Poems by Elizabeth Barton

The Dragon
The Huer


Don't think I'm holy –
I need God's crumbs of mercy
more than anyone, for I was cursed

into blessing, my children snatched
by plague, my husband murdered.
Back then, my soul was a seed

clutched in darkness, a dried-up husk,
but now, I'm light in my loss.
This room's not much –

a narrow bed, stone altar, a squint
to spy on Father's homilies, but then,
what need have I for furs or tapestries?

My window leans on to the street
and though I'm hidden by this cloth,
I hear the shouts of hawkers

selling apples, lavender, smell
the stench of pigs and wood smoke
and on their way to port,

my sparrows flock to me –
fishmongers, goldsmiths,
merchants, skinners, prostitutes –

I listen to their secrets –
wayward children, marriages
gone wrong, feed them scraps

of comfort, for what more can I do,
sealed in my cell, a window cloth
between us? They tell me tales

so dire, I weep, and there are days
I long to rip this curtain down
and fold them in a mother's loving gaze.

Elizabeth Barton
Published in Acumen 91, Spring 2018

The Dragon

drinks from a dark and oily well,
gobbling meadows, heaths,
toppling trees with a slash of its tail.
Never sleeps: day and night

guards its glittering heap
of groats and nobles; croziers,
caskets, brooches, rings encrusted
with emeralds, amethysts.

It's terrorised this land
for so long now, we ignore its roar
clawing our brains; the trail
of paws and pelts and broken wings.

If we could rise
above the smog of our smutted,
cluttered lives, we'd recognise its limbs
coiling around our towns, our homes,

its burning breath and brimstone eyes.
But we've forgotten how to fly,
nestling deep in the pit
of its leathery wing.

Elizabeth Barton
Published in Orbis 180, Summer 2017

The Huer

I watch from the cliff top,
sift the sea with salt-ache eyes for signs
of the shirming – gulls swarming like flies,
a dark rose blooming on water
and as the sun bursts through, the glint
of half a million fish.

Up here, I'm wind-rinsed, pared
to a jagged stack in my ragged coat,
cocked hat, only my tattered flags
of furze and cloth for company.
Men guzzle their guts at the Pilchard Inn,
but I must keep watch, even by moonlight.

When you've seen a dream
of humpbacks leaping, the moon
flicking her silver tail on the sea,
you're never the same; some days,
all I can hear is the chanting of monks
and the cries of the drowned, but something

stops me from falling –
the thought of the fires that will blaze
on the shore tonight when I raise my cry,
guide the boats to the shoal, the women's joy
as the men empty their nets on the beach,
pilchards up to their knees.

Elizabeth Barton
Published in Agenda, T S Eliot Special Issue, Winter 2017-18