Allan Smith

Allan Smith is a West Sussex poet whose work often reflects his love of the countryside where he lives.


Their vapour trails drifted

merging into benign
cirrus and altocumulus
So becoming a part
of the endless cycle.

Silver-grey iron solid bodies
ducked and wove,
seeking shelter behind grey clouds
as enemy combatants
traversed the North Sea
on their missions
of fascist supremacy
and destruction.

As England bathed
beneath a golden sun-spread summer
shells were shot from both directions
bringing metal birds down into the ocean
their crews burned, bleeding
or about to drown.

Nearly five years were to pass
from those tremendous battles
to a time of peace
once more in the homeland.
Memories would remain forever
among those who had fought
or endured
while those of us born too late
to have known it
would conjecture
at the mighty, unseen power
that made it come right -
in the end.


A silver, glittering angel
fell from heaven last night
and lingered,
flapping her wings
in the dark sky
above ash trees, conifers
and sleeping buildings below.

She was sent as a saviour
to a frightened man
awaiting a great ordeal.
She flew invisibly
through the hospital walls
settling on his shoulders
just before he fell asleep.

Morning arrived —
the angel had vanished
leaving behind
her promise of reassurance.
The patient accepted his fate
as a great adventure
and closed his eyes again.

Now free in heart
light of footsteps,
rescued by his heavenly guide.
A little time passed
and he slipped away slowly —
safe onto the other side.


Cold uncaring shiver was repeated
from one freezing day to the next,
so we sought sanctuary
away to the west
- in the land of seals and smugglers.

Three weeks into an uncertain year
innovation and expectation beckoning.
We stepped onto the foreshore
by a secret, ancient cove
where waters help the soft breath
of a kind Atlantic wind
which cut a multitude of white sand channels
beneath solid granite rocks.

A thousand unseen eyes
watched from mossy crag-cracks
gulls and guillemots soared above.
Lights flashed from a motor launch
over on the far horizon.

Snowdrops, ventured bravely
through melting frost.
While lapping waters in the bay
began their periodic turn
as the hidden moon called and caressed the waves homeward.

Surely as springtime follows winter
change was spreading eastwards
turtle-true primroses resurrected
new lemon-pastel life.

Whipped-cream Cornwall surf
lapped at their ankles
as they faced a sunset
rounder and more rosy
than they had ever dared expect.


Every cart must have a donkey
to haul it through the mud
cutting tyre-tracks
deep into brown earth
pitted, rutted trails of progress.

When those gullies become too deep
you try to climb their walls
but fall back to the bottom
dirtier, wetter and wiser.

What cannot rise just carries on
sinking lower as feet grow heavy
when rain appears you begin to drown
though your head somehow
keeps bobbing up til arid days of dust and drought
crack the trench beneath you
then at last, a way out appears
for your blistered, vein-canals
to an unknown straight, smoother road ahead.


(In memory of Amy Jade Winehouse
14-9-1983 to 23-7-2011)

She probably did not remember when darkness first covered her thoughts
Perhaps it was when she believed
Her parents had stopped loving each other.

Even as a young girl she found the right words
and as she absorbed heartfelt songs
by beehived, black American soul singers,
Melody and rhythm became hers as well.

Amy was kind, funny, petulant and mischievous.
More than anything she craved
deep, unconditional everlasting love.

Infatuations came and went,
preparation perhaps for the genuine feeling
if only it had arrived.

Her songs were played around the world
Record sales went gold
Mercury Music Awards and Grammies
Were bestowed on her
The one time ‘nervous waif’ poured out her deepest feelings on stage
to thousands of admirers at a time.

Then her demon returned,
more cruel and vengeful than ever
Soul-deep pain brimmed behind her eyes,
She turned to alcohol and narcotics
to suppress that insidious beast
her words deserted her when she needed them the most
fans looked away in disappointment
close friends lost faith
Photographers concentrated their cameras
upon her heavy, dark-shadowed eyes
and the ever increasing rash of tattoos
scored into her self-slashed emaciated arms.

Booing from her former followers
grew so loud she could not rest
Complex images, once well-formed and moulded into songs
became a dreadful cacophony within
Love turned sour one last time
Rehabilitation did not work,
and that aching voice cried itself out
Her life had become a losing game
and on an overcast midsummer Saturday,
Amy slipped out of this existence,
though she will never again be alone
as many more have died because of love
and others surely will --
one way or another.


Now that you have gone
every love song has lost its meaning
soulful voices, tender lyrics
and cascading strings
would once set me aglow,
only now I just hear words —
familiar rhymes that I pull to pieces
criticise, analyse, cringe
at their over-familiarity.
All this because
it somehow makes me feel better,
revenge taken on the romantics
who always get it right,
walking away with their lover
as the final bars begin to close.

Now that you have gone
I will abandon music
in favour of speech stations,
to hear frustrated housewives
and tetchy pensioners
venting their spleens on anything
from the price of petrol
to seaweed smells,
just a brief spell of parity,
disappearing when the programme ends.

Now that you are gone
the radio is once more my closest friend
and I become
disconnected, devoid of reason,
channel hopping
gleaning odd moments of aural interest
static hissing, sounds distorted
maximum interference —
until close down.


In the village centre
On a piece of green land
The historic well is situated
Its stones sheer and slippery
Mouth obscured by a paving slab.

Semolina algae brickwork walls
Are never dry even on the hottest day.
Its shaft descends deeply
Into the Earth’s bowels,
Where secret springs
Are formed from bubbles
The ultimate mystery of existence.

Water, upon which life depends,
Was drawn from this well
For thousands of years.

It would be boiled for drinking
Put into tubs then cleansed peoples’ skins,
Poured upon camp fires at midnight
Long before mains supply,
Now just a wrist-turn away.

This hallowed orifice has been sealed
So it claims no life in recompense
For those sustained and safe
Through the ages of its use.

Walliswood Well is now a monument
Most of its brickwork smashed away
And even if a flowering tree
Was planted on top
Still the subterranean process
                                would continue
Constant flow finding other channels.

Elements are eternal
All streams, springs and rivulets
Are indestructible,
If concrete submerges them
They escape even further down.


There he stands — unwanted, bewildered
                                out of place
In a Lifeboat shop window.
Artefacts of family holidays
                                surround him,
Beach balls, buckets and spades,
Customers buy these objects every day
But they barely give him a glance.
Just nine inches high,
Sad eyes facing the ocean
Long-billed, brown-crested,
A forlorn mane
Runs along the backbone
Of this strange “baby dragon.”

He arrived in April,
                   on one of the first warm days
At the whim of a lady buyer
Who pitied his winsome computer image.
He saw summer creep in,
Grey sea going gradually blue.
Warm air and salt winds sedate him
As he watches pleasure boats
Encircle the island and sail joyfully home.

His future sits uncertainly
Just one inquisitive boy
Asks his mother
What the “funny little animal” is called.
Heat of July leads on
Into humid August
Crowded beaches and
Heaving pavements
Then September’s cooler westerlies

Swimmers and sunbathers
Wrap up their towels and Soltan
And make their way home.
This shy, plaintive being remains
Perhaps to be discarded later
Or take his place
On the display stand once more,
To face another lonely summer.


High above the clouds
looking down through layered vapour patterns.
Thursday flight eastwards
on an early afternoon
brimming with springtime promise.

February's final frozen finger days
fading into the abstract assessment
that we refer to as memory.

Bright-button smiles,
of svelte stewardesses
administer closely to our needs
cups run high with dark, rich coffee
reclining seats
and starched, white head-rests.

A window to view
across countless, unknown miles
to a point where the horizon
takes it away without explanation,
forcing us to content ourselves
with visions already provided.


What is a soul?
he asked himself
in a stone-cold kitchen
homely with the dust of comfort
alive with a friendly buzz.

His grandfather's dictionary
bearing John Bull's name
was brought out of its cloistered cupboard
so his question may be answered.

What is a soul?
he asked his elders,
recalling a neighbour recently dead.
had his soul risen ceremoniously
through temperamental springtime clouds
on its way to a resting place
far from human vision?

The answers given were unrevealing evasive and condescending
he was as yet
too young to understand
untarnished, honest, pure in heart.

So he sought the solution for himself
scoured between soil and sky
deep down inside himself.
His lifetime mission avowed intent
was to discover that elusive organ
- which others called a soul.


The world tomorrow,
as distant as Venus
and as unintelligible
as Radio Luxembourg sounded
during the day.

Every evening as foreign pop finishes
Garner Ted Armstrong
speaks on the air
foretelling a time of future certainty
tucked away behind folded clouds
when those who have passed the earthly test
will walk hand-in-hand through eternity
untroubled, free of worldly wounds
- spiritually complete.

His pearl-string words
tumble into my mind
and glisten inwardly as night time comes.
Music is the medium
of both solace and stimulation
warm, tender harmonies of fine feelings
and melodies too powerful to need any words.

The world tomorrow
will be no different
from the one I know today
those around me older, greyer,
still tied to duties and inhibition
shackling their creativity
but keeping this great world turning.


The love that bursts free from me is unbidden,
but I need its deep release.
Passion unwanted, unrewarded
drying in the morning breeze.
Your love
rises and falls
surf tumbling over silver rocks
but meeting the wrong river.
Dew can never last
Its bubbles burst
before it can melt into atmosphere,
to descend once more
in the private calm of early hours
refreshing green shoots
waiting to discover
the reason for their existence.


Flowers flourish in the warm caress of Spring.
A mauve violet, early blooming
bright from within circles of gold
that are born from true love.
Every primrose petal nurtured
into full-blossomed maturity of its own.

Now flowers are spent,
leaves brown and curled
sap sinking into withered roots
hiding beneath the soil.
Tears of remembrance
bathe dust from the crinkling form
of life that can never end.

Violet resides in eternal sunshine
strolling through familiar fields of untold wonder,
just as they were then,
spotted by buttercups and vivid green
holding hands with her handsome husband
surrounded by the six children of their long and joyful union.

Church bell chimes the hour
pink-crested jay
flaps between treetops of guardian oak.
Bluebells in the lover’s wood
never fade into summer repose
and the spreaded sweet violet
exudes her heavenly fragrance
out into an endless atmosphere
of peacefulness and calm.


Orange flashes streaked the sky
rifle-fire bangers
resounded through the night.
An elegant Roman candle
feigned failure, than sprang to life
cascading neon sparks
nullified by contact with the earth.

Bandit-holster jumping jacks
followed him in mischief.
Night-light flaming touch-paper tab
chased the boy around his garden.
Violet volcano fire
seared and hummed
then collapsed, expended beside him.

A glowing chequerboard of constellations
spread out above like a treasure map.
Modest bonfire burned purposefully on
while all the others
had flared and flourished
before regressing into embers.

Scared of sparklers
drawing illumination from a coloured box
his Catherine wheel would not rotate
but hissed and cursed itself
into an angry frazzle
languishing at his feet.

He stepped indoors
red-ruddy warm,
as crimson balls’ distant fire
gradually faded from view.

Darkness hung lightly
as saltpetre’s peppery aroma
masked the innocent atmosphere.
He kept those pyrotechnics
at careful arm’s length
and let them crackle on without him
until an inevitable deluge
turned the ashes to a sudden mass,
part of one inaccessible mud-field
littered with corpses of yesterday’s fireworks
pathetic reminders of high-flown evenings - -
multicoloured memories.


He waited for me by the cycle barriers
blue-green rails of tarnished metal
where our school path met the pavement.
He recognised me straight away
kind gentle eyes alert
grey flecks now invading
his sooty-black fur.

Long, slender tapering tail
ending in a white rapier tip,
the whole thing wagging in perpetual rhythm
as he rubbed against my shins.

Five paces behind my feet he followed
his footsteps clicking reassuringly
he stepped aside to let prams pass by
but never averted his gaze from me.

A stream of light carried me along
my first realisation of empathy
harmonic understanding of other life
and where I stood in relation to it.

We safely made the lollipop crossing
and he turned to bid goodbye,
with a flick of his chin
and a cold, damp nose
brushing against my hand.
Walls came between us
but the light remained
our lives linked, separately though interwoven,
a bow-legged mongrel
ever-loyal, compassionate and punctual.


I wish I were a fish again
the way I used to be aeons ago.
I would rest near the river bottom
flapping my dorsals,
caressing the sandy pebbles
with my pectoral flippers.

There would be no need
for complicated courtship,
meeting a mate
would be almost automatic
our spawn then discreetly effused
would cling to willow-moss
until biological magic
could turn that semolina mass
into new piscatorial life.

If I were a fish
my end may come suddenly
snaffled by a predatory pike,
or tricked into capture
on an angler's hook
then thrown back bloody-mouthed
unable to eat
weakened towards death
In a few blurry-eyed hours.

No lingering end then for me
no fading away
dressed up and laid out
mourned for a month
remembered in some ill-posed photographs
taking against my will.

I would love to be a fish,
perhaps a ruff or a prickly perch.
I would scour the murky river bed
and feathery eel-weed
feeding on scraps and smaller fishes
so no more beef steaks
no lamb chops or casseroled chicken,
my needs now spartan,
my aspirations low.
So just one thing
has changed through the centuries
to make me what I am today
somehow, some way, somewhere -
I seem to have lost my fins.


Unrucked manes, combed and plaited
bridle-shone on Sunday afternoon.
Sacred bell hangs steady in the tower
until called upon to announce Evensong.

Two black-frocked, steady-gazing priests
stand in the glebe
surveying their monumental fortress.
Starling song begins
from high on the apex.
Blue-bright sky interminable,
endless above
creates flashing, fading
shapes before their eyes.

First signs of coming Spring
are from scarved, hooded figures
ambling around the field edge.
Golden Cross
high above the monastary entrance.
Dark, heavy, cask-oak door
free from January icicles
sits on it's latch
for warm, benevolent
hand to push open,
and for broad, honest hearts
to be filled.


After the news came the expectation,
the realisation
then the confirmation
that one personal strand
would soon be undone
and cast into the void of mortality.

A grey fog risen
hanging over my waking hours
while demons gnawed
at my next anxious night time,
keeping precious sleep at bay.

After the news came disbelief waves of horror
and tempered relief
that our all-forgiving father
would still accept an errant soul
who had slipped and lost his way.

Blue, bright afternoon
borrowed from springtime, six weeks on.
Austere cubicle on the second floor
where a tactful consultant reveals the worst
and a helper nurse with a Kleenex box
tries to mop the pain away.

After the news came the journey back through a line of headlights,
in front and and behind,
stretching determinedly all the way home
formed by loving sons, fathers,
sisters, brothers, mothers.
And a lost free soul caught midstream
so unattached within.


Right in the heart of St Leonard's forest
a family cluster of beech trees
prepare to shed once more
neat, coppery leaves
similar in colour to iron
which once was mined from this ground,
as autumn season gives way
to the rasping ravages of winter.

The patriarch tree, standing majestically
seventy feet above Greenslade Wood
dwarfing everything but the oaks,
its bark peeling from the effects
of two hundred years or more
onslaught from the elements.
Its lower trunk has been
scored into by generations of young men
carving their initials with penknives
giant roots running,
gnarled and twisted along the forest floor
gouging yellow clay from underneath
as if seeking escape
from inevitable mortality.

Slightly younger beeches stand
in deference
around the big trees' incomparable girth
depositing mast from multi-stemmed fingers
down onto the arboreal earth.

On the ground lie smaller specimens
stems snapped
when November gales of earlier years
came reaping.
These trunks are now soft and pithy,
colonised by mycorrhizal fungi
starting to be consumed
by woodlice and other insects,
all transforming the mush
into lesser matter,
its perpetuation process now complete.

Some centenarians lie horizontal
in woodlands' soft bedding,
lacking strength
to raise their stems skyward,
desperately clinging to life
like terminal patients
who can only measure their existence in months.

We can just imagine
the stories these trees could tell,
firstly of woodsmen and charcoal burners
itinerants and gypsies
camped beneath their adolescent silver boughs
on moon- full Victorian nights, then sensing war as young men
of various countries clashed,
acquisition of more territory
being their ultimate objective.
Those trees could describe first seeing grey streamlined
wings that never need to flap
gliding through the sky,
their roars far louder
than the most raucous avian cry.
They witnessed many lovers' trysts
made under dense, gentle branches' shade
on early Summer Sunday afternoons,
promises kept, though many reneged upon
passion consummated
between bracken's nascent tongues,
some welcomed, many forbidden,
nostalgia now for those
who have only such memories
to sustain them
recalling trees in the forest's heart
many upright still
others interminably broken.


Rummaging through my key tin
silently allocating each one
to its particular door or padlock,
I find myself left with a Yale,
well-used, scuffed,
rust formed on its levers
tarnished by time
though still reflecting morning light.

I turn and fondle it,
roll against my palm.
My index finger
feels somehow comfortable
turning inside its slot.

For this is a back door opener
to the house in which I grew up
where love was given sincerely,
and in good faith
but somehow turns to poison
when greed, envy, aggression and spite
conspired to banish
all normal ways of development
away from our address.

Inside that house
terrifying anger raised its head
new life was cruelly flooded away
before it could be fully formed,
while heartache and disillusion
took more than their share of tenure,
particularly through my formative years.

I look at the object
and recall
teenage nights when I used to
let myself in
quietly and furtively
only to be betrayed by a careless footstep
or the mewl of a welcoming cat.

That house was demolished
by yellow, metal machines
turned into rubble
and taken away,
to lie beneath concrete foundations
in another part of town.

The only lock
this key can now open
is the door of yesterday,
mixed, mellow memories
some cherished, others recalled with pain
though all providing lessons learned.

For this reason
the final key can remain in my drawer,
a memento of chances offered
some taken willingly -
others left to rust.


Pealing bells greeted me
on that sunbeam-blessed morning.
I opened my curtains
and they resonated louder and more clearly.

I saw people passing by,
some alone,
but families also,
gentlemen in light grey spring suits
ladies wearing respectable hats
all strolling towards church
past the grass bank
clothed with primroses,
and if I stretched out far enough,
I could just make out the steeple.

Below my bedroom window
Was our garden,
privet hedged on three sides
that garden whose every inch
I had searched and scoured,
finding insects underneath stones
digging roadways with a tiny trowel
and imagining the bears and badgers
who would shelter there at night.

All was harmony
in that little southern town
mid-March, early spring,
voices of war
silent then for twelve years.

To the south beyond the main road
and it's line of town houses
lay the Weald
and the South Downs,
places I would later explore
and come to love.

But then I was just four years old,
my own world
reached no further
than the town centre.
Toyshops, Chart and Lawrence,
Woolworth's, Timothy White's
and that fishmonger's in East Street
where haddock, cod and mackerel
lay face-up on metal trays,
then the old market place
where on Saturday afternoon
I would be bought a colourful comic
only if I had been well behaved.

Everything then
was as close as possible
to perfection.
Ladies sang bright, tuneful
songs on the wireless.
I knew nothing then of worries,
of fear, isolation, misunderstanding,
danger or doubts.
I thank God for that child's world
of gentle sunshine, new discoveries
and celestial sounds
that wafted through my ears
and settled inside my being
For always.


[ This poem achieved second place in the Decanto Open Poetry Competition 2010 ]

I touched those pines again today
slats of bark felt just the same
as those that tore skin
from my tiny fingers
when I scrabbled around
to explore them
as a curious five-year-old.

They then seemed like skyscrapers,
my neck ached
as I gazed towards their summit.
I collected cones for no real reason
except they reminded me
of little brown pineapples.

I stuck them in a drawer
Many other matters came and went
those cones dried out
fragmented and died
finally destroyed on a Guy Fawkes bonfire.

More fortunate cones
found their way into the soil
took root and sprouted stems,
upright fern-fronds
safe in a corner.

Those tall pines remain
strong and streamlined as ever
showing no inclination to topple down.
Their progeny caught up,
and now stand beside them
tops nodding
in the same south-westerly September breeze.

I can still touch these pines
but I could never climb them,
force of gravity
fear of falling
and lack of footholds
conspiratorial in their efforts
to keep my feet
firmly on the ground.


A cold , heartless November wind
blew across from the North Sea.
Urban chill cloaked the pavements,
people walked in winter coats
buttoned up to their collars.

The bus pulled pulled out at three o'clock
with a tortured figure on board
bound for the retreat at Brentwood,
at the other end of twisting
leaf-shed lanes.

Numbed into lethargy by barbiturates
ghostly white skin
and hair slicked back Ratso style.
David fails to notice
the archways of oaks
which the double-decker brushes
as its tyres slurp through countless puddles
of winter rain, falling with subtle monotony.

Caring hands upon his shoulder
his sister tucks in his scarf
a white monster mansion
appears through iron portals
hopes rise for sickness's cure,
for this is the hallowed hospital
where suffering spirits need not cry alone.

The corridors were long and shiny
constantly trodden by shuffling feet
ceilings high look down upon patients
grey, unshaven, mumbling,
wailing like banshees
pushing a tea trolley on twisted tyres.

David sat on a padded bench
staring at the Dettol floor,
sweating hands clasped together,
body shaking with apprehension.

Darkness fell on the abode of rest
and all the lights came on.
His loved ones hugged him and bade goodbye
then we rushed to catch a bus ride home.

David's face pressed against the glass pane
haloed in rain tears
which fell from the sky of a year turned weary.
A gentle nurse led him to a dormitory
her eyes alight with benevolence.
Reassurance was in her touch, understanding of the wheels within
which clog and rattle from improper use
and whine unoiled
in shaded corners.


Crocuses in the churchyard show
where love lies sleeping
In a peaceful haven .
Broad-petalled blooms
enticed to open by Springtime sun
pass their peak of profusion
and slowly prepare
for forth coming summer slumber.

On Autumn days you visited her grave
and clipped away
the season's final grass straggles
through cold, joyless Winter months
you placed plastic flowers
into dainty Chinese painted urns
and set them into the soil.

Oh, how long those dark evenings seemed
with only fire-glow for company .
Reliving laughter, recalling confidences
thinking of unnecessary
angry words exchanged.
Then lengthening days
made you feel slightly stronger
and able to act the way you had before.

Now in the friendly month of new living,
warm reassurance spreads over you
you speak in slow whispers
to a listening headstone,
flowering jewels take your greetings to her
gold stars of celandine,
pastel pale primroses
wild as the wind
just as she used to be.

You leave the country graveyard
with plans for planting in Summer.
Bright patterned pansies
will be close to her then
she lies at deserved rest
beneath sweet, brown Springtime soil
with flowers still her friends
the way they were
when she breathed above.

Crocuses in the churchyard
golden, white, speckled and mauve
joyful reward for faith asserted
colours shining clear
beneath a blue, honest sky.
You are with her each Saturday
kneeling in reverence
now knowing beyond all doubt
that she is not alone.


Clasping clouds
chase across a darkening sky
covering the bashful moon
like tender hands
upon the flesh of his beloved.
Stars appear as glimmering jewels
while Winter daylight
fades once more into restful sleep.

His gloved fingers
lightly grip her coat-clad arm
as they gaze together
into distant history
which shines majestically
from countless constellations.

A mighty scheme
consummately set out before them.
Her eyes reflect such wonder
of moonbeams
in their unfettered moments.
His tempered strength and reassurance
guide her towards unity, forever safe.

Cold brief-shower Saturday
a night's full , Valentine sky
love which began in a village hall
has expanded
into vast, endless realms
confirmation of eternal purpose
a priceless gift for two similar souls.

Standing on the threshold
of life's greatest-ever adventure
where so many millions have stood before.
Alone together, self-contained,
all-observing, goodwill blessing
time suspended, breathing deep.
Immune from chill, immersed in planning
for endless future on a pleasing plain.


When I first heard the school bell ring
I was an apprehensive infant
on a misty, damp September morning
squeezing uncomfortably
through a scuffed-blue iron gate
to a little building set apart
bounded by green lawns
and concrete bunkers filled with coal.

That hand-rung bell
soon became more friendly
as I grew and learned, explored, investigated,
discovered answers to someone else’s questions
convincing myself
that I somehow must be the same.

Adolescent peals gave way to wedding bells
forging my connection to a similar soul
then duties arrived, worries and imagined ills,
cold scales of grief
weighing out my share.

Electric tills, buzzers and beepers
cruel night time telephones
rasping their tragic news.
Quaint, calming town hall clocks
reverentially confirming each hour
to secure, settled families and friends
industrious in their glad achievements.

Now there is just the hollow sound
of a hand-bell shaken by some weary wrist
beneath the din of interactive traffic
and the all-consuming silent spread
of people bound by collective unconscious.

The hand-bell hits those two familiar notes
not strident, nor musical
forever restricted by a short knot of rope.
I hear it in the distance
from a tree-covered hill
or rising out of a valley bottom
desperately calling me back.

In those tiny years it rang for a purpose
ends and beginnings
giving structure to those precious times.
Today’s bell is muffled,
continuing unbidden,
fading to an even lesser chime
though carrying on
to some unknown mornings, behind the fog
of disillusion and doubt.

The above poem was Highly Commended in the Decanto
Poetry Competition 2009


A rippling blue reflection of Heaven
wending ever-westwards
as it it reaches more nearly
the wind-warmed expanse
of turning ocean
seal-basked along its beaches.

Multitudinous fragments of sand,
miniature shining crystals
jelled into dry honey dust
lodged between toes
and rinsed twice a day
at the golden moon's volition.

Drifting down stream,
souls and bodies at rest
waving to adventurers
who clip the waters
in pulsating speedboats
surging against the waves direction.

Camel river's channel glides through the county
weaving between tors, rocky outcrops
and blonded cornfields
ready soon for the harvester.

Red-bellied salmon
bearing spots of adulthood
lay spawn,
this progeny stuck precariously
to eel-grass tendrils
bending beneath the watery force.

Peace and perfection
sun- bronzed holidays
west country folk
whose future lies as open
as the estuary itself.

Part of the flow
without obligation
delighting in the company of cormorants,
sparkle-blue flashes of kingfisher
and scavenging gulls,
cunning and weary opportunists
feeding upon that which others leave behind.

Each section of river
distinct in its own character
though never self-contained
eternal, joyous heat of summer
tempered by calming
forehead-balming Atlantic breezes

pastoral symphonies within
evoked and uplifted
held aloft
half between sky and water
accompany merry travellers
whose voyage of discovery
streams calmly
towards fulfilment.

Allan Smith


When Autumn descends upon the country
tired oak leaves from your guardian ring
will fall upon the hallowed isle
and lie upon fragrant humus
formed from a thousand bouquets.
Hopeful acorns then taken root
will shelter from adversity
awaiting their chance to begin a journey
towards the infinite sky.

When sharp winter winds
cut in from the north like angry jibes,
you shall lie peacefully in eternal slumber
safe from the pounding
of vengeful storms
watching lake waters rise
up to the oval
gently lapping at its verdant banks
like lover's tongues
in long sought after sublimation.

Springtime will come
with its sherbet - dusted hazel rods
and delicately scented primroses
their blooms made bigger
by the rotted remnants
of so many admirer's grief.
New life in the hawthorns
tadpoles wiggling in nature's revived miracle
joy of the lemon- yellow season shall abound.

Then Summer once more,
those oaks dense with foliage
shading you kindly
from fierce angry sun.
never again will your spirit be damaged
betrayed or neglected
harried or mocked
gentle Diana
at peace from all cruelty
on your childhood haven,
island within.

Allan Smith


My first glimpse of teal
Was as a young boy
It was on a tea-scented picture card
Carefully extracted
From its Brooke Bond packet for me.

I saw a little duck
Bronze-headed, panelled
In lime and emerald green
Rufous-cheeked, blue circled eyes
Silver feathers
Speckled in the sunlight.

These shades made
The baby-faced duck
Blend into a wintry landscape
I fell in love
With this most amiable of waterfowl
And longed to see
Some living teal one day.

Two thwarted generations later
I peer through the hinged window
Of a wooden bird sanctuary hide
Probing with binoculars for winter ducks
When a group of burnished faces
Bobbing on choppy freshwater waves
Rose like rockets above the lake
Swerved and veered above their reflection
Before alighting on reedy shallows —

This spring of teal
Newly arrived from Norway
Brought to life
That Bird Portrait illustration
From nineteen-fifty-seven.

I wrote down names
Of other ducks I saw
Pochard, gadwall, shelduck, wigeon
Remembering these also
From childhood photos
An unbelievable age ago.

It was my own failing
In not seeing them sooner
Allowing adolescence
And early adulthood
To slip by in a bird-less void
Of pop music, pleasure-seeking
And half-hearted courtship displays.

I had always believed
That early picture to be embellished
Like photographs of pot plants
In commercial catalogues
Colours seen intense in other people’s eyes
Faded greys and dowdy browns for me.

Those teal I saw
On a Saturday November morning
At last looked the same to me
As to other weekend bird lovers
Proud to have their progeny
Tenderly held above their knees
Themselves gazing through miniature goggles
Seeing the real birds straight away
Not needing to rely
On the words and illustrations of others
As they grow and develop
Full of wonder, free of fear.

Allan Smith


They arrived after coffee in a bottle-green, Commer van
and are carried across to wooden benches
to sit in state, awaiting worthy owners
like aristocratic cats abandoned in a refuge.
Blue primroses,
chest-close in Grimsby herring boxes,
loose-slatted but holding together
Victoria-blue flowers within
striking and sombre on a February day,
its damp chill filling the windless air,
sun obscured by a thousand layers of high grey cloud,
each plant set in its own clod of Sussex mud
cold and clammy, stuck beneath fingernails,
making them ache.
Soiling the coat-cuffs as plants are lifted out
to be re-spaced for improved presentation.
Their roots are thin, wiry but opportunistic
they delved deeply into former topsoil
to dredge up any goodness from below
leaves now firm and crinkly-green
snowy days behind us, springtime still to come.
Flower centres are off-yellow
dusky crowns contained within their dark-blue framework.
Such regularity can not be found in the wild,
just spring-sweet yellows as yet a spell away,
though buff-coloured hazel-rods hang in clusters
leaving damp sherbet-smears upon our coats
when we brush against them.
Blue primroses leave no trace,
deep and stark against bare boards.
Motorists see them as miniaturized sea-specks,
their season is short, their numbers are few
and when the sun triumphs over perpetual mists,
they will be done
planted into borders
gradually losing dominance
as reds and pinks come into flower
and those haunting colours are gone
which so epitomised the cupid month.
Blue, honest, true and consistent
tenacious enough to survive alone
though needing tender hands to make them flourish
keep their colour and grow new shoots.

Allan Smith


A yellow striped caterpillar rotating in its silken strand
Which dangles from an oak branch
In a summer forest come of age.

Dappled sunlight stretches down from a June sky
Brimming with the brightness
Of May time promise fulfilled.

A tiny creature wriggling,
Its body contracting and expanding
In accordion segments a black dot denoting its head.

Its life line had been woven from within
And now suspends this vulnerable creature
At risk from predators on the wing as it bravely holds position.

Thirty years have turned away
Endlessly into inner space
As I stand inside that wood again
And watch the same insect writhe.

Trees above me seemed much higher then
And life has continually contorted
Towards some perfect, unknown conclusion,
All existence hanging by a thread.

Allan Smith


Birds are busy in hedge and tree
How I envy their industry
Gathering up any grub they see
So to gladly feed their progeny.

Nests are woven with skill and love
Wren uses feather down
Swallow moulds mud.
Timeless avian antics above
Chick-rearing instinct in their blood.

Six frantic weeks till the end of May
Sweet songs delivered
And eggs being laid.
Leaf cover growing denser day by day,
Let winds be gentle and owls stay away.

Mothers stuff food into babies’ beaks
Non-stop action through springtime weeks
Flying through farmstead forest and creeks,
In lowest marshland and highest peaks.

Blue tits hanging upside down
Starlings squawking in the heart of town.
Jay bird bold with a pink, raised crown
Humble dunnock spotted brown.

By midsummer’s night some fledglings fly
With hope and courage
Through a wide open sky.
While the wingless watch their lives flit by
And the heavy-feathered wonder and cry.

Birds are busy I long to be too
In a worthwhile cause that would carry me through
These barren skies and promises due
To that free-flowing skyway
I am sure I once knew.

Allan Smith


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