The Fruits of His Labours
Fruitless now, or nearly so,
the apple tree my father planted,
just after the Second World War.
Plenty of leaf, but a lichened bark,
the tiny apples on the sour side.
He was proud of his russet miracles,
in a past, more certain age.
They were so sweet he’d know and fear
that the boys from the streets around
would come scrambling over the wall,
to scrump and thieve. He put up a sign:
This fruit is sprayed with gastrocrapulol,
and will cause prodigious runs.
The hanging apples prospered.
Like fathers in fiction, he was free
with sayings and instances, damning me
for smuggling in a copy of Chatterley,
cursing those demos and protesters all.
He exhorted in the cause of graft,
tradition, steady ways, an uprightness,
hard work, a good malt whisky,
the decent old boys he met, on the farms
and in the pub. He had little time
for chapel, church and ceremony,
and none for Maggie the Prime Minister.
I’m glad the apple tree’s still there.
I applaud its gnarled and weathered body.
Being driven out of Edinburgh city centre, one August morning at eight o’clock.
Down a theatre street, purring,
past a huddle of Shakespeareans, clad
for Romeo maybe, a Rosalind, a bleary Cleopatra,
and a fool, in motley, pig’s-bladder-bopping
young heads so stuffed with verse.
Past a corner shop and two fine silverheads,
their copies of The Record, and an unheard
dialogue, such shafts and sallies.
A woman then with a quiver of scratch cards,
spinning her fortune’s wheel, a blank, blank, blank.
And soon a tall front door, and a greybeard,
with his girl, maybe a decade younger,
assisting her in. Step in, m’dear. And he,
quite clearly, clamping his hands around
plump buttocks, in brilliant day.
O Greybeard, man, such cameo, such cameo.
Ferried by night, train out of Cardiff, ten.
I wasn’t drunk or drugged, just stunned really,
by travel. On the last leg now. I wanted to doze,
close eyes and brain to two hours’ racketing traffic.
Football fanatics spouted gladsome sound,
through lamp-lit Wales. Some Cup game, the boys,
Josh and Corky up for it, cracking goals, Jesus.
The ref routinely bastardised. Good game.
Around Port Talbot, the steelworks’ fiery red
glistened on the dazzled face of drink.
Half-heard, the girls. Mainly mutterings,
the hims, he saids, threads of the intimate, twisting,
as Swansea briefly shone, to their manager, Jane,
the woman’s good name quite vehemently stuffed.
The stream of the conversation glimmered
in night’s reflections and the flickering smiles.
The guard was soothing. Just at times I felt
a shiver of exposure, down among the castaways,
and he’d be there, station by station, loud, benign,
Welsh-vowelled, regularity’s presence.
And we all slobbed out on to Carmarthen’s platform,
blinking in a wavering orange light.
The fans looked dopey now, like little old men.
The girls looked younger though, quite coy.
‘Night Train’ appears in Robert’s new Prolebooks pamphlet Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes
Robert Nisbet, a creative writing tutor, has been sending poems out from Haverfordwest, West Wales, for just over ten years, with many publications in the USA and in Britain, including frequent appearances in Clear Poetry. He recently won the 2017 Prole Pamphlet competition with Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, a short collection of 35 poems which has just been published by Prolebooks.
Robert was the first poet to appear on the site, and his work has come to epitomise the sort of writing I chose to publish. It’s fitting that his is the last post on Clear Poetry.