Selected poetry by Hilary Roper:
Evening Fishing on the River Ribble
Slurp of the cows drinking,
Flick flies with their tails.
Surreptitious cast, sneaky and fast,
Line whipping the air with a rasp.
Cow-pat river, green-brown as it flows,
He’s fishing for salmon, I know.
Fat yellow, red flies with a speck of white,
Salmon might rise to his delight.
Mallards amidst marigolds,
Ancient stones and rabbit holes,
The Ribble runs like a snake you know,
Slides along whipping the land as it goes.
Summer birds trill, evening aglow,
Orb in the sky sheds a golden glow.
River in flush across rain fed ford,
Salmon is running with the Lord.
A heron pokes the water, a long beak stab,
It takes the minnow with a definite grab.
Swifts they dive high this evening,
The river is running and racing.
Cows snort, waddle and mow,
Each rivulet runs into the big flow.
Silverweed, dockweed; mounds for moles.
Mallards middling above the shoals.
Salmon are only interested in their spawning grounds,
Whilst the pools twirl in widened rounds.
Water races across sluggish pools.
Trust me; the fishermen are no fools.
He casts across the river span,
Pools spin across river fan.
Silt, slash, sodden and suck,
Rings of pools around the ducks.
Through the liquescence, mist magically rises,
Like a lacy shroud in disguises.
Her menacing fingers across the sink.
Leaping salmon are hidden in the drink.
The misty lady fingers the creeks,
Everything humid and white sneaks.
Her fingers fumbling the forest’s floor,
In the heat of the golden core.
Sauntering river stop teasing,
Pied treasures wavering.
Trout and salmon rushing fine,
But for the pull of one tight line.
Two Fat Crows
Two fat crows sat on the wall,
Two fat crows waddle and fall.
Their heads poke as they walk along,
Wet wet fields, beaks like prongs.
Two fat crows, neither here nor there,
Glossy black coats as they stare.
Dagger-like beaks poking for worms,
Clawing at the ground beneath the terns.
Two fat crows, grossly obese,
Walk side by side having a feast.
Couldn’t care less where they stand,
Or for that matter where they land.
Two fat crows from the midden fly,
Gliding across field to sky.
Black and fat, black and black,
Evil stabbing behind your back.
All beaks pointing north, north-west,
Eye by eyeball, in line with rest.
Bang their beaks into the ground,
Up jump the worms from the sound.
Two fat crows stalk stealthily,
Whilst the lambs eat happily.
One lamb’s eye is truly plucked,
What a marble of good luck.
A Very Special Birth
Oh little baby coming soon
Will I sing to you?
Oh little baby coming soon,
Mum in pain in room.
Little girl, I bet you’re pretty,
You’ll lie in your cot.
Little girl, I bet you’re pretty,
Dad will love you a lot.
Little one, I know you’ll murmur,
You’ll suck and coo and bleat,
Little one, I know you’ll murmur.
Oh such tiny feet.
Little girl, you’ll be so strong,
Just like your mummy.
Little girl, you’ll travel far,
Cross your palm with money.
The stars are out tonight, love,
You’ll make your presence known.
The stars are out tonight love,
Mum, dad are over the moon.
Softly softly in mum’s arms,
Just like a tiny princess.
Softly softly in dad’s arms,
The pain will now arrest.
Rock you baby rock you,
Little eyes will soon be beaming,
Rock you baby rock you,
See mum and dad are smiling.
A name fit for a queen.
Queen of England’s green.
The River Ribble
Like mottled puddings these ducks afloat,
Dipping ducking, beneath pied coats.
Lots of pebbles like daubed clots,
Across the shale of painted spots.
Singing river swings in gentle curls,
No rushing today, just tranquil pearls.
A toffee brown pool and ivy-clad trees,
A dipper dancing above floating leaves.
I know you love my gingeriness,
I know you do.
You don’t really know me,
Like you think you do.
I’ve been to places special,
I’m a fighter too,
My great great Uncle Marmalade,
Fought at Waterloo.
Thanks for the tit-bits,
I really think you’re cool.
Thanks for your garden shade,
Your sunflowers rule.
Now I will eat anything,
Anything you like,
From tuna steaks to mashed bakes,
A crunchy fish slice.
But I really must be honest,
As I already have a home.
In fact I have one or two,
I am a puss that roams.
Now Mrs Brown in Pimlico,
Now she’s a fuss-pot, sure.
She strokes me and I purr,
Then she reaches for the door.
Now old fat thumping Tom,
He smokes a pipe you see,
He feeds me meaty left-overs.
Whilst sat upon his knee.
Middle aged Milly Rixton,
In a flat in Peter Lee.
She lets me sip,
Out of her cup of tea.
I have fought in various battles,
And have battle scars from fights.
I always win of course,
I have exemplary vision at night.
I have several names,
Biscuit is one.
Marmaduke and Wellington,
And don’t forget Tom.
Now if you please,
I say. You are the best,
As you let me sleep beneath the shrubs,
And make a little nest.
Molly Fox at Brixton,
A wino of course,
Always lets me sleep,
On her quilt in her back porch.
So here I am, out on my calls.
Twenty-two houses in all.
But oh your love, and kindness,
You are so beautiful and tall.
So here I am again,
I’ll wrap my tail around you.
I’ll work for my keep,
I’ll chase the rats around you.
Now I say goodbye,
I’ll be back when,
I’ve seen the prime minister
On the steps of number 10.
Across the Thames to Islington,
I think I smell a rat,
A whole tin of sardines,
Sitting on Britannia’s lap.
My schedule, approximately noon,
I sneak into the palace fine,
Visiting her Majesty,
Right on time.
Her cushions are embroidered,
Her statues gilded and minks,
I sneak beneath her robes,
Whilst a gin and tonic she drinks.
My friends are all marbled,
Scraggy, piebald or striped.
I try to stick to just a few,
Whenever I go out.
There is just one though I fancy,
The mewing Persian Blue.
She has a gorgeous purr,
And at her house, I get stew.
Then back to Claribel Road,
There is nowt like this place.
Need to get rid of that lazy fox,
Though, it’s taking all my space.
Then I just sit there and meow.
She steps out straight away.
She bends down and strokes my fur.
It is the best part of my day.
They are speckled,
Chocolate and beige,
Velvet green heads,
The river is copper,
In a trance,
Bob and bubble,
The willow boughs,
Dip into puddles.
Leaves like coins afloat,
Pied feathers all afloat.
A mallard scoots,
Poking like needles,
Foul is the rain on the moors, when the wind is angry,
Foul are the shadows of the taunting reeds.
Foul is the ugly black of the bulging clouds,
Coming to butcher me.
Foul is the wind beating the tree,
Foul is the voice shouting don’t come in.
Foul is the constant rocking of the boughs,
The wind is shouting at me.
Foul are the long tongues; rods of rain,
Foul is the licking of the drain.
Foul is the drumming as the cars rush home.
Homeless, falling all about me.
Foul is the moor’s sedge, purple heather beds.
The burial in the quagmire peat; well pressed.
Foul is the curdling voice up on the moors.
It will stop my hands shaking if you’ll open up your doors.
Misty north sea frets, frets in my mind.
It smoulders and bubbles,
Festers in loaded shovels.
Fingers and pokes at the fledglings,
Tucked up in their feathery nests.
No movement. No light.
Just frilled fern,
Fresh air, I yearn.
Ferns fumbling and groping in half hidden woods.
Do I get up or sip the comfort of a cup of tea?
Can my mind beat this miserable film of nothingness?
Sluggishly I make no fuss,
No sun, no brilliance, no lustre, no nothing; no dawn chorus.
Even the swans are still on the lake.
Just one solitary crow on the roof end.
This fog lards the land,
Even lards the cat’s dish.
Sun is my only wish.
Can’t even see the lamp-post.
I’ll wear jewellery today to sparkle for others.
A yellow orb feels the land.
Suddenly the sun shines through the murk,
Primroses like stars shine through the dirt.
The tulips are pushing up come what may.
Streams bubble into the glistening river fray.
I feel a breathe of warmth and I want to grab some,
To feel it under my skin.
Let it stroke away my arthritic joints within.
Daffodils frill, bright brass trumpets trill,
I enjoy the sun and the valley still.
Fluffs of lambs,
Not quite beginning to leap
And a frog sat on jelly eggs,
In the stream bed.
The herons are serious now,
They poke about with swords,
Above the fords.
And above the pussy willow fuzz,
The bees and butterflies buzz.
Marbled Frog and Fudge Buzzard
The frog sat on marbles the marbled frog,
A glossy blackbird hides behind early leaves.
The lapwing tosses its soul to the heavens.
A bee buzzes in the fens.
The seagulls mock the fudge-coloured buzzard till it flies,
It flies to join another fudge buzzard,
Barred, brown and interactive.
High, higher in wheeling upper limits almost beyond the blue.
Below, the pink almond blossom hue.
Soaring high in figures of eight the fudge buzzards,
Wheeling in freedom that valley span,
Above the reservoir,
Where the stream trickles into a moat,
Where the marbles altogether, like a jelly-float.
The Mill Cafe
Saw a pied wagtail,
Hop on and off a mossy stone wall.
Saw a cheeky mallard gobble bread.
Saw an antique shop,
With silver spoons,
Jugs, Marino glass vases,
Matchbox toys galore,
A clockwork lady in a crinoline.
Had a buttered slice of tea loaf,
And a hot chocolate,
In an elegant brasserie,
By a river that shivered cold.
Its spill dashed into the mill wheel.
A wooden wheel whirred and creaked,
Intolerant and moody,
In the spring wind,
With an odd sprig of hail.
Dark midnight holds a temporary stillness.
Only noise, from distant pipes and a fridge’s hum.
In my ears, I hear, a stone-street silent.
Even the midnight fox ravages bins in slow motion.
Every living creature sleeps.
Only thieves taunt the peace in sinister moves.
The owl claps to the rhythm; broad wingspan.
Something licks up a jingling spider in a black-ball dangling,
In some obscure tasselled web; spinning.
The children’s cries stopped hours ago.
Only an ugly wart-toad hops and slops,
Slush mud holes, black is the night.
No moon, not even a gold-dust of a dawn moon,
Can penetrate through the leg-tree canopies.
Drunken man has a barney with crying wife,
She cowers on her mattress bed; hurting.
The dead of night. Sounds merge into one droning;
One nothingness, oblivion, a stupor.
Hush! The fox-brush steals. Bin lids clank.
Even the owl now, after catching a furry ball,
Discards a bone-parcel at the foot of majestic tree.
The owl, half-eye, half-shut.
A strip of green northern light,
Waggles and wavers, in a blast of neon.
A constellation of a trillion glass eyes,
Leer at me; staring.
If my dreams are of black-headed moths,
Of maggots poking in bubbling-boils,
Of snake-headed monsters; I will cringe again.
But if the dreariness dissipates,
The clanking and hammering stops my befuddled mind.
I will dream again of ingots, lottery wins, treasures,
The Big Society.
Resolute I will build, I will educate.
Mark my words, furnaces will fire again.
For this island will be unwavering.
If that heron looks at me once more
I’ll kill it.
Ugly bearded thing
Long beak and poking.
Who the hell does it think it is?
Staring with bead yellow eyes at me.
I am not a bloody tail-fish.
If that heron jolts its snake-like head at me,
Once more and glares at me,
I’ll shoot it.
Don’t like being stared at.
Particularly by a beastie
That is prodding around needle-like
Sniffling, small and unimportant.
All it does is wade a bit,
Think I’ll eat it.
Its eggs in a basket this long-legged ball,
Scuttles through hoops across the floor,
This manure-brown ugly brat,
Slotting inside all the slats.
Big bulky knotted body,
As ugly as ugly can be,
Long gangling legs on stilts,
Even waltzes through spilt milk.
It does the red carpet run,
Bullet fast like a gun.
Quick scuttle not to be caught
Quick to retreat not to be fought.
Grab it quick; crush its bony lot.
No! No! Surely not.
It’s protected by law
Glory be this obnoxious stringy ball.
Hither thither across the floor.
Hope it ties itself up tight,
Whilst I re-arm for a fight.
And I will stamp, stamp, stamp it out,
This carpet blot.
Needle-like snake wriggles
Along river bank.
Weaving through rustling reeds,
The labyrinths of my mind.
As river pushes to sea.
Whip-lashes over stone.
Boulders stacked in a game.
Stops and sidles down,
Into the gurgle-spill
Where it zig-zags in the rill.
The river triple bubble-spit.
This slender scaly creature,
Out of spill to grass-moss green,
Black glossy beetles walk on stilts.
This serpent watches with glass eyes.
Stretched jaw with dagger teeth,
This adder attacks amidst the reeds.
Curvaceous banded bracelet squeeze.
My mind, a tight fit.
A searing hot marble,
Arrives in turquoise heavens,
Black cattle, river-feeding heron poised,
Fumble greying mist recedes,
Load the train, steel on track.
Aeroplanes lift in three-packs,
Stag horns prick the daylight neon,
Run in the mist triathlon,
Lambs gambol, fox hunt roach,
Golden orb; softened approach,
Orange glass sun awakens,
Earth drifts forsaken,
City ticks; trade smacks,
Buying selling, retail stack,
Slip, slop, fish slab,
The highest bidder on tab,
Flung in crates at will.
A full English, bacon and eggs,
Lorry drivers speed to the Med.
Mighty yellow orb dangle,
Distant effulgent ball strangles,
My shadow on the wall at will.
The moon spies this golden ball
Begs in the sky to stay tall, then disappears, at will.
Icy moorland fringed with mist and wear,
No life but one hawk in mid-air.
Viking kings roamed this land. Hadrian’s wall
Stopped the marauding gangs,
The salmon river swills down-hill north,
The Eden river blooded running swords.
The sheep are out dear, scraggy and it’s cold,
Fancy freezing from head to toe.
The hikers are off to walk the three peaks,
Train rattles across viaduct neat,
In a blanket of fury sleat.
Hidden pelmets caskets of gold.
Donkey braying with ridiculous load.
Empty moors beckon. Snow felted fells.
Crocheted fronds, icy fingers fumble
In the hidden mists and scarred dells.
Great warriors leather cloaked, wander
In the dreams of maidens yonder.
If I hear shouting or a wailing at night,
From the scar top, knitted tight,
I see the woman with a capon and wine,
I see the scar over Roman soldier’s eye.
I see in him a rugged smile,
I see the kids bundled up by the sty,
As the wind hollers at the snow-bleached sky.
Snow on snow
Flake on flake
Thwaite and Kirk
And oxbow lakes.
Dale and moor
On ice with fronds
Dull day means grey upon grey,
No movement but for the ugly honking of latent geese.
Still lake, no peace.
Dullness trickles into boredom. Who can I cheer up?
Perhaps a spider crawling up a cup.
Even the daffodils early I know,
Look dulled and blathered with weather unfold.
Snow upon snow upon snow upon gold.
Stamp on the ground just for a worm reaction,
An old bird trick to attract the worms out of the loam,
Fishermen know this, they don’t mind the cold.
They’ll fish till the world grows old.
Just one magpie with luminous green and prussian blues,
Flies and flutters into the dull dullen hue.
Is that gold in its beak, or a leaf or what,
Think it’s flown to the tree, all squat,
Roosting with starlings a thousand fold,
Weaving chaotic patterns in the farmer’s skies like monsters on wings,
How beautiful this one phenomena is,
Sweet dragon birds with magical wings.
If the sun can seep a little through branches with yellow catkins swaying,
Its yellow light cast a luminosity on mossy stones, before vast swathes of sunlit snow-capped peaks,
It lighting up the trickling brook with last year’s gold and copper leaves on its watery bed,
Then I will breathe again and laugh again a thousand daffodils dancing again.
And I will sneak out and secretly watch the stripes or orange and purple crocuses,
Push through the icy patterns like trumpets announcing some sort of pretty Spring,
I will sing and sing and sing with the dawn birds on wing above such softening of buds,
And I will watch the stillness burst into life, hues of greens, primroses and river marbled trout.
Icy Cold Day
I argue and wrangle with you snow, slip and sneeze,
Seeping, smug and satisfied you are amidst my primulas, beneath polythene bags you know,
Just planted them; they need a hot-water bottle; not snow.
I peer upwards, one flake flops on my nose,
A grey blanket; flakes lifting, fluttering lace,
Settling and dancing in my garden space.
My finger ends are numb, I think,
Held a brilliant skid in the new car,
The breath from the snow-monster leaves a scar.
The monster bird blows, flakes not fire,
No lizards, no snakes, no dragon-flies,
Just grey upon grey in pale, palid sky.
All huddled beneath hedge and byre,
Adrift with my thoughts, the speckled deer dive,
One poking fox thrives.
Here is the last plane sailing away,
Into the stars shooting astray,
Here is the cargo tight in the hold,
A pauper’s purse, bags of gold.
Here is the captain taking his tea,
Air hostess serving you and me.
35,000 feet above the Arabian sea,
Across the savannah, lions flee.
Elephants plod thousands of miles,
Deep tombs and a Sphinx’s smile.
There goes the plane diving from storms,
Wheeling through blue as it roams.
Then it lands like a hawk dropping fast,
Slow down to halt on the runway fast.
There is the plane belching passengers all,
On to the train drops the baggage fall.
And into the night the pilot goes home,
Tomorrow, Sri Lanka, Portugal, Rome.
Sunset on Sea
The clouds in hues of mauves and purple,
Sneaks before, a ruby bauble.
Streaks of freaky, yellow gold,
Tinsel orange glistening folds.
In shapes of dogs, cats and moles,
Dragon birds, giant souls.
Dolphins dive splish splosh splash,
Fishing boats sail back home fast,
Whales in circles make big waves,
Mermaids hide in secret caves.
Twilight sky, undisturbed
Fluffs by solemnly, unperturbed.
Surtsey the Cat
Surtsey loves to play chase with the otters.
Surtsey thinks the sea is cold
Sutsey always purrs at the same time as he licks his paws.
Surtsey never realised he would meet a real mermaid.
Surtsey can swim as fast as the big whales.
Surtsey loves fishy pie.
Surtsey is proud of his ginger stripes.
Surtsey purrs loudly in his sleep.