Poetry In The Mean Time

by David Gilbert

March 19, 2017

I haven't been able to write a blog recently. Hopefully soon. So here are some more poems written in the meantime and mean time.

Once An Avocet

I used to be able to sit
on a rough wooden bench
in a hide on the north-eastern point of the Norfolk Broads
with jam sandwiches
and big binoculars
and big brother in his grown up kagool
me in my knitted light blue jumper with a white hoop
waiting for the waders
to come sift the marsh at low tide
water still sloshing in my wellies
and the tatty grubby print tacked onto the gnarled wall
depicting knot, sanderling, curlew, oyster catcher
the wind throbbing over the corrugated iron roof
thinking about what would be on telly
dying to itch my bum
heroically still for nature’s sake
because, beyond anything and football
I wanted to be Bellamy or Attenborough.
Was it worth it? It was cold.
Sometimes we saw the usual
muddy greys and browns
red legs, yellow legs, tall, squat, long billed, short, slow and the quick
once an avocet
which we ticked off in the Observer Book Of Birds
the marvel of a flock lifting simultaneously against the dying sun.
Mostly it was tedious as hell
particularly when we had finished the cheese and onion crisps
which we melted on the tongue so as not to crunch.
But I used to be able to sit.


Reasons Not To Believe

That distant dot at dusk twinkles
like a low fractious star.
We bely our freight.
Thought’s drag is heavier than tide.

Outlandish promises reveal themselves
vacuous as great aunts.
You knock on wood three times
for nought.

See the bells that do
not chime.

Here’s a trick you need to learn:
Watch that star approach
and turn to plane.



The park is quiet.
I have the birds to myself.

I’ve been told crows
remember the faces
of those that disturb them.
I’m in no mood.

Enfield Borough Council has taken five days
to strip down and polish the wooden gate
and barred the way to cars.

Oz, the café owner, friend,
takes the piss and reckons
he could have done it in a day.

I’m not complaining.
And nor does the wren on the post.
The lake is not scummy with crusts
bins far from overflowing.

I am new to this business
of nowhere. I want cake.

The book says it takes weeks, if not months
to disinvest from thought
and re-inhabit the resulting emptiness
with a different sort of presence.

But for the first time, I notice the sign
‘c u ion idth estricti n’

I have new glasses – the woman at Specs Direct
said they take years off me.
We talked about therapeutic optometry.

A man with a white parrot on his shoulder
orders a coffee and three scones.
Cream and strawberry jam.
I want to break into applause.

How long does it take for a man
to take a minute for himself?
Oz tells me the surveyors
have OK’d the re-opening of the gate.


The Open Field

It has taken me 34 years to walk out
through a broken fence
into the middle of an open field,
hills to one side, ash trees to the other

through the body’s inchoate fear
into the open presence
getting used to these new lenses,
a trail of lugubrious, undulating crows

against the vast grey dome
of transaction, restlessness and flight,
knowing I am alone
and alright


Back In Town – an everyday tale of resurrection


I would better recognise this place
if there were a dove
or some mad man broke from the cover of that hedge
and screamed hallelujah.

Failing that, a pigeon would do.
The weather is nailed grey
everything levelled out.

They’ve planted saplings by the rails,
the old church is surrounded by fork lift trucks
as if they’re getting ready to up it into the sky.
And my favourite wine bar has gone.

Maybe I should not have come back.
I know that this is how it has to happen
like everyone with cancer must wake at 3am
alone at the alone time
the hours having moved before they were ready.

All stories of beautiful returns are lies.
They are uneventful
and rely on witnesses
you don’t often see at this hour of the morning.

Take that man on the bench
as he sweeps his thumb across his screen.
Been out all night.
And even if he looked up,
wouldn’t know me now from Adam.

There’s a broken sign, its arrow
leaning into the ditch.

He knows and I know
we may be equal, but we are still restless
that what we recreate is as meaningless
as what we have dismantled.

I want to tell him
love is glue. But
it looks like he will have to re-learn
the hard way.

For now, the chances of such meetings
are hardly propitious.
And I need a good breakfast
before it all begins again.


Elephants. Fragile.

Not yet. You are not yet ready.
They are not yet ready for you.

This morning, the warm hold of the small room
Haydn’s sweet piano through your ribs
making you think of playgrounds
and suddenly tears.

The white sun through the condensation on the glass.
The window jammed.

You waited in the silence.
The scary, crazy silence.
You tried to scare yourself with thought
and its drilling down
and when done for a while
you tried to scare yourself with silence.

Walk eyes down.
Eyes down.

The white painted cross on the pavement.
The builder who ‘fuck it, I left my fucking new phone at fucking screw fix’.
The ‘First Class Garage’.

Last night, you read of the island in the Finnish archipelago
and the adventures of grandmother
lying down and watching the feather
loosen itself from the blade of grass.

This morning, you got ready slowly.
You wanted the words for a story of yourself:
Lightness. Tentativeness. Nothing quite expressed -
vulnerability not quite.
Resilience. Re-silence-I.

Then you remembered when you moved house.
Stacking the small wooden figures in little boxes marked:
Elephants. Fragile.


Field Trip

On the botany field trip to Abergavenny
we paired up to investigate the flora
of an old cemetery with yellow lichen

spilling greedily over the grave stones
obliterating names of husbands and wives.
(Remember, they are half fungi, half algae,

living in symbiosis. They love the south.
Healthy growth is a sign of unpolluted air).
We threw quadrats into the long grass.

I like to imagine that I could still name
each specimen we found. But I can’t.
This was the morning of that famous last night

we got drunk with girls from another school
who we wouldn't see again, holding hands
as long as we could in the dark.


The Path Has Dried

The path has dried,
green moss grows on bark.

There's a flurry of leaf litter
and sun through the chill.

I can make out the markings
of a sparrowhawk, low

over the field, I would
not have seen last week.


To be the rain

slipping from the cold
grip of the sea
discrete, almost invisible
drawn by the heat

gathered into the hold
and urgency
of the tightening cloud
and its atmospheric thrust

then departing again, hurled
as indivisible sheets
through flights of birds

released, unfurled
enveloping earth
like a lover returned

© David Gilbert, 2017

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5 comments on “Poetry In The Mean Time”

  1. These poems are wonderful. Don't really know what to say - feeling of huge privilege as I read them. Thank you. Heather

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