Tom Sastry – four poems

The birds leave

In the alley where I found, once,
a curled human turd; in the alley
by the almshouses, the Man
Who May Not Be Blind, has built
the suggestion of a chapel
from a costermonger’s pallet.

Three students are recording him
gargling his truth.

The birds are leaving, he says.
God knows for where. But they are mustering,
on each gutter and tile.
He has heard them
calling down wires and lobbing news
from gable to gutter; fussing grimly with the project of it,
checking feathers
and reading the wind from rumour.

The birds are churching together
summoning their luck,
sharing the last good scavenging days.
breathing the last of the old smoke.

They have their badges and colours;
they have their drummers,
fluting their tails and beating imperatives
in a bland wrath of worry. They call out
the who and the where and the when –
you cannot call it a song –

before rising like a tent,
rasping the air with their din.
There is a sudden hush and then
a cacophonous beating of wings.
The sky remains lost. There is no light.


Death is coming

Death is coming says the sticker
(black bold on lilac, no picture).

I only saw it because I was on the top deck
thinking about the worst thing I have ever done,
whether it is worse than things people go to prison for,

what it means to be worse
and what it means to be forgiven.

Then I started wondering why
someone would put a sticker like that
eight feet up, on the brow of the bus shelter

and that’s how it got into my head
that I might need to worry.


Voiceover for an advert for modern life

Imagine that exile was the thing you were born for.

Imagine being lonely without shame.

Imagine a world of supermarket cafes staffed by brisk women and beautifully meek young men with fractured smiles.

Imagine ready meals that taste of indulgence; imagine all the time you can eat.

Imagine privacy.

Imagine a bus whose passengers don’t pretend to have anywhere to go.

Imagine a world of sound, with the texture of silence, free from human noise.

Imagine the library hush of a busy office.

Imagine ceiling tiles.

Imagine trees and cars; cars and trees.

Imagine birds, as if for the first time.

Imagine never coming home. Imagine never having left.


Time to care

The doctor is sorry for the wait. She looks like
she has just killed someone. I almost forget
about the importance of masks and ask her
if she needs a moment. She is brisk as rain,
the kind that hurtles down from a sudden dark
sky like a drowned wind. She isn’t asking –
she wants to see the mole, has the gel ready.

I know from last time that my sleeves don’t roll
far enough, so I remove my shirt. She looks.
She needs a second opinion. Isn’t that
what we all need? It looks a bit unusual. Isn’t that
how we all look? I want to know whether she
is worried about me or is still thinking
about the last patient, the one she had to kill.

I get up not knowing the colour of her eyes
but in spite of that I decide that she is kind.
She sighs. I wonder how many breaths
she is allowed. She is running hard. She is late.


Tom Sastry lives in Bristol but tries not to gloat about it. In 2015, six of his poems were selected from many thousands for inclusion in the anthology The Very Best of 52 (Nine Arches Press). He was subsequently chosen by Carol Ann Duffy as one of the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets and his debut pamphlet Complicity was published by Smith/Doorstop in October 2016.