Helen Mort – last orders for chesterfield

Helen Mort 1Today’s poem is ‘last orders for chesterfield’ and sees the author moving invisible through a town as it crosses night with day (night-shift workers going home). The imagery conveys Spring set in decay (a rusty bicycle, russet skeletons of cars) with the writer unseen by locals (the waiting drivers don’t look up or step aside to let me pass), her history erased (the churchyard wall is clean of my dark signature), and yet in some small way, the spirit of her remains (he might pause to wonder what it is that seems to stir). This is a dark and sad poem (when I reach my parents’ house it will be overgrown with waist high-nettles) but it is not maudlin nor does it demonise the characters it portrays, besides of course the taxi driver who quickly turns from hero to villain (the lass he rescued, ‘the slapper was locked out’)

Helen began her poetic writing as a ghost in a pub; her first pamphlet, ‘a pint for the ghost’ is a memoir of a time now lost but still resonates in the mind. It is a set of poems that Helen has performed as a sequence, a running monologue of different characters, in ‘worked-out mines, smoky pubs, and deserted highways’.

Helen’s most recent collection is Division Street, which was shortlisted for both the TS Eliot Prize and Costa Poetry Prize in 2013. Her poems are deeply rooted in fields, mines, and hills (she is a keen climber) of Yorkshire and beyond. I will no doubt be featuring a poem from this in the future.

 http://www.helenmort.com/index.htm; Twitter @HelenMort

last orders for chesterfield


So homesick in the fens

I couldn’t sleep, I rose before

this morning’s dawn


and groped downstairs

to find a rusty bicycle

abandoned at my gate.


I rode due north until

I reached the town I left behind

two years ago. Here,


it is spring and all the streets

are emptying their pockets

to the early breeze;


the air alive with starlings,

scraps of newspaper, laughter

of night-shift workers going home.


I scan the bus stop for a face

I recognise, though nobody

will meet my stare. And then I see


the churchyard wall is clean

of my dark signature. The pubs

have changed their names.


The Rec is wrapped

in an amnesia of hawthorn bushes,

russet skeletons of cars.


Behind the stripped out cinema

the buses glide straight past me

as I try to flag them down


and beside the taxi rank,

the waiting drivers don’t look up

or step aside to let me pass.


Animated by a story

one of them’s rehearsed all night:

The lass he rescued out at B’oser


picked her up without

a scrap of clothing on. Lover’s tiff,

he says, the slapper was locked out.


And as I walk unrecognised

up Hady Hill, and check

the houses for the comfort


of my own reflected face,

the night is catching up with me.

I can’t stop picturing


a girl alone and naked,

shivering on the wrong side

of the windowpane


and further from that world

than if she were a thousand

miles away. And I know


even before I’ve passed

the butcher’s shop, the corner Store

the park’s black railings


slick as spears, I know

that when I reach my parents’ house

it will be overgrown


with waist high-nettles, choked

by ivy, hidden by thorns.

I know before I’ve even


reached my local, with its

saloon doors that never closed

to anyone, I know


that I could stand here at the bar

for hours, because the landlord

will not see me,


though he might pause to wonder

what it is that seems to stir

there in the tap room


as he switches all the light off

and brings the boards in,

then stands in the beer garden


dragging on his cigarette,

staring at the moon, which

on a night like this, almost seems


to smoke in the dark above him;

a gun barrel after the last shot

has been fired.


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