New poems for Samaritans’ fundraising

I’ve been raising money for the Samaritans by writing poems. I’ve now reached the target of £1000 and have taken down the draft poems and comments on my process which were here. Thanks so much to all contributors. (If you would still like to contribute, please do. I’ve left the link to JustGiving below.) I’m now posting the poems below. There are seven poems, and they are: A Villanelle for the Lifeguards, Harbour Dreams – a villanelle, Ghazal – a way, London Transport – or Gratitude, Gardens, East Wittering on the day a child leaves home, dark skies. It’s satisfying to carry this through and once again thanks for all the great support.

 A Villanelle for the Lifeguards

Look how August lazes under bluer skies
and backstrokes over the drowning sand
on swells lifeguards scan with squinting eyes,

observing the paddle-boarders’ yellow sighs
rippling across the surface to lap the land.
And August blazing under bluer skies

is, for some, a dream, a love of summer’s prize
even though the gull squawks, wings fanned,
and taunts the lifeguard with searching eyes

to swim in rocky coves where the sea pries,
then rumbles over rocks where banned
waters rip August from her bluing skies

and throw her in to flounder, then to rise
and fight the wildness that pulls her under and
forces her to shout for the lifeguards’ eyes.

To see the lifeguard loose the life ring’s ties
and swim with it against the tide, hand over hand,
floating August back, safe under squally skies,
is to guess the ache in a lifeguard’s eyes.

Villanelle: Harbour Dreams

You’re a boat sailing in sight of land,
slapping towards port, about to moor.
You’re a foot raised to step on sand.

Your lips move between phone and hand.
Your mouth whispers, a sibilant store.
You’re a boat rolling in sight of land.

Your words are pebbles. Your words are banned.
You want to escape the water’s lore.
You’re a foot raised to step on sand.

Salt-drenched, you hold a woman’s hand.
The sea has chilled you to the core.
You’re a boat rocking in sight of land.

In your mother’s memory, you’re tanned,
and dressed in clothes that never tore.
You’re a foot raised to step on sand.

In your mother’s song, you drift, then stand,
buffeting through waves along the shore.
You’re a boat floating in sight of land.
You raise your foot to step on sand.

Ghazal: a way

Yearly, I aid the bees’ cosmology, cutting seed away 
storing the dried heads, the season’s creed, a way 

of staking future summers on crimson, pink or red.
When I scatter seeds - threads cut from a bead - in a way - 

on the tray’s thin earth as if casually 
broadcasting news, I somehow feed a way

of being, a reminder of a night long years ago
when violence threatened to bleed in a way

that I won’t summon to this page. What mattered then
was the cosmos opening in my head. Freed and away,

once the door unlocked the day, I conjured flowers
greeting me and waving their weedy stems – a way

of being out of the moment, this cosmic meditation
on red, on dusty pollen and bee-d heads, a way

to be away. Now with the tip of an old blade, I prise up
roots and blushed stalks. Small leaves lead a way

to spring, seedlings in pots, summer in earth.
In autumn, to give thanks, I’ll walk a treed path away

from fearful hours and weave a cosmos garland
in honour of the wild bees. I’ll heed their way

of stocking winter larvae with bee bread
while a north wind blows the cosmos seed away.

London Transport or Gratitude

One day, mind mugged by lust or love,
new things, I let slip my bag beside the wheels:
lose the key, the thrilling bank card, my return. 

In the gap between the platform and the door,
I reach down to the shingled track.
‘Don’t lose your head, girl.’ The guard’s hand

pulls me back. After the late departure,
he hoiks up my bag, shiny and intact.
The onward train arrives, and I climb in.


Even though I’ve stopped believing,
I can’t help searching out 
gardens of Gethsemane
which resurrect themselves
each Easter. I can’t help
reliving how we took
shoe boxes to the hazel coppice
and filled them 
with the damp hairy stems
and soft yellow glow
of primroses. Not knowing then
how it was wrong
to steal from the wild,
we’d balance jars
of flowers among
stones from someone’s rockery,
miniatures of caves 
or tombs set in forests of moss.

We had no concept 
of scale then. The primroses
were olive groves.
The pussy willow twigs
were date palms.
We never saw
the missing people,
the man, the woman,
the gardeners, the soldiers
in the dark rocky cave.
Even now we are old
enough to have lost them,
we cannot find them. 
On days when their voices
echo from the rocky garden,
I understand they will never
fit into that space,
and so their lives
fill me with wonder 
and tenderness.

East Wittering on the day a child leaves home

Why does my heart flutter with sails?
Why does tamarisk leaf along paths?
Why seakale? Why soles bruised by shale?
Why do my ears beat with the wings of the wind?
Why this seam of suburbs? Why flat fields?
How can the Downs hold up the moon?
I ask this sea-washed thread in my child’s room
why it’s the greatest thing we ever brought 
home from East Wittering.

dark skies

in a house bereft of light,
in the aftermath of cold,
in the longest darkest night,
should a lamp pour out its gold?

in the aftermath of cold
when a blackbird warns of flight
should the lamp pour out its gold,
when an owl swoops in sight?

if a blackbird warns of flight
should the market square unfold?
if an owl swoops in sight
should the river be unrolled?

will the path to town unfold?
will the water glimmer bright?
for when the river is unrolled
it will flood a forest’s height

when the dawn erodes the night,
my love, warm me in this cold
before the alchemy of light,
my love, flickers from our hold

Stephanie Norgate