THE GROUND HERE IS ROUGH and other poems

for Betty and Bob

Here the glassy light bows backwards.
Pick over gorse and rocks and moon crater quarries,
Steel blue, coarse red, distracted purple.
Scramble down to wet rock marsh and stone warm houses.

Here, where the weighted land is dizzy with sky,
Are orchids and lilac twists of chimney smoke.
Humming beech trees where my father scattered his father
and we grieved.

This is the doubled down back of the world.
This is slow beating, sun heavy earth and shallow breathing water.
This is where time, too, comes when it passes.

Here there are people in the ground
And in the evenings,
You can stand around in dying light.
Some nights,
It rains so hard rocks pull the trees to parts.

Rivers overflow.
When the valley moans low,
We light fires and pack up your things,
Build pyres for remembering.
Birdsong for the seasons.

Another gone.
How many has it been now?



I’m drawn to the Europeanness of the shelter place;
Café tables, ugly wall,
Empty chair in the midst of all
The talk and gathering
Cold – too cold to be Mediterranean.

I tune out and let the rumble slip
Into Italian or Portuguese,
Close enough for an evocation
Of somewhere else I’d rather be.

We, bootlicking, commute like staggered breathing.

A reckless gust sends battered
Cup collars to gutter rest
And we barely bat a pigeon eye,
Eyes front, lips dry,
Settle back inside our overcoats.
The city is sodden but apathy floats.



From the skeleton of the massacre castle
that we baptised with fireworks
until the gunpowder air seemed to set itself alight,
where we, impish children, carved out
dirt tracks on the fortress hill
with our elbows and scuffed knees and
cardboard ships for gravity-riding,
and fed each other vinegar-sodden, salt-lipped nothings
in the willow-woven shade,

To the old school room where
I learned to stand in circle-skirting sky
and my young hair crackled with spray and poise
and paper flowers,
where I knew the burning touch of praise
and the gravelly rebellion
of satin shoes on traffic-scuppered concrete,

To the gardens and the graveyard cars
I have been taking girls to kiss in
for as long as I’ve known how,

To the brittle mortar underpass
with sides so steep I am sure it was there
that I learned to grit my strength
against the weight of gravity,
pressed into the ceiling walls with
small companions
in the flickering dirt of light-stripped evenings,

To the lake atop the blue mountain
that swallows the sky’s feeling and
ripples with its whims and shiverings,
and clamours still with the
one, two, three, swing
tight clasp grip of walks with
the warm and loving threeness of us,
as we were then,
where I fell in childish love
and watched the day die,
and three summers later found myself
ankle-deep in drowning
before the fear crept in and
brought me back,

To the cataract-window charity rails
where I so often shrift-sifted the thrift
for a uniform;
a soft-knitted paisley armour of my own,

To the chlorine channel that learned
to me the art of breathing
into water,

To the armchair closeness that heard us
grow apart and together again,

To the workshop that cut a quiet moon
into the back of my calf
for all my growing days,

To the penny library, the vacuum harbour
of all my childhood Saturdays of paper
and carpet-stifled thunder,

To here, to now,
To the wayside track
where I was first deprived of stabilisers
and ate the rocky earth,
in simple tears;

Here I tell the ivy and the
silver birch, inquiring,
of this moving through the place that made me
before I have forgotten
and one day, on returning,
cannot find my bearing;

city-blind or green uncaring,
I hope these words might bring me home.


Poppy Rivers-Vincent is a young Welsh poet currently residing in London.


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