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Poetry

Six Poems

Stephen Romer

IN TIME OF PLAGUE

Breaking curfew—the first of our lifetime—

the village shuttered at the hinge of the year,

footfall amplified on the bitter track,

the moon rode high chill empty,

a zenith of judgement

over the bruised planet.

(Earlier, though, at dusk,

she was immense, yellow, companionable,

I could say jocund.)

But in the wee hours when we walked

she had withdrawn,

the great river also hid herself in frost.

OXFORD LOCKDOWN

The lights are low in the Standard,

the Harcourt is boarded up,

The Broad lies desolate

the Christmas tree forlorn;

at Brasenose the SCR

is a wilderness of powder blue

where I raise a solitary brandy

to the ghost of Christmas past

and the clock resounds

like my heart. Someone comes in,

startled to see me in the deeper shade

and asks, ‘Has the clock struck?

—I’m here to check the mechanism ...’

and I reply

‘Not in these 500 years’.

TRANSLATION CLASS

Peering out of the mullion window

I taste the privilege at its foaming edge:

Hawksmoor’s sweet-drawn lines are tense

under the glacial blue

the Rad Cam glows or glowers.

Somewhere from All Souls within-the-curtilage,

a bell declines the hours.

My students have not heard of Arthur Rimbaud.

GUILTY AS CHARGED

‘Moi, j’ai peur d’une idée qui écrase tout sur son passage.

C’est beau et c’est terrible.’ Abel Quentin

My accuser has the face

of Bernini’s angel

but I am not Teresa,

and she has the eyes

of Saint-Just.

Her slender hands

would straighten

once and for all

the crooked timber

of humanity

starting with this

noisome specimen, this

Amanita phalloides

of privilege, who is

sweating fear. Apologise!

I do. Oh I do. Anything

to avoid those eyes…!

I thought of Chénier

hiding in the twilight

of Versailles, before

the tumbril came for him,

of Blanche de la Force

ripped

in the teeth of history,

—à bien d’autres encor!

HORTUS CONCLUSUS

Close the gate on the garden,

as Gluck the blackbird sings us out;

these deep weeks he sang us in,

his podium the acacia then the cherry.

The monotone see-saw of the great tit

has quieted now he’s mated

and with young … but Gluck sings on

after we have gone.

Now in the flowery field

an English Gluck is singing

where buttercup and bugloss foam,

and when the mist starts wandering

he signals the fall of evening

with the trills of his alarm.

MY BOOKENDS

Sporadically, a name appears

In the bookshop’s meagre poetry section,

Between Lord Rochester and Christina Rossetti.

But ephemeral, like malaria or the dengue,

—Unlike Christina and his Lordship’s erection—

It vanishes again for years.

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