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 ruthocallaghan.wordpress.com 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.
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.
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
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.