Below are five poems from Patrick Davidson Roberts’s debut collection, The Mains, recently published by Vanguard Editions. The collection is being launched at the London Review Bookshop, Bloomsbury, this Thursday evening (8th February) from 6.30pm: all are welcome. Event details here.
for James Brookes
Worked on by the Portuguese Bat, he has been absent these rampart weeks. I know that I am no longer young. When, instead of the king, I take this young man to bed, he approaches my works, frets along my stockade front and turns on me as linstock the fire breaking over our heads in far-away Europe. Sometimes I catch him mouthing the orders to Hold and to Advance until the enemy is utterly crushed. Then the bit lip cold O of mouth bursting and shameful retreat broken casement. Somewhere in this palace, a Catholic plots his own exile. His brother counts the childless years. Asleep, beside me, Mr John Churchill marches deep into the heart of Europe. When I die no one will know that even at the greatest moment of Blenheim he will remember my love my coin for his commission I stroke his childish forehead and do not bear his children.
(Villiers, later 1st Duchess of Cleveland, was one of Charles II’s mistresses, and a significant power behind the throne of the Restoration.)
Patrick writes: ‘Walker’ is a long sequence that began life as an elegy for the Dad’s Army actor James Beck, before taking on a darker, introspective life of its own. The stanza titles are taken from episode titles of Dad’s Army. The sequence makes up the last third of The Mains.
X. A Soldier’s Farewell
There you all are sitting in a cinema But you are the one who seems in a fall Your grimace The hair swept back by black Your eyes crushed to slits and the whole shot death-comprehending Hush in the stalls At first I don’t know what you are watching Is it just an episode that I’m yet to get to Is it a clever double-take But your face next to the space around is gripped as though you were chained to that seat and forced to watch Weeks pass and I paw through internet galleries and try and place that photograph But all I find is the smile and always the unkilling cigarette puckered between your lips You are too much what we all know you to be
XI. Uninvited Guests
One Thing I Can’t Stand Is Common People in reference to the Air-Warden The audience give half a laugh That you would quote against your Cor Blimey Your Watch it guvnor Your How’s about it And in the terseness of those words I see flash your frustration that the door-opener part was beginning to choke you That the writer got you to speak as quisling to yourself As can’t stand common you alone No one matched the oiled tongue of a man a bit handy and when you replaced the fag in your mouth the glare across your face smarted Suddenly the writer had turned curved trickster and you were mocking the very part that he could not hold You were beginning to eat yourself
XIII. All is Safely Gathered In
I Saved You From That Din I and Now I Need Saving From Something Else Dun I Where elsewhere it is all implication that you are the only one they would have Out in the fields and in the hay it was clear struck confirmed That your desperate charm was enough the work barely a matter of time before the two of you wrapped around one another was what we see again and again Even as a kid it was clever Even at my age it was something to be impressed at But then those photographs of you on that location The sunglasses Their death Your stance suddenly Richard Your face shockingly lowered Hands in pockets Slowly walking towards the camera Its judder starting to take you away
I am lying on the desk She is dressing I am thinking what it would be like to smoke And a year from that desk I will start My first taste will be in thought of you in the credits Your sneaky fag Your clear enjoyment The ducked head But she is dressing now her breasts leaning into me as she reaches down to clip the strap through the nylon And I do not know what the feel of close lace to my school uniform tells me But I know that I want to smoke The walk home through the dark plays Budd Flanagan and the band of the Coldstream Guards in my head while I try to remember my excuse Round A Friend’s House was the difficult one But she told me not to tell