Leave a Comment