Rosemary Wagner is a published poet and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2009. She was also shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2011 and the Myslexia Poetry Prize 2010. She studied modern languages and literature at Oxford and creative writing with the Open University. She has worked in education, administration and translation.
|The day we all got tickets for a 'severe weather event' (Met. Office)|
|Under mad Aunt Jane's skin|
|The significance of a walnut|
|Box Hill points of view|
'Brambles are among the last undiscovered realms in our countryside, and we should encourage them all the more for that reason.' Mark Cocker, Country Diary, Guardian, 5.10.09
We are hungering for autumn after the desert
of summer, devour this lane under the avenue
of horse chestnuts, gleaming after rain
like a stream in the northern hills, polished conkers
and punky shells pebbling its blue-grey bed.
Splattered spikes and burnt sienna skins
slide and crunch a mealy flour under our boots,
like seeds from a kibbled loaf on the kitchen floor.
Over the fields the rain has stopped, but here,
under the leaking umbrella of trees, it is sieved
into concentrated drops of light that shock
the nose and nape of neck like icy coins.
Later, driven by greed, hunters of autumn,
we push on and up through this hidden path deep
in the Surrey hills: we part the necklace ropes
of clematis, spar with the rusty leaves of sycamore,
exclaim in delight at the scarlet thrust of rosehips
and clusters of crimson haws, then lust after the berry-
banks of brambles. They guard their fly-blown bounty
with tangles of barbed wire: the fruits are bursting,
dripping, purple-black - we pick and stretch
and grab, but tiny hooks cling to the skin
on the back of our hands, delicately lift its net
of silk: maroon drops pool on our fingers.
Licking off the sweet and sour of blood and juice,
as did my mother, and hers before her, and hers,
and hers, I sense our women's lives, in this scrambling,
gathering wildness, reach out and touch each other.
(published in Weyfarers 110, 2011)
It's 8.30 in Dorking on a Monday in February,
the morning after the Great Snowfall of 2009,
and I'm in the hall dithering about what to put on -
wellies or walking boots? - to fetch the paper,
while admiring the terrific quantity of snow loading
the roofs and trees and hedges. The sky is grey
but luminously pink, and thick flakes are falling,
like silent messengers from an ambivalent god.
I pull myself together and by 8.40 have decided
on wellies; I grab my nordic walking sticks
and go, high as a kid and low as an old
lady with fragile bones. The snow in the garden
comes up to the top of my wellies (so I was right)
and I take giant steps to get to the gate,
which is looking a treat under the white shock
of snow tracing its wrought-iron curlicues.
I plunge on round the igloo over the car
into the Arctic fields of Yew Tree Road,
see Dot at her window and yes, I'll fetch hers too.
I don't get far before I meet Helen, shovelling
hard, and she, for no apparent reason,
bursts into French; and so we converse, at length,
in the cold, in French, while she brushes inches of snow
from the top of her gate with elegant, bare fingers.
She knows about snow, of course, carefree as Heidi
on her Swiss Alm. Then, at 9.10 or thereabouts,
I slither down the hill to the park and marvel
at the colourful scene from Breughel: children sweep
down the bank on toboggans, black dogs bound up and bark,
snowmen are rising. 'Nice for the kids,' I say
to a panting Dad. 'Nice for us all!' he beams.
I feel curmudgeonly, worrying about old bones.
When I get to the paper shop, there are no Guardians
left, but it doesn't matter. The snow is what matters.
It matters that we're all happy for once, so when
my legs slip from my body down the steep bit of hill
by the railway bridge, I don't mind, after all.
I just lie on my back, with a big grin on my face,
waving my nordic walking sticks, and creating
the coolest angels-in-the snow you've ever seen.
(This poem was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2009 and published in Poetry South East 2010 by The Frogmore Press)
If they cut her open, she liked to say,
they would find the music of Bach
running through her bones
like letters through a stick
of rock: from the top
of her skull
to the distal
phalanx of her little toe,
each bone would play its part
in the fugue that would ensue:
in particular the ribs would sing out
in a cathedral of arches
over the font of her hip-bones,
and the resolution
of harmonious notes
would be found in the sigh
that filled the silence
round the operating table
Published in Mslexia No. 44, January 2010.
Lay its crinkled body in your palm,
assess its light weight:
look at its wrinkled tan like the skin
on an ancient face.
Study the dents, the curves,
the darker hollows:
ponder its conception
Prise the shell open
with the metal heart from California
that came in the bag -
there should be a satisfactory
(recycle the halves with a matchstick
mast and paper sail to make
boats for the kids).
Marvel at the convoluted folds
and umber membranes within:
pluck the two raw sienna
sections gently out
(try to keep them whole).
Set them on a white plate
to show off their sclerotic brains
and draw attention
to the repetition
in nature's patterns. Bite. Crunch.
Taste the bitter edge, the wholesome
thickness, the crisp bits in your teeth
as they give up their goodness
to become you.
Published in Weyfarers, No. 99, December 2005.
Nowadays I measure my envy in hands:
I look at the young men's sharp-boned digits
or the white, fluttering pencils of girls;
I notice the labouring, dust-skinned
tools of workmen slumped in the tube,
or the businessmen's tight-strained
triangles knuckled on their newspapers;
I inspect the plump fingers in women's laps.
And I watch, cat-like, to see how they make
those effortless moves: the young girls' darting
hither and thither, a dance of butterflies
lifting and pausing, random as the shrill
of their laughter into their phones;
while the lean men's open and shut, point
and twist, underlining the dramas of thought;
and even old women's fly with every stitch.
But mine, mine do not dance any more:
Mine are becoming witches' claws,
gnarled and knobbled like the split-patterned
boles of grand old chestnut trees,
in- and overlaid with growths and warts
and goblinesque protuberances;
they barely move: they want to curl up
into themselves and nurse their pain.
I do not like being envious. I will
spend more time contemplating
the drawing of those grey-blue hands
Albrecht Durer made so carefully:
they are not particularly straight,
but they are human, beautifully
veined, and in the pose of prayer
so calmly, contentedly still.
Published in Weyfarers, No. 99, December 2005.
When I used to weep
from my soul
knowing my world was at its end -
great racking sobs -
he would nuzzle up to me,
pushing a slippery
under my tight arm,
and look up into my eyes
from the mirrors
of his dark
like a lover, then lift
his sad head and whine
to the moon
of my outrage.
Published in 'Weyfarers' No 101, December 2006.
Lorca's piano was a grand one,
as you would expect. In a grandish
house, on the plain, below Granada.
You could see the Sierra Nevada
from the windows. I thought of him
looking at those white peaks
and loving his view, while he picked
oranges in his garden.
I thought of him playing this piano.
He might have been a musician,
but events turned him into a poet.
It was a bright house, of course, the sun
filled it. Glorious.
I wondered when he knew
what would happen. He must have known,
he took such risks.
The custodian said I could play it.
'What, Lorca's piano!' I said.
'Why not?' He said. I could
think of a thousand reasons why not.
'Go on,' he said. I sat at the stool
where Lorca had sat
and my hands touched the keys
that Lorca had played
and later I cried
as if I had shaken his hand.
Published in 'Weyfarers' No 101, December 2006.
She was the kind of person who spends too long
puzzling about species of flowers,
genera and the naming of trees,
who misses the patterns on hills
and cloud-shapes against sky,
who paints each leaf instead of the wood.
The kind of person, also, who could not choose
between the many options of her modern
life: who felt as if she were floating
on an ocean of flowers; as soon as she reached
for one, its petals fell apart on the waters
and sighed, translucently.
She said later that only her spine
held the show of her life together:
sometimes she felt a vertebra pinch
when she stretched to an uncomfortable
edge, and just knowing it was there,
that long necklace of bones, flexing its way
through choices and decisions that in the end
did not matter, was enough: after many years
something simpler managed to shine through,
just as on a sunless day the copper and yellow
of autumn used to light up the lamps
of the wood she never saw for the trees.
Published in 'Weyfarers' No 112, August 2012 and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize 2011.
Hunched and ever-present, high
in the left-hand corner of our sky,
you glower at us when the clouds are low
and life seems bleak. Slumped over our valley
like Churchill at his desk, you keep
a sheltering eye on those of us beneath;
but when the shadows of the clouds sweep
like an eraser across your page, highlighting
the sunlit slopes in yellow-green,
you're in welcoming mood – and up
we come! Flinging out limbs to stretch
and sprawl on your rabbit-bitten grass,
setting out picnics, while the kids unpent
laugh and scream, rolling over and down,
over and down, bowling like plastic bags
on the wind into the deep and low
of the all-consuming view…ah
that view! That's what we come for…
this open map of farmland, villages
and woods, this great space, extending
southwards to the other Downs,
that grey-blue mistiness where the skies
meet the sea of our hopes and dreams…
Elsewhere the chain-ganged cyclists toil
up zig and zag in focussed streams
of power and sweat to reach your peak;
a lone walker wanders off
to long-grassed meadows in hidden valleys
and scrutinises the beauty and difference of orchids;
another lies on her back to watch
our last, perhaps, butterflies dancing…
Published in the Surrey Hills Arts booklet 'Inspiring Views', 2020.