Issue 1: Peter Robinson

Recovered Memory


Geese below a gasholder

slide through spangles of the sun’s

autumnal glints on wavelets;

they compete with swans for crumbs,

and ducks steer round a rusted cage

where, look, a shopping trolley

lies in shallows at the conflux

of the Kennet and the Thames …

Here the painted barges come,

weekend water-folk at their tillers,

past cygnet, swan, or duck flotillas

under Brunel’s bridge.

Back to what can’t be got round,

I come out from my reverie

and find a pair of splashing coots

feud like rival poets.

They nut each other with their beaks.

Circling, a third bird squawks —

the object, cause of it all?

Or she’s their referee?


Now look at that leafless blasted oak —

a Laocöon … and I awake

to find myself in Hampshire

on a fresh autumn’s day

hearing word from familiar friends

up here on the Ridgeway.

Later, they point out mountain ash

by black wrought-iron railings,

as if this were all taking place

only to jog a memory;

and they tell me, among other things,

it’s also called the rowan tree.


As one home from the near half-dead

might wonder had he visited

this place in a previous life,

bombarded with cow parsley scents

you drift by city gates above

places for meeting another lost love,

come back with cut grass,

fireworks, and the plaster dust …

Then passing fast, I saw

a badger with its four paws

lifted in the air

like it was playing possum.

Road-killed, not culled, it bore

that stricken resemblance

to yet another of our present,

ill-remembered wars.


Released into the last of sun,

shadows of my daughters

beneath election hoardings

cross, through litter, civic lawn.

Dandelion clock transparencies

are flecked with wild poppies.

Their petals flap like butterfly wings,

red admirals in a breeze.

Wildings form a bonsai forest

of pines sprung up where two walls meet,

catching wind-blown seed

to start this latest generation.


Not many days after our return

you rushed out shouting ‘Via! Via!’

at that magpie in the branches

of a silver birch tree.

More slowly off my haunches,

I was there in time to see

it grudgingly flap through the darkness

on its white-flashed wings.

‘Dad, is there anywhere you feel’s home?’

asked my younger daughter

just a day or two later

on her way from school.

So when I glimpsed a magpie

settled in the sink-hole

of that green cast-iron fountain,

it seemed best leave it be.


Like an interrupted programme:

we found monkey-puzzle-tree

saplings in their wired cages

on grounds of a National Trust property —

as if this were a crash from

some freak electric storm

or power out, and data

looked lost only to flash back later;

encoded deep, a memory of pain,

it comes with fallen apples

arranged around a well-head

glistening in the rain.


No, all losses aren’t restored

by sheaves of sunlit ivy

to deck a harvest festival

along the brick-faced cutting wall,

or squirrels scouting for their store,

but made up for, God knows;

and I’m grateful for small mercies,

as the saying goes —

when on the lower reaches

with all this world before us,

in the shadow of St Paul’s

sun-flared through estuary air,

there’s a father and his child

beachcombing by the waterside,

plaits and tangles in her hair

reported on the tide —

yes, made up for, believe you me,

by glimpsed roofs on a far shore,

therefore in the offing glow

of recovered memory.

Peter Robinson's The Look of Goodbye: Poems 2001-2006 appeared from in January 2008, while The Greener Meadow: Selected Poems of Luciano Erba (2007) is available from Princeton. After eighteen years teaching in Japan, he is now Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading.

Copyright © 2008 by Peter Robinson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.