Robert Nisbet – three poems

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.

Side Window 
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.

Night Train

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.

Robert Nisbet – three poems

The Cusp

I am 18. It is 1963.
Soon I shall sing flowers and San Fran,
wear a Sergeant Pepper jacket,
declare / decree / delight in the fact
that All you need is love.

And yet, history’s squirrel, I shall hoard
the nutshell sights and sounds and smells
of coal fires in cold winters,

of boys released from Latin lessons
to a weekend splurge of leaf and light
in childhood’s fields and hedges,

of walking down ashcan lanes
to cafés and the record shop,

of the men who built sheds and lofts,
knew about football, bowled leg-spin
down the street’s front paths

with a tennis ball and lots of tweak,
said little about the war.

Back Home

She’d been dumped.
There was anxiety to help her,
Violet simpering in the corner shop,
the sonorous elders / olders,
the odd crass blast, The clock is ticking, Helen,

and mantras, platitudes, soliloquies.
So it could hover, the three-year-only marriage,
like an albatross, with misty thoughts
of female cuckoldry.

Work was best, for a while,
the clacketing of the farm shop’s till,
the shoppers, girls from the peninsula,
gracious in ignorance.
Even the greasy charmers.
Nice to be called My dear from time to time.
(Attention short of lechery was fine).

And shop staff, Gloria was good,
a bangle-jangling girl, calling her,
My sweet, my lamb.

Some comfort, much comfort.
Then, closing the shop at five, November,
home, the family waiting.

The Old Library
The County Library, Haverfordwest c 1960

As you went in, on the stone staircase,
there was a snake in a jar, a mean-looking sample
of the taxidermist’s art. Strange fish and fowl
thronged the path to the librarian’s eyrie.

Within, Miss Davies and the rest of them
stamped books, slipped cards into dockets.
As children, we took out those ink-scented yarns,
pottering in shards of sunlight from high windows.

And, as students, in the vac, Emlyn was there,
and John, at folding desks, a little wonky,
squeezed in at the end of aisles,
their essays and ambitions under way.

The scholarship boys. The library
History’s tread.

Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet who has over 200 publications in Britain and around 50 in the USA. His one chapbook is Merlin’s Lane (Prolebooks, 2011).

This is Robert’s fifth appearance on Clear Poetry – you can read his other contributions here.

Robert Nisbet – two poems

On the Bus to the Wedding

Ivor checking the pigeons are secure,
Joyce gathering a piece of Madeira cake,
popping it in the bread bin,
and then they catch the bus, 10.25 to Cardiff.

They love the ceremony’s stock loveliness,
the spouts of sentiment and hymnal,
and on to the reception.

This is Ivor and Joyce,
they’ve come from Abercynon on the bus.
How sweet, how very sweet ..
(…lived in our terraced house for fifty years,
says Ivor…)

Then Steve to John, We must remember, old boy,
that the markets won’t like this Budget.
Social advances are fine and dandy, of course,
but our leaders need a dash of realism sometimes.

Ivor and Joyce, now in their wall-seat eyrie loft,
but loving it, smiling at blank smiles, the bride,
the descent into drink, as the marriage of Don and Dawn
sets off on its voyage of thirteen years.

Term Time

It’s going into March and Jeremy,
the history boy, is dreaming
of his Cambridge scholarship, of buildings,
stone’s wisdom and the man he met,
from Corpus Christi, who’d lived
in Marlowe’s room.

Denny, for uni too
(get a good job, of course, mumble, mumble),
dreams of the fizzing of dancehall lights,
the beer pumps’ reassuring depths.

Karen whirls like a vinyl record, spins
with Kinks and Mersey’s Pacemakers,
the future a haze to be wondered at,
but jabbed in dream by quirks and fears.

For Sarah, art.
Now. And next year, at Hornsea.
The paints, the easel, the mornings.
All of it. The now of art.

Robert Nisbet was for some years an associate lecturer in creative writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen. His poems have appeared in his Prolebooks pamphlet, Merlin’s Lane (2011), have been published widely in magazines in Britain, and in the USA in magazines like San Pedro River Review, Red River Review, Constellations and Main Street Rag. One of his short stories was featured in the Parthian anthology, Story II.

Robert Nisbet – three poems

A Day Trip to 1959

Imagine Fate re-dealt the decades’ deck
and sent me shuffling half a century back.
I’d rise with such lightness of shoulder,
so little baggage. Swot ‘A’ level awhile,
Jane Eyre OK, I’ll get the hang of Browning soon.
(Meanwhile a Soviet Lunik has started the Space Race).
A kick-around at the Rec, tea, down to Dev’s,
kids cackling, juke box hot with fun. (Remember
that Buddy Holly has already died). And Helen.
She has fair hair, brown eyes and soft brown legs.
No history I know of. No issues. Saturdays, we go
to the shelters at the back of the Parade.


In the strict sense, it’s not an endpaper at all,
but he’s found a letter now, in a scrapbook,
from the girl in Solva (they were seventeen)
and it reads like an epilogue
to youth’s last stretches,
a book’s or chapter’s end.

The writing’s clear, round, strong.
I am in bed and missing you.
(He remembers reading that the very first time,
the heart’s, the pulse’s leap.)
She writes about the school in Dewi Sant,
the history homework. She’s in bed now
(O bed, bed, bed!), listening to Radio Luxembourg,
Bobby Darin singing Dream Lover.
Her mother much prefers Sinatra.
But the girl writes,
I will remember you in my dreams.

The plod, the schmaltz, the earnestness.
The brief while’s joy.


As boys, we shucked into old blue jeans,
felt the welcome of sunlight
as we breasted the ridge, over into the woods.
We gathered the conkers, fat, beautiful,
plucked their brownness from soft shells,
savoured the glistening,
then set to hardening them, in vinegar,
ambition spilling in.
Later bigger boys would come
(there were always bigger boys),
swinging their gross, rock-hard opponents,
our conkers splintering.

Don nowadays, working in sales,
is groomed and punctual, successful,
gathering in the text and the bravado
of half-year balance sheets.
He recalls that earlier self, misses him.
He remembers breasting the ridge,
the morning’s sunlight and the glow
of chestnuts’ brown before the plucking out.

Robert Nisbet was for some years an associate lecturer in creative writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen. His poems have appeared in his Prolebooks pamphlet, Merlin’s Lane (2011), have been published widely in magazines in Britain, and in the USA in magazines like San Pedro River Review, Red River Review, Constellations and Main Street Rag. Two poems appeared recently in India. One of his short stories was featured in the recent Parthian anthology, Story II.

Robert Nisbet – three poems

Her Pink Raincoat, His Brogues

No-one dresses for Starbucks anyway.
She wore, well-piqued by it,
a shiny pink raincoat. He wore his tweeds,
a knitted tie, his brogues, offset against
her crocodile-skin bag.

The first weekend, they walked three miles
along the coastal path. He brought two cans
of a light lager, she a survival kit
and the numbers of the emergency services.
He scrambled to a ledge some six feet down
to show her a martin’s nest
(leaving it undisturbed).

The concert was her idea,
Vivaldi, a string quartet. He quite enjoyed it,
took his shoes off in the second half,
finding that restful.

Why they should have separated,
she always wondered. (Friends’ prompting,
What IS she thinking of?) After that week apart,
she, waiting outside the film club’s theatre,
was so relieved to see him striding down,
in his Welsh rugby shirt and jeans.

The Burrow

The sometime train conductor Noel
lives now with wifely, pretty Lily
in Bella Vista, Merlin’s Lane.
Of a morning, he will sniff the air,
collect the milk bottles and the paper,
then scurry velvet-footed back
to his own home hearth.

Paddington once,
four hours there, four back,
the passengers and paperbacks,
the buffet’s beers and coffees
and legs lurching to the feel of the journey,
fragments of talk and sentiment,
the smiles always flickering, flickering.

Now the chesty breathing (both of them),
the almost solid smell of love
on his own home hearth.
But occasionally,
when he will, of a morning, sniff the air,
might he scent diesel and distances,
the traces of his passengers
(you got all sorts, the mavericks, the mysteries),
and the smiles always flickering, flickering?


Well-nurtured, neat, well-scrubbed,
Elizabeth trained for teaching,
came back neater than ever.
Her pupils ruled lines beneath their headings,
tidied desks, wrote careful lettering,
took the piss. Inspectors patronised her,
to Heads she was part of a steady body
of staffroom stodge. When boys farted,
Elizabeth flushed quite desperately, fretted deep.
When the smut and mutter started,
she wanted to defend her girls, went red,
blustered. Once, on a tearful afternoon,
farted herself. The boys, Apollos, Stud Men all,
derided. The girls, most of them, were coiled
in an adolescent spring. Their laughter twanged.
Save three.
Helena, Wendy, Gail,
who later, in bungalows and flats around the town,
told their children of Miss Reed. Later again, Wendy,
three hundred miles, three decades and a half away,
told her grand-daughter of Elizabeth,
screaming once, in this boy’s face.
She was there, said Wendy. For us.

Robert Nisbet was for some years an associate lecturer in creative writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen. His poems have appeared in his Prolebooks pamphlet Merlin’s Lane and in magazines like Smiths Knoll, Other Poetry, The Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Dream Catcher, The Journal, Scintilla, Poetry Wales and (in the USA) in Hobo Camp Review, The Camel Saloon and Main Street Rag. One of his short stories was featured in the recent Parthian anthology, Story II.

Going live!

Happy New Year!

Just a quick note to let you know that Clear Poetry will be going live on Monday 5th January at 5.45am with two excellent poems by Robert Nisbet! I can’t wait for you to read them.