TERENCE JOHN lives at present in south west Scotland. He was shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize 2018 and his poems have appeared in Orbis, The London Magazine, Acumen, The North, Glasgow Review Of Books and The Poetry Review. His work will also appear in Stand Magazine early in 2019. He is currently preparing a selected edition of his poetry.
I felt my life was driven by adrenaline and purpose
Mary Ellis, 1917-2018, Air Transport Auxiliary pilot
No radio to keep the airwaves free, but
compass, map and stopwatch saw you
through the days, kept on track
your flights to airfields improvised
from farmland, those bumpy landings
where the engineers would ask
to see the pilot, unable to believe
that a female flew the crate unaided,
held the joystick by herself to keep
the men in arms. Joy made you do it,
hooked the first time by a biplane ride
at an air show in the twenties,
giving your thrills to the effort of war,
flying Spitfires out to the boys
who took it to the enemy. Your life,
like theirs, was laid on the line. Perhaps
it was joy that saved you the time
that Jerry plane hove to, flew
alongside in minutes that felt
like your last, till the pilot just waved,
peeled off, and left you unscathed.
Time was it ruled the centre of the mantelshelf
in all front rooms. Light would fall on furniture,
sun move over pictures suspended from the rail,
and mark the passage of each day we felt it vital
to have counted, each hour audible as cock crow,
or that frantic barking in the night of dogs eager
to be loosed out of their pens. Chimes sonorous,
assured, but often one split second out of phase
with other clocks, other hands that made a claim
on time, on an accuracy no-one could be sure of,
entering some room in vain to catch the moment,
turn a key a fraction maybe this way, maybe that.
The Quietness of Coffee
As though a small squatting
Japanese god had placed his placid fist
on top of a low glass table
and given it a gentle
thump, a red petal was dislodged from a fuchsia
plant, falling soundlessly into forever.
No one was seated there but myself, a bearded
Buddha on a Persian mat,
the hour fixed, practiced
to its metaphor and loneliness. I shared with air
the intention to survive.
Another petal tippled to the table
top, without a provoking hand, pleasing itself,
following its own distinctive path,
unlike myself, pinned to the memory of two
together who had once shared
these rooms, our coffee cold when conversation
ebbed. The house today is silent
like a passing cloud, or the space inside
an inflated balloon, when light dims
through dust in the afternoon, a clock strikes
four, when I must prepare to eat alone.
That Early Whiteness
Light made the fountain
overflow early in that cold whiteness of morning
when I left the pink hotel to concentrate
on each twitch and twist of renewal.
All the immediate world was there to be known.
Statues waited to impress, scenarios
to be conceived, buildings
stood poised in their equilibria of power
letting their shadows
stretch and ripple across the boulevards like black
silk. What did I find among silences
among foldings of little winds
and chill corridors, emptinesses, cracked concrete
steps, a river of ruffled velvet
but the offering of waking, as Spring
might wake, half-cocked and illiterate,
unsure of its potential, stretching out its limbs
in a humanoid way, scratching its head.
What did I understand, walking in my preadaptive
way, heading back, breathing in the spices
of stone? Tulips in a windowbox
understood, pines in a dusty square still and dry.
I stopped in the eye’s magnificence,
watched light clarify, bronze, endow the sky
with a spindrift gold, stood dumb before
the oracle, could not even sing, as the firecrest
sings, when it asks for illumination.
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