Two poems by Alison Brackenbury




from the memoirs of Helen, widow of the poet Edward Thomas


They fled, by train, to a poacher
Edward named ‘Dad’. His own father
made the Civil Service, rather

than risky Dad’s wood-cottage. Green
lit thatch like oaks, the emerald sheen
of pheasants’ necks Dad wrung, unseen.

Helen woke to a stitched quilt, lace,
wet primrose by her breakfast place,
Dad’s wife with bonny, gap-toothed face.

The old voice told her, ‘Life turns hard.
You must stew turnips, eke out lard.’
Then Edward called her from the yard.

They swam unclothed, no thought of wrong,
sang in broad lamplight, song on song.
They would live so their whole lives long.

But when both longed, in flight, to stay,
Granny, with Dad, had moved away
near Swindon’s red-bricked railway.


Note: Edward and Helen Thomas were still unmarried 
when they stayed with ‘Dad’ and ‘Granny’ Uzzell.


    Bishop Norton, 1932


He made my mother, short at four,
her own three-legged stool.
His childless wife stoked their small fire,
all sat as though at school.
He read the paper to them both
corn prices, fires in town,
said often, sucking his lost teeth,
‘Long word!’ then carried on.

Who taught my dark-eyed mother words
before teachers’ tirade?
Her quick but waspish mother, hired
at fourteen, bored housemaid?
She read. The pair loved afternoons,
dazed by such cleverness.
She loved their chocolate, curved like moons,
held to their fire’s hiss.

I cannot guess what fears then preyed.
War, London, work, desire?
I know that, old, she lived afraid.
She rarely left her fire.
A teacher once, she would not learn,
gave days to jams and curds.
I read the news, but silently.
I still mistrust long words.


Alison Brackenbury

About Alison Brackenbury

Alison Brackenbury was born in 1953. Her work has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award, and has frequently been broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and 4. ‘Gallop’, her Selected Poems, was published in 2019 by Carcanet. New poems can be read on her website: