POETRY ... U.A. Fanthorpe
Nothing will happen to us all the way.
Counties drop past, known only to our tyres.
The dog sleeps in the back. The engine purrs.
Sun, trees and cooling towers become a dream,
A world we slip through, never see.
A sudden shriek knifes our tranquillity.
Have we run down a rabbit, killed a bird?
Nothing so harmless. We have passed by Towton.
What’s done is quivering here, alive and dying.
The bloody names pursue. York, Selby, Richmond,
Pomfret, where Richard died. History hounds us.
The sign posts stretch like hands, bonefingered, endless,
Pointing us to a sorrow we can’t share,
Scorning our ignorance, compelling knowledge.
Here battle was. Here the king bled to death,
The martyr hung in chains. And once we know
The grand, heraldic cruelties, we sense
Enormous suffering behind each hedge.
Here a whole village was wiped out, and here
Hundreds of peasants slowly starved to death.
We break into the present when we stop
For petrol. But the past intrudes here too.
The man who serves us wears the same grim sign.
Has a child died, or is his wife unfaithful?
At least in his case we aren’t forced to know.
Suffering riddles England. Rubbish bins
Are not enough for even our modest present;
How can they hold the litter of the past?
From Collected Poems 1978-2003
U.A. Fanthorpe (Peterloo Poets, 2005)