Three Poems – Kerry Darbishire

The Long Summer

         after Philip Levine

All summer I carried fear
fear of being late, fear of making a mistake.
All summer I slogged up the hill past my friend’s farm,
watched her riding her pony as I cantered
the half-mile lane, stomach churning,
heart racing towards the hotel.
The grave hallway stilled by the smell
of tea and lavender, tall gaping mouths
of windows I learned to clean with vinegar-water
and newspaper. Eileen, starched white and waiting
to hand me instructions for the day, Mr Hawks
the owner, shuffling past not speaking,
not knowing how much death was in his eyes.
I imagined him sleeping in his three-piece tweed suit
hanging like terrible weather about his bent back.
I was allowed only once in the drapes-drawn
bedroom, his wife, a prisoner, lying in a weak veil.
I was fourteen, had only seen dead mice
and two run-over cats. All summer
I learned to lay tables, fold napkins into swans,
how fussy some guests were, what it was
to be a servant. My legs ached
climbing those stairs to spend an hour alone
in an attic room, distant light through a postcard window.
I saw a different view of the village, saw clouds
turn day into night, watched rain on roofs
and the church steeple shine like rivers. All July
wondering why was I hidden from summer.
Was it the blue dress in Taylor’s window?
The day trip to Morecambe? Is this how life
was meant to be? Did my mother want me out
of the house, for what seemed an eternity?

The Garden

            after Galway Kinnell

The girl picking up boulders in the field knows each curlew     kestrel      hare
their dark tracks      through morning dew     she knows their cries of hunger      mating
and nest.     The girl picking up boulders to build a wall      dreaming of peonies and
poppies    her first garden     stone      alive in her hands     glistening like new-borns
ancient as storms finding home in the earth.

Footings     stones angled just right      heartings      throughs      and cams to shed rain.
She’s laying in sedum, ferns and moss – a barrier against flood      against the high-
pitched northerly driving-in words of snow. Her mother looks on from the confines
of her chair, whispering     how tired you must be      her feathered voice carried on
pastured air     and gone.

Into each     parched    summer      each harsh winter      the girl sinks      into the wall
mapped yellow with lichen     into mossy hollows     of mice and wrens      stone      by
stone     she falls      weightless her bones calloused      gapped like autumn hedgerows
letting in the cold    letting ragwort and meadowsweet take over.

A Squirrel’s Work is Never Done

Imagine a family of squirrels, sneaking
from their woven drey high in the sycamore
each with a job to do.

The squirrel I see between 7 and 8 every morning
is on walnut gathering. The tell-tale wiggle of a branch,
fat scented leaves shivering with the snap

of an almost mature nut.
We’ve watched this crop from first flower
to September fullness, imagining Christmas-

bowls full of sweetness. Bags overflowing
we’ll gift to friends, how our brains will brighten
against the grey months ahead.

I clap my hands, s/he skitters through cobwebs,
down the smooth trunk to the shelled ground
and darts away with a walnut the size of an egg

in its mouth. How am I supposed to disagree
with the rise in greys, these wily creatures
only doing what they need to – harvesting,

burying food, stocking up the way each Autumn
I stir bramble jam, plait onions, stock my pantry
ready for the long deep snows.

Kerry Darbishire lives in Cumbria with her artist husband Stephen, where most of her poetry is rooted. She is a member of The Brewery Poets, Kendal, Dove Cottage Poets and Write on the Farm Poets. Her two full collections were published by Indigo Dreams: A Lift of Wings 2014 and Distance Sweet on my Tongue 2018. Her biography Kay’s Ark was published by Handstand Press in 2016. Her pamphlets A Window of Passing Light was published by Dempsey & Windle October 2021, and Glory Days – a collaboration with poet Kelly Davis was published by Grey Hen Press October 2021. Her poems have appeared widely in anthologies and magazines including Mslexia, Artemis, Envoi, The Birmingham Journal.  She has been placed in competitions, and recently gained 2nd prize in Folklore and was commended in Grey Hen and Ware Poets competitions 2021.  Some of her poems were performed by The Cumbria Opera Group’s Lakeland Cycle in September 2021. Kerry’s third collection Jardiniére (joint winner of the Full Fat Collection) will be published by Hedgehog Press in Spring 2022. She regularly reads via zoom at poetry festivals and open mics, and will be reading at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival in November 2021. Twitter: @KerryDarbishire

Banner Art: The Arterial Root (2022) by Robert Frede Kenter (c). Twitter: @frede_kenter.

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