Ubi sunt? *
Where are they?
Beattie, in her dark shop. The smell of apples,
brown paper bags on a nail and the air
sweet, heady like warm cider.
The man who cut our cheese with a wire.
His fat fingers, and the ping and clack as the
numbers jumped up, counting the money.
Miss Lancaster, who planted wallflowers and lupins.
The green water butt that stood behind the house,
little insects always busy under its wooden lid.
Mrs G.O. Berry, in her printed housecoat,
hanging out Monday’s towels and shirts,
her round arms and round face as soft as flour.
Mr Watson, who once told us the Lord
had sent him a pork pie. How had it come?
By post, or down from the sky? Nobody knew.
The Misses Peach, their white hair that
smelled of pot pourri, their vases full
of dried honesty and blue sea lavender.
* ‘Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?’ (Where are those who were before us?)
‘A poetic motif emphasizing the transitory nature of life … found especially in mediaeval Latin poems’.
An evening incident
Rain sluices plate-glass as I
sit, watching the first leaves
wind-swirled from the churchyard.
A row of small houses, the National
School and the Church Hall.
Across the wet street, a row
of flags, tangled and faded,
limp remnants of summer,
and on the pavement below,
a man is being arrested
A checked shirt, too thin
for a cold evening, and a quick
cigarette while they wait.
Five officers, two vans with
strident blue roof-lights
and a car to bundle him in.
He seems relaxed. Perhaps
he knows the procedure and is
bored with the whole thing.
Handcuffed, he reaches out
as if in greeting, performing
his own gracious Namaste.
Not embarrassed, as I know
I would be, and ashamed at being
exposed as not the upright citizen.
I look down and watch
this banal occurrence from
my protected vantage point.
A warm bar, the smell of good coffee
and the rain scoring the glass, all
marks of unbridgeable distance.
Still air and bird silence,
fat, clamped-down skies.
Sharky, cartilaginous things
nosing through stalled traffic.
Crustacean coaches, their eyes
hanging from metal stalks
over bulbous windscreens.
Arriving from Gdansk and Gdynia
and beached here (no longer a thing
of wonder or comment) they disgorge
their burdens of hopeful travellers.
An ambulance, chequered,
dazzle-striped like a warship,
yelps its way through a chain
of lobster-red buses, sweaty
chip-strewn human containers.
The departing stench of a
refuse lorry, its maw like the
painted Hell-mouth in a fresco.
And a white van, carrying men
hidden behind small dark
windows, in a hot hell
of their own, eastwards.
Imogen Forster is a translator, mainly of art history. She publishes poems on-line and on paper. She is on Twitter as @ForsterImogen.