Sunday 26 February 2023

Seven Pantoum Poems by Gary Bills




THE PRACTICAL IMPOSSIBILITY OF SPRING

 

Listen - midnight church bells toll for spring 

To resurrect the frozen where they sleep  

With skulls like bulbs, or bulbs where spirits sing, 

Three bells, three bells, and shudders strong and deep. 

 

To resurrect the still ones where they sleep, 

Three bells must also wake the ruined land - 

Three bells, three bells, and shudders strong and deep... 

(God’s in the house too strange to understand.)  

 

Three bells must also wake the ruined land 

And ruined bodies sleeping by the pews. 

God’s in the house too strange to understand - 

But who shall tap the box and turn the screws? 

   

So many bodies, sleeping by the pews 

In shrouds of cobweb - troubled where they sleep; 

And who shall tap the box and turn the screws, 

Now bells are sending shudders strong and deep?

 

IF THE TREES ARE BRAVE 

     

Blossom - welling up before the leaves; 

Spume that swirls before the calm green wave, 

Before the early swallows find their eaves, 

The foaming orchards - if the trees are brave. 

 

Spume that swirls before the calm green wave, 

Before a swallow’s shadow on the sea, 

The foaming orchards, if the trees are brave, 

For what has been, with hope for what will be. 

 

Before a swallow’s shadow on the sea, 

Before one leaf is pushing from the bud 

For what has been, with hope for what will be, 

I feel the blossom stirring in my blood. 

 

Before one leaf is pushing from the bud, 

The foaming orchards, if the trees are brave; 

I feel the blossom stirring in my blood, 

The spume that swirls before the calm green wave.  



ETRUSCAN FRESCOES 

 

Among the olive trees for endless days, 

Three youths rejoice – the double flute keeps time; 

The laggard calms the lyre, the flautist sways; 

The leader waves his vanquished bowl of wine. 

 

Three youths rejoice – the flute keeps perfect time, 

If time can hold the notes in fading tunes; 

And still the leader waves a bowl of wine 

Or bids farewell to dancing afternoons. 

 

Where the flute is heard as fading tunes, 

The terracotta dead in draped repose 

Must bid farewell to dancing afternoons 

And dolphin seas, and fresco skies of rose. 

 

The terracotta dead in draped repose 

Observe how arching dolphins cross the line 

Between the fresco seas and skies of rose; 

Blue dolphins, in the shattering sprays of time.  

 

 

TO TURN WITH SHELLS 

 

How long does it take, to pause here on a rock 

And let my mind accept the troubled sea? 

That undulating mood of grief and shock  

Is turning shells and makes a shell of me. 

 

I let my mind accept the troubled sea, 

Afraid the caves won’t hold its depths and bounds; 

To turn with shells has made a shell of me 

And I am filled with angry, ocean sounds.  

 

I fear my mind won’t hold its depths and bounds, 

The broken ships on silt’s devouring bed, 

And I am filled with angry, ocean sounds, 

Now shattered voyages echo through my head.  

 

I’m every ship on silt’s devouring bed; 

I let my mind accept the troubled sea 

And shattered voyages echo through my head; 

To turn with shells has made a shell of me. 

 

 

LATE HOURS 

 

I cannot name the ghost who strokes my brow, 

A friend - a love - repentant in the dark? 

Whatever and whoever – leave me now; 

Such importuning will not raise a spark. 

 

No friend, no love, repentant in the dark - 

The scratching nail’s perhaps an angel’s touch, 

As friendship – love – has failed to raise a spark 

Then why not this, or do I hope too much?   

 

The scratching nail’s perhaps an angel’s touch 

Which tells me, there is something in the night, 

And why not this – or do I hope too much, 

When hope can seldom bear the weight of light? 

 

If there is really something in the night, 

Ghost or angel scratching at my brow, 

Because such thoughts can’t bear the weight of light, 

Whatever and whoever – leave me now. 

 

 

LOVE’S YOUNG DREAMS 

 

A folk band in our pub begins to play  

Summer is a young and comely lass... 

(Not one is under fifty, if a day - 

They’ve learnt how soon the joys of summer pass.) 

 

Ah, Summer is a young and comely maid - 

She loves the green, and love is in her eye...   

(But would she love their cackling serenade? 

How soon - too soon - the joys of youth pass by.) 

 

She loves the green – takes love within her stride, 

She’s sweet in green and so, forever wears it; 

While Winter is a long-abandoned bride, 

Still dressed in lace, refusing to forswear it. 

 

Sweet summer’s green, and Summer always wears it, 

For Summer is a young and comely lass; 

And Winter in white lace will not forswear it; 

She’s learnt how soon the greens of summer pass.  

 

 

HAUNTED 

 

I lie awake and listen to the rain 

From many nights and hours – falling keen; 

Strange nights, strange hours, when I was not the same - 

Unquiet, all the spirits I have been. 

 

From many nights and hours – falling keen, 

The rains of time had gathered to a cloud; 

Unquiet, all the spirits I have been, 

Unquiet words, in whispers faint or loud. 

 

The rains of time had gathered to a cloud 

And distant traffic churns through different years. 

Unsettled, whether traffic’s faint or loud, 

I press my pillow tight about my ears - 

 

Distant traffic churns through different years, 

Strange years, strange nights - the rain is sharp and keen. 

I press my pillow tight about my ears; 

Unquiet, all the spirits I have been.




Gary Bills was born at Wordsley, near Stourbridge. He took his first degree at Durham University, where he studied English, and he has subsequently worked as a journalist. He is currently the fiction editor for Poetry on the Lake, and he has recently gained his MA in Creative Writing at BCU, with a distinction.

He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his post-modernist epic poem, Bredbeddle's Well, which was published  in Lothlorien in 2022.

Gary's poetry has appeared in numerous publications, including The Guardian, Magma, HQ and Acumen, and he has had three full collections published, – “The Echo and the Breath” (Peterloo Poets, 2001); “The Ridiculous Nests of the Heart” (bluechrome, 2003); and “Laws for Honey” (erbacce 2020). In 2005, he edited “The Review of Contemporary Poetry”, for bluechrome.

His work has been translated in to German, Romanian and Italian. A US-based indie publisher, The Little French, published his first novel, “A Letter for Alice” in 2019, and a collection of stories, “Bizarre Fables”, in 2021. These were illustrated by his wife, Heather E. Geddes. His second novel, "Sleep not my Wanton", came out in January 2022.

"Sleep Not..." is due out again shortly as an audio book, as possibly as a hardback.

 

 

 

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