Michael Bartholomew-Biggs – two poems

Feeling the cold
Edwardstone, Suffolk, Winter 2012
For Daveron Mulberry

Whatever may be true, I’m sure
enough to tell myself
I’m treading where my forebears used to
trudge across hard fields
towards the sandstone certainty of church
to huddle in a winter congregation,
pinch-faced and jostling like penned cattle.

I guess the chancel’s barely changed.
Dust drifts among the sallow smells
of wood and wax. It carries memories
and remnants of their breath
to mix invisibly with mine.

Snow and gospel, visiting again,
disguised as new arrivals,
hide the graveyard’s hardened scars
and dress its half-healed wounds.

Sharp cold’s a pain that’s eased
by stamping feet and fire
and meat and ale and company
when squire and parson sanction them.

Blunt grief must make do
with less substantial consolations:
a father’s hasty, muddled blessing
muttered in a husky voice
with a hand laid on the shoulder
of a rough-made coffin.


When The Photograph Was Taken…

…. he was almost out of shot
and standing in that other room,
whose shelves were packed with almanacs.
He clasped a chair back in both hands
while staring through the leaded window.
…………..Snow was melting down the glass
…………..but clung to kinks in twigs, like sherbet
…………..scooped from pre-war paper bags
…………..in the crooks of small boys fingers.

… the women wore bright summer frocks
yet it was wintry where he stood
and gripped the chair with shoulders shrugged
in very far from unconcern.
His back was hunched against a cold
refusing to explain itself.
…………..Frost and mist had turned the house
…………..across the road to black and white –
…………..a mirror-image doppelganger
…………..mockery of home from home.

… he was drawing breath to tell
a story, waiting for his opening
sentences to come along
the gravel path between the graveyard
and the hospital, like parcels
in a Christmas postman’s sack.
…………..Behind him there was choral music
…………..spread across a piano stool
…………..positioned so it blocked a door
…………..which no one was supposed to open.

And while his back was turned he missed
that failed attempt to document
his absence and he never knew
a wish to show he wasn’t there
was why the photograph was taken.


Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is poetry editor of London Grip and helps to coordinate the Islington reading series Poetry in the Crypt. His new pamphlet collection The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here is due from Wayleave in late 2017.

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