At the Manor House, Half Day’s Train from London
Cold stone floors and cold tile walls.
We stand by the stove and plan what to do
that will take us onto the earth and into the sun.
Berries are woven along the rusted fence line.
Along the way we find platter-sized mushrooms,
planted rows of radishes, carrots and beets,
and pastel eggs with yolks of marigold
from the chickens we run through the grasses to catch.
We hear the tinkling of laughter, realize it’s us,
rescued from the stern kitchen and the cook within.
Flowered limbs break forth beauty to line tables
and windowsills in rooms we’ll never see,
so we tuck what we find behind our ears,
smell the orange blossoms in orchards
too far for us to walk, fill pails as the mounting sun
warms our bones, finally relaxing shoulders
from their tightened places close to our ears,
our toes kicking up the smell of fresh grass.
Someone with a watch calls time.
We take our treasures back toward the house,
fill up our pails along the way back—
rosemary, long-stemmed cherries,
whatever can be found on the shortest distance
back as we surprise a flock of birds in the reeds.
We find our shoes by the pond, button back up,
display our bounty on long tables for the cook.
She always gets much praise, we get none.
But we got free for a moment. Whispered words
drift to me through the jasmine tucked
into my hair, a kind thank ye for the work
we didn’t know we’d done. We thought we’d escaped,
but with our keen and youthful eyes we’d brought
back gifts of everything that caught our light.
for Donnie, James and Bronagh
Previously published in Pea River Journal
This is an island owned by wind,
with whistling chimneys and blowing
grasses. Where the blues and blacks
of the bay offer commerce, and the odd plaque
of tragedy—sea against somebody’s son.
Where the priest rides the ferry on Saturday.
An afternoon sermon ensures return to his own
congregation for Sunday. Where flowers explode
purple and gold, and clothes blow sideways on lines.
Where a climb atop any hill views water, sheep
and horses bony as life-sized pebbles.
A strengthened resolve to best any hardship
and many a story to prove it—in the pub, in the fields.
Guinness on draught and coal in the bucket.
A quiet island until you listen.
A family island, with stories of other families,
other islands, and how they all came to be here.
How they stay. Strong men and dear women.
They sing about leaving but they stay.
Now you have tea with their children,
watch their little ones in oiled jackets and rubber boots.
The boats. Trace the embossing on a ruined skiff
to learn it is named after a saint, not a woman.
The barns. Tin ceilings blind in today’s sun,
tomorrow they will play concertos in unforgiving rain.
The textures. Rocky, boggy. The corner of a house
worn away to reveal stone, the same stone that borders fields.
Cotton and clover. The dry brown of striped paths
through green. The dry brown of outbound tide.
A wondrous island. Bone-chilling cold, but still well-mannered
and welcoming. They sing about leaving but they stay.
The Poorest Bar in Town
We never know the loneliness
of anyone after last call,
living paycheck to paycheck,
one beer and leftovers in the fridge,
no one waiting in the bed.
Easy to toss back doubles,
refuse bad things that happen
under the luminous moon
seen from every window.
Some come here for answers.
Some come for solace.
The hunched-over man comes
in out of the weather.
They speak of wishes they’ve yet to fulfill.
They head home, mostly alone.
Some for a good cry, a few
with someone who won’t withstand
the break of day. Another night
of those who go adrift.
Lost in the amber of streetlights
with moths that flicker
their unsuspecting death dance,
a brush of wind draws
everyone into silence.
One Perfect Day on the River
Previously published in Cholla Needles
A few hours of sleep
and she’s awake,
the glorious spring morning
full of nothing owed to anyone,
only debts to herself,
and her IOU’s are about
to be called in. With pleasure.
He waits outside
on the porch swing, a baguette
under one arm, coffee in each hand,
sparrows chirp and marshmallow clouds
float by. She brushes away
last night’s too-much booze,
wriggles into a bikini and pareo,
counts about fifty ones from the week
to spend on anything, and meets him
on the porch.
They step out into the clear day,
break the end off the bread
and throw it to the fish in the park.
They nibble on the rest, drink their coffee
and walk to the river
for a long loungey laze along
the water. The kayak boy takes the ones gladly,
he’s always in need of change,
doesn’t care where they came from.
They spend their day as pleasant as dreams.
Warmth of the sun like a brush of silk on skin—
they talk about everything and nothing,
listen to the quiet of the fields as they paddle by,
and watch the tides. They’ve both been caught
stupid downriver and that’s not how either
wants this day to end.
And end it does, as shadows flicker over fields
they head back toward her porch.
How long will she make him wait outside—
lust has always been unspoken between them.
She stands with a stillness he’s never seen,
says she can feel the coming-on of a sudden storm,
he’d best come in, no sense ruining a perfect day.
Swaying in Echoes
Days from a new moon
he went back to where it all began.
The oak where he carved her name,
the scar that sits on his palm to remind him.
Dawnlight in her hair,
her small laughter as she put his blood
to her lips.
The thin cloth of her dress,
let’s remember this forever, she said.
It all came back like yesterday,
in fact it was ages ago.
Forgotten songs rang out of memory.
The sharp remembrance of kisses with restless lips.
Breathing the green of spring grasses
Beautifully hurt by the world
but still beautiful,
the air shimmers in the quiet reach of the sun.
Tobi Alfier is published nationally and internationally. Credits include War, Literature and the Arts, The American Journal of Poetry, KGB Bar Lit Mag, Washington Square Review, Cholla Needles, The Ogham Stone, Permafrost, Gargoyle, Arkansas Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).