Four poems from Arthur
Arthur lies warm in his soft feather bed
muffled beneath his blue eiderdown,
the night doesn’t frighten him, one little bit.
He reaches in the dark for twenty gold ships
that sail under stars to a faraway land
marked with a cross his mother has stitched.
Each bright thread, a fair weather song
and he always does what his father says.
Arthur lies warm in his soft feather bed.
Some never reach the little boats of Dunkirk.
Arthur’s now the man of the house, watches
newsreels and the sea – the war one long ache.
His mother takes to quietness and sewing,
stitches and stitches for victory. He keeps
the fire and digs the garden. After tea
she teaches him cello, finds his heart there
and together they learn to bear the weight.
Everyone else has tottered off to their own
or someone else’s bed. They dance through
the debris until he falls to his knees all dizzy
and asks, and she says yes, O Arthur yes.
They drink wine from her village, she cries,
tells him of the valley: its meadows and castle,
the children she taught and fled in darkness with.
They boarded a coal freighter at Sette and couldn’t sleep
for the black dust and heat. Three days in the shadow
of Gibraltar’s rock, not daring to speak. The long sail
through mines to the cold and wet Liverpool docks,
to be labelled and scattered from Cumbria to Suffolk.
They look out into the soft grey dawn and he promises
to build her a boat to sail them south, back through
the Straits of Gibraltar. On tip-toes, she kisses his mouth.
Arthur wonders how she can be so bold and fragile,
watches her pale heart-shaped face, bright
under the black hair she cuts blind
with a knife. Her hands flutter
like small white birds when she speaks.
She asks about his shelf of stones. He tells her
each is an impenetrable planet with tiny people
locked inside with their histories, fairy tales
and bus routes; knowing nothing beyond
the grey pitted sky. She’s glad he’s strange,
it means he’s interesting, says as the teacher
she’ll need no child of her own, if that’s alright.
Martin Figura was shortlisted for the 2010 Ted Hughes Award for New Work and won the Hamish Canham Prize. He is Chair of Café Writers in Norwich. Arthur is published by Nasty Little Press.