Three poems by Alasdair Paterson

Age of gold

Burnish the armour.
Drench the altar.
Flourish the treasure.

Or walk out
into a flare of sunlight
that’s all that matters
here, this moment.

Those gods you named
and brought to life
seem to like you.
Days like this, you might
expect to hear from one.

Pellucid, bright
as a rock-pool at sunrise
is how oracles speak
the day before
the age of second thoughts.
Age of bronze

You gave the wounds.
You took the wounds.
Not all the wounds
were at the front.

You shared a sorceress’ bed.
You wore out your welcome
with another sorceress.
The sorceresses were chalk and cheese.

You swore an oath.
You broke an oath.
Your words blew away
like spindrift.

the wound you survive
is the scar you can live with;
sea-winds cancel spells,
salt spoils honeycomb;
and when it comes to
undertakings and offences
your memory is only
as short as anyone’s.

Now and at last,
you’re ready to go home.
Coastal path around some lines by Lee Harwood

A thought came to me back there:
how Alpine the seaside is, white crests
that sweep in like fast-forward geology,
gardens abseiling down the cliffs in slo-mo.
Then the thought whistled off towards
oompah bands and paramilitary youth camp,
so I waved it goodbye and took the cliff path.

Gulls shriek in the air above the rock
while below thrift and small orchids flower
in that awesome hush between the waves breaking

And this is where I am now, Lee.
It’s that salty dog breath hits me up here
and I shouldn’t look down. I look down.
A hush, another skirmish; every day
and night the sea’s at the white cliff
taking back its dead, but there’s no hurry.

It’s where I come once in a while
to listen to my disappeared, knowing
they’re never short of a word or two.
I’d say they like it here, so far above
the dim, cold strand, beyond amours
and griefs strung out along the phone lines.

There’s no hurry; they’ll stay as long as I sit,
one hand clutching grass, my life in the other.
I look down. They say: your life, you’ll
remember how heavy it is. How light.
(All poems from Elsewhere or Thereabouts, Shearsman Books, 2014)
Having won an Eric Gregory Award for his poetry in 1975 and published collections in the mid-1980s, including The Floating World (Pig Press) and Brief Lives (Oasis Books), Alasdair Paterson returned to writing after a 20 year gap with On the Governing of Empires (Shearsman, 2010). His latest collection from Shearsman, published in 2014, is Elsewhere or Thereabouts. He is now retired after a career directing the work of academic libraries in Britain and Ireland; during those years he also travelled extensively, particularly in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. He lives in Exeter, where he co-presents the monthly poetry reading Uncut Poets and is an organiser of the Exeter Poetry Festival.