Two poems by Humphrey Astley


My grandmother standing on a West Ireland pier
trying not wanting to take it all in
the Atlantic both the linctus and the tall dark man
pushing it to her

My grandmother feeling as young as she is
with the odour of rope and the spit of birds
ripe to distil in the pits of these kids’
hopes and memories

My grandmother watching her formal ma totter
against a sky empty of cables and satellites
blackened by ships like the one that now steals
most of her daughters

My grandmother hearing their call
their voices brushing her own
watching her sisters grow

My grandmother putting a ring on her finger
trying to rein the new movement of the world
the two of them taking their three young girls
safely to England.


‘I don’t need to change my strings,
The dirt don’t hurt the way I sing’
– Sturgill Simpson

To love you without having you
is country’s brand, its cautery.
A man can set his secrets to
the gallows-humored melody.

You’re different from the other girls
that work the bar. I haven’t changed
my set in days – each smoky pearl
of wisdom’s calling from the stage.

A cowboy from the Bowl
Fell for an Indian
Who, with a kiss, turned him
Into a totem pole

You take a break and squander it.
The window frames your face, the moon,
the cherry on your cigarette.
I’d join you but I’m set in stone.

The gallows-humored melody
will keep me company – the view
has set me up, quite comfortably,
to have you without loving you.

(both poems previously published in The Gallows-Humored Melody, Albion Beatnik Press, 2016)

Humphrey ‘Huck’ Astley is a poet and musician based in Oxford, England. His works include the three-part album and stage-show Alexander the Great (PRSF, 2013-15) and the pamphlet The Gallows-Humored Melody (Albion Beatnik Press, 2016). A new pamphlet, The One-Sided Coin, is forthcoming from Rain over Bouville.