Two poems by Alwyn Marriage

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

 
 
 

    Compass point

 

Compass north can wander many miles apart
from true north, and it alters every year;
so explorers travelling to the Pole must start
by drawing on their map a line that shows in clear
detail the effect of magnetism's range.
Then, compensating for the angle, steer
a course that, whatever happens, will not change.

Life’s sometimes not so simple to control
and even the familiar can appear quite strange
as lost among the stars we try to recognise our Pole
and set a direction there that never wavers.
I used to think I knew the way to reach my goal
but never found a compass fine enough to chart
the demi-semi-quavers of my heart.

 
 
 

    Far outpost

 

Vindolanda

 

Before they built the wall
(in our opinion, in completely
the wrong place)
and marched along it
shouting orders at each other

we tried to reproduce the more refined
and delicate pleasures that we'd left behind
in Italy, only to discover that no wishing wells
could ever produce figs or olives
from these cold English hills.

But you, my sister, knew how to entertain,
offering the food of gossip and the wine
of intelligent conversation, so that for a while
we could forget the weather, the dirt, the wild
brutish ways of men who brought the British mud
into what passed for home,
demanding the same carnal pleasures we'd enjoyed
in the sunshine and soft beds of Rome.

At least it isn't necessary here to flee our homes
in summer, in search of cooling breezes.
Here in this fort, cold winds and driving rain
seek out our bones each day
regardless of the season.

It didn't trouble us that we'd be written out of history.
Our men might punctuate their long dark days
with oaths and curses, skirmishes with local bandits.
We exercised the calligraphic skills
we’d learnt before our exile,
committing to these tablets
words that did not need
to be preserved, but on the other hand
might last two thousand years.
We knew such correspondence
could be used to comfort, offer
culinary and herbal hints
and even to arrange a birthday party.

And so, my sister, friend,
all is not lost
as long as we can write
to one another.
Rome may rise and fall,
history cover all our private
rooms with peat and mud,
but hidden or discovered,
our gentle unimportant words
will last for ever.

 

Alwyn Marriage

About Alwyn Marriage

Alwyn Marriage's twelve books include poetry, non-fiction and two novels: 'Rapeseed' and 'The Elder Race'. She's widely published and gives readings internationally. Her collection of Covid poems, 'Pandora's Pandemic', is due out in June. Formerly a university philosophy lecturer, CEO of two international literature and literacy NGOs and an environmental consultant, she's Managing Editor of Oversteps Books and a research fellow at Surrey University. Her website is: www.marriages.me.uk/alwyn.