Robert Ford – three poems

Clapham Junction

Men with hairy hands are falling
asleep on every blue train picking
its way through the wasps’ nest
of intersecting lines. The manger-like
rocking reminds them, sub-consciously,
of being babies, and sends their smug
newspapers, folded with debatable
truths, sliding to the floor from their
crumpled laps. At home, in placid,
unthreatening towns, anxious wives
are fidgeting all alone, while children
wrestle elsewhere in expensive schools,
desperate to become something different.
A gaunt November evening crashes
down outside, but nothing will interrupt
their slumbering. Whole worlds, apparently
managed yet rarely understood, are
slipping by, just beyond their reach.

Christopher became a chief constable

You once went to his house and
drank milk from plastic beakers.
His mother gave you one biscuit,
and kept the small house tidy,
and you never saw his father,
although you knew he had one.

What you didn’t know then was
just how handsome he would be,
a classical kind of beauty, like an
English actor from the nineteen-fifties,
always smouldering from a uniform;
dashing, yet incapable of empathy.

But you know it now. You see,
in your memory, his elegant nose
and immaculate skin the colour
of bones, the way his brown eyes
judged the world as if they were grey,
made of impossibly precious metals.

None of you noticed. You were all
too pre-occupied with teasing, and
something close to but not quite bullying,
with his bookishness – too dismissive
of the awkwardness in his limbs
to see where they were taking him.

Leningrad, 1990

Even with only seven mutually-intelligible phrases,
we partied on the overnight express north like it was
everybody’s birthday, making a loaf out of crumbs.
Come morning, the train lurched in, to a metropolis with
two heads, neither of them facing in the right direction.

Then it rained three days, in bands of withering judgment,
from a sky heavy with itself and a marathon of history.
Ageing boulevards, redundant with missing teeth, became
tributaries. Palaces gleamed, and naked-headed citizens
in zip-up jackets, streamed along Nevsky Prospect wearing

identical tennis shoes, unaware that another revolution
was rearing like a rodeo bull, in a future already
out of touch with the present. They would soon be
renaming the city again. Back at our hotel, the lights
flickered. They warned us against drinking the water.

Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland. His poetry has appeared in both print and online publications in the UK and US – most recently in Picaroon Poetry, The Lake, Liminality and San Pedro River Review. More of his work can be found at


Robert Ford – three poems

Naughty Boy

You’ll know when he’s back on the whisky,
because the taxi comes all the way out
from the town carrying the bottles, on the days
when the postman brings his cheque.

You’ll see it bump back down the muddied road
from the far end of the glen, to where the shell
of the family house huddles in its broken square
of unmown meadow, wire and pebbles.

His skinny dogs – the bearded collie
and the mongrel – chase its spinning tyres,
their sharp rasps spilling over the hillside
like too much water over a bath rim.

His muted, rheumy eyes gaze through them
and the lowered window, and for just a moment
he’s all his accumulated ages at once, and then
the man he is, older than his whispered years.

And when you finally call by at the house –
the days it’s taken him to drink it all having passed –
he’ll stand there sheepish by the missing front door,
and tell you how he’s been a naughty boy.


No clean hand waved a child off to our school.
The dads of all the kids I knew did filthy jobs,

and mine worked ghosters at the power plant,
cruel shifts pressing deep into the small, dark hours.

On his return, a poltergeist crashed into the backyard
beneath my bedroom window, like a coal train

hammering the tracks of a deserted station,
somewhere off in the full stop of an empty night.

More than once, his aching, splintered hand
pushed right through the thin panes of the door,

having expected – for some reason – to find it open.
I fell asleep again to the careful crunch of his footsteps,

and in the morning, a black sheet held on by tape
sealed the broken spaces, the glass all spirited away.


The sun will flee again soon, following its divine angle,
to fall beyond the hill, before the cool flow of night arrives.

The last car will leave the village and argue its way back up the road,
its driver tapping out a rhythm of fidgets on the steering wheel,

and all that will linger is the clong, clong, of the bell around the neck
of a goat, beckoning to its partner in the darkness,

and the slow, slow clap of the waves, studded with pebbles,
one by one, eating into the rounded belly of the bay.

Robert Ford lives on the east coast of Scotland, and writes poetry, short stories and non-fiction. He blogs at