Car Shadows

We walk slowly against the sun, so we hear the bike
free-wheeling round the tree-shadowed corner
before the sparse and folded rider hurls past.
You say the growing whoosh sounds like a river flowing.
Then you jump and laugh. Why, I ask.
You tell me it’s funny how car shadows bounce.
I say I’ll write your clevernesses into a poem.

And also how your new joggers are already too high on the ankle;
How winter’s light imperceptibly sharpens your round cheeks
Which will harden to angles for squaring-up to the world.
Those things too.
And the baby-echo in the clear pitch of your voice as we chat
and how words still sound like you have sweets in your mouth.

I squeeze your warm hand, look quickly away
keep my sudden eye-damp for the middle-distance.
We head home to your soft-toy animals ranged
ready for a rugby game you’ve planned for them.
And I try not to think how one day they’ll wait
for the boy who has long left their games behind.

On finding familiar woods full suddenly of menace ~

Jaw set hard with a day’s irritants,
hives scrawl over skin, back spring-coiled,
synapses crackle and short.

I seek soul-cleansing green,
settling swish of tree music.

Car door bang pulses too-still air.
Jangle of dropped keys jolts
the clenched space behind the ribs.
Swift glance to the under-shadows
at the hem of the clustering trees…

And I shove down needling questions…
like, why I walk this touch more upright, why this theatrical briskness of step…

Why is there noone else here?

In the sound-stifling canopy, a closing-in.
Bird voices mute, leaf rustling stilled.
Trunks tower higher than remembered,
in a mid-afternoon gloaming.

Blackness coalesces, seems to emanate.
Panic rings high in the ears, insides lurch in the listening sylvan silence…

Mocking malice in a Jay-shriek as I retreat,
stumbling from where I’m unwelcome.

~ Polly Oliver (2021)

Sun in November

Half an open stable door draws in the day’s warm breath
and sparrows’ squabbling under wooden eaves,
flustering as though nesting were not still months ahead.

Azure pales into space. Spindrift clouds
offer no buffer from day star rays
fierce on the spent orchard;
urging it from cider scented rest
and dimming the scarlet gleam
between Holly leaves.

Tractor drone from fields away
calls to mind summer-sweet hay
not turning cold and dormant soil,
distant rooks picking over the leavings
of the year – tiny flies on wrinkled skin.

In the strange peace
I am uneasy.

For the nature poets…

Globe-scattered stars,

un-met in the most part.

Yet word-chimes harmonise,

gentle laments synchronise.

Soft songs of earth-angels

eddy together,

a river of elegy sighs.

Bards weep beside

once-sweet streams,

Lost crystal lakes of old tales

In their lines and dreams.

January Moon

All here is rankness.
Poisoned by noise,
muddied with lusts.

Thirsting for icy distance,
I’d lie on her frozen face,
make an angel’s shape
in bone-white dust.

Soul washed in starlight
and the tinkling
of a silver-cold song.


Trying to net a name for the ache:
warm belly-clench of sorrow
for the good and the sweet ones
we may not meet
but know by their light;
for the sudden tear-sting
at dusk as a blackbird sings
defiance at the creeping night.

Cathole Cave, March evening

The last of the dog walkers leave.
Disparate figures seek the gate,
hounds zig and zoom,
warm cars click open, suppers wait.

Shadow from the wooded ridge
edges towards the opened tomb
where stone lips welcomed
the dead to an earth mother’s womb.

Turn from the gravelled avenue and up.
Rising rush in the beech tops
urges the stranger turn and stop,
roar of gods; their furies once told
in lost words round equinox fires.

Wind shakes still-bare fingers
of dying ash, though Spring’s hand
over this brow of earth opens eyes
of wood anemone and celandine
that peep shy from shadowed green.

Climb to creak, knock and squeak
wyrd communications of ancient trees.
Below, an unseen blackbird shrills
sudden terror into dusk.

Time shifts.
Soil-dank air from a limestone slit.
Ossuary-rank, the cave-mouth exhales
millennia cold on the cheek.

~ Polly Oliver 2021

Golden Day

Together they lay
on a golden day
flip side of a year
long folded away.

Flanks tight as secrets.
Summer’s finger tips
tickled crickets
to shivering music.

Deep grasses whispered
soft as kisses
and time and sky
reached depths of lapis.

Winter hillside runs dun,
larks are fled.
No insects hum.
The sun draws cloud-drapes
round its counsel.

Past selves
Like pictures of the dead
in a faded book.
Touch their lost faces,
Turn the page.