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Recovered Memory

                    for Adam and Jane Clarke-Williams


Geese below a gasholder
slide through spangles of the sun’s
autumnal glints on wavelets;
they compete with swans for crumbs,

and ducks steer round a rusted cage
where, look, a shopping trolley
lies in shallows at the conflux
of the Kennet and the Thames …

Here the painted barges come,
weekend water-folk at their tillers,
past cygnet, swan, or duck flotillas
under Brunel’s bridge.

Back to what can’t be got round,
I come out from my reverie
and find a pair of splashing coots
feud like rival poets.

They nut each other with their beaks.
Circling, a third bird squawks —
the object, cause of it all?
Or she’s their referee?


Now look at that leafless blasted oak —
a Laocöon … and I awake
to find myself in Hampshire
on a fresh autumn’s day
hearing word from familiar friends
up here on the Ridgeway.

Later, they point out mountain ash
by black wrought-iron railings,
as if this were all taking place
only to jog a memory;
and they tell me, among other things,
it’s also called the rowan tree.


As one home from the near half-dead
might wonder had he visited
this place in a previous life,
bombarded with cow parsley scents

you drift by city gates above
places for meeting another lost love,
come back with cut grass,
fireworks, and the plaster dust …

Then passing fast, I saw
a badger with its four paws
lifted in the air
like it was playing possum.

Road-killed, not culled, it bore
that stricken resemblance
to yet another of our present,
ill-remembered wars.


Released into the last of sun,
shadows of my daughters
beneath election hoardings
cross, through litter, civic lawn.

Dandelion clock transparencies
are flecked with wild poppies.
Their petals flap like butterfly wings,
red admirals in a breeze.

Wildings form a bonsai forest
of pines sprung up where two walls meet,
catching wind-blown seed
to start this latest generation.


Not many days after our return
you rushed out shouting ‘Via! Via!’
at that magpie in the branches
of a silver birch tree.

More slowly off my haunches,
I was there in time to see
it grudgingly flap through the darkness
on its white-flashed wings.
‘Dad, is there anywhere you feel’s home?’
asked my younger daughter
just a day or two later
on her way from school.

So when I glimpsed a magpie
settled in the sink-hole
of that green cast-iron fountain,
it seemed best leave it be.


Like an interrupted programme:
we found monkey-puzzle-tree
saplings in their wired cages
on grounds of a National Trust property —

as if this were a crash from
some freak electric storm
or power out, and data
looked lost only to flash back later;

encoded deep, a memory of pain,
it comes with fallen apples
arranged around a well-head
glistening in the rain.


No, all losses aren’t restored
by sheaves of sunlit ivy
to deck a harvest festival
along the brick-faced cutting wall,

or squirrels scouting for their store,
but made up for, God knows;
and I’m grateful for small mercies,
as the saying goes —

when on the lower reaches
with all this world before us,
in the shadow of St Paul’s
sun-flared through estuary air,

there’s a father and his child
beachcombing by the waterside,
plaits and tangles in her hair
reported on the tide —

yes, made up for, believe you me,
by glimpsed roofs on a far shore,
therefore in the offing glow
of recovered memory.


[Peter Robinson's The Look of Goodbye: Poems 2001-2006 appeared from <>  in January 2008, while The Greener Meadow: Selected Poems of Luciano Erba (2007) is available from Princeton. After eighteen years teaching in Japan, he is now Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading.]

Copyright © 2008 by Peter Robinson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.