Three poems by Richard Skinner

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Below are three poems from Richard Skinner’s new pamphlet The Malvern Aviator, recently published by Smokestack Books.

 


 

     Dark Nook

 

I am Egbert Clague. 
I come every morning from Agneash 
hoping for the nod from the bargain man. 
It takes two hours to descend the ladders, 
our tallow candles round our necks 
like white asparagus.
The hole to go down is just two foot by two, 
the spokes like blunt knives, 
the blackdamp smelling awful. We chip 
and hack until we see the sparkle 
of the rich extraordinary, 
haul it up through smoke to the adit.
One day, they brought me up 
in the dead box, my leg crushed. 
The Captain of the Mines 
came in person to the cottage and said, 
‘We can’t give you anything
and that will have to keep you.’
My wife Brenda is on the
Washing Floors now, sorting ore from stone 
ready to ship to Swansea. 
It’s worse work than the mine — 
she has no more feeling in her hands. 
I’ll be joining her there soon.
Meantime, I grow veg, read and 
visit the village chapel on my sticks 
to pray our Sooki will one day flee. 
When I’m alone, I kneel and whisper, 
‘The affection you get back from children 
is sixpence as change from a sovereign.’

 


 

     Via Fiori Oscuri

 
          (Milan, 1st May 2015)
 

Flashes of cornices in puddles.
Street cleaners on tractor quads
that expel angry air from flues.
Pale striped awnings buffer on balconies,
a radio blares from a kiosk.
The Pinacoteca is closed.
A purple billboard announces
reticulated giraffes in the new zoo,
a recurrence of atavistic beasts.
Two cars smoulder near Bar Magenta,
anti-Expo graffiti on metal shutters,
the air perfumed with violence.
Later, a train to Bergamo Alta.
Factories like strips of magnesium,
barber pole stacks pumping effluence.
Up the funicular, amid the towers
the back alleys a nexus of admittance,
a confluence of ancient tongues.

 


 

     The Astorians

 

My grandmother is sitting in a village hall
watching her Art play his sax.
She is 19 and is wondering when
they will have their first conjectural sex.
The hall is hot, too few windows open
that are far too high. Next to her, Bert
is too loud at his drums. Art’s brother, Eric,
is dancing madly with a hussy named Kat.
My grandmother is waiting for the last song—
she has been here many times before—
when Art will unclip his instrument
to have the last dance with his Vera.
It is summer 1931, somewhere near Malvern Link,
well before the years of struggle with her
disabled daughter, the home
they eventually found for her in Worcester.
Then the War: the years of saving for furniture
because she didn’t approve of HP.
Art’s slow rise to Co-op Store Manager
in charge of women’s outfits and drapery.
Later, she whispered to me how terrified
she was on her wedding night,
but how kind-hearted Art was,
who just hushed her and turned out the light.
In the home, she told me she fought every night
with the devil in her dreams.
Often, she would stare at me and demand to know
if she were standing in a stream.
But this is all still to come. Right now,
my grandmother looks at Art (‘How handsome!’),
notices the shine of his bow tie and single button,
the big A on the kick drum.

 

Richard Skinner

About Richard Skinner

Richard Skinner is a writer working across fiction, life writing, essays, non-fiction and poetry. He has published three novels with Faber & Faber and three books of non-fiction. His poetry first appeared in the Faber anthology First Pressings (1998) and since then in anthologies for William Blake, John Berger and Médicines Sans Frontières. He has published three books of poems with Smokestack: ‘the light user scheme’ (2013), ‘Terrace’ (2015), and ‘The Malvern Aviator’ (2018). Richard is Director of the Fiction Programme at Faber Academy.