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Later you find a destination or point
of origin in the hillsides of plastic sheeting,
plywood or corrugated tin leaving you
to imagine all the life that’s buried there,
marked off with high walls and safety barriers


                 from;  African landscape with figures  by Stuart Nunn








Eating Melons
Walking with a Walkman
Displaced Persons,1945
African landscape with figures
Going to school with D H Lawrence
The Tesco Metamorphoses
Glencoe, Culloden, Killiecrankie
An Atlas of the World’s Edges
Harvest 1946



1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Stuart Nunn


I live in South Gloucestershire and am now fully retired from any work that pays me. I've been published in Smith's Knoll, South, Envoi and Iota. I've won prizes in various competitions, including once, long ago, a minor mention in the Bridport International. I belong to three local poetry groups as well as the PK List, whose members are my first readers, and much valued.







Such improbable complications of glasswork,
whose arrangement we weren’t to concern ourselves with
but whose name we had to know – Kipps,
and in the bottom chamber, marble chips.
He poured the acid in and in my brain
some kind of reaction started:
this wasn’t education so much as conjuring,
and I was certainly up for that.
And over there, the bubbles rose
until the flask was full of faintly coloured nothing.
Meanwhile, in another classroom, Owen’s soldiers
were struggling to fit their clumsy masks
and gargling lungs were flung into carts.
Invited to smell it, of course we did.
Mitch reacted first, and soon half the class
was hanging, as instructed, out the window.
“Breathe deeply, boys. Taste God’s good air.”

This was published in Smith’s Knoll, which I reckon is my greatest publishing achievement. Not just published but the first poem in the magazine, with a very complimentary comment. I like to get it out now and again, just to look at!

Eating Melons

In the market we smelt them,
holding the stalk to our hungry faces,
sensed the sweetness imprisoned, lurking.
Halving them’s the work of a sword,
but here the breadknife does as well.
The seeds swim in juice, hang
by umbilicals of fibrous sucrose,
beg to be drunk before they’re dumped.
Sweetness made liquid, hanging on to flesh
that fails in the liquidiser of the teeth.
Tasted, drunk, gone, leaving a hint
of corruption in the throat that means
thank God you didn’t leave them
longer in the fridge. Sweet almost
to the rind that threatens to collapse
under the greedy spoon. Say their names
to taste again: Charentais, Piel
de Sapo, Honeydew, Cantaloupe.

This and the following poem were published in South, in the same month. They change the editors for each edition and poems are selected blind. I was chuffed to have two chosen.

Walking with a Walkman

They probably think I’m a sad old get,
ears wired to trousers pocket
like some slouching adolescent.
But through the centre of my skull
the Lark’s Ascending and the street
becomes the stretch of moor above Gilwern.

On my left the hardware store,
optician, charity shop are
the strings, sweeping the tune
across the distant hills.
Estate agents to the right,
the paper shop and bank,
the lower strings and brass, the sea
that glimmers along the horizon.

The sky is blue all right
with clouds scudding in from the north,
but the vapour trail becomes
a small brown bird
that sings its heart out
with a sound like Tamsin Little’s violin.

Displaced Persons,1945

Shavings smell no different here. Sometimes I close my eyes
on the regimented squalor of the huts;
bang nails, plane scraps of deal to drown the misery.

At first he watched as though afraid – and he’d good excuse,
I suspect, after all he’d seen – expecting to be kicked,
or shouted at in the only language I can speak.

But I’m not here, like some, to ill-treat boys,
no matter what they’ve seen – and the ragged uniform
he wears says his innocence has been conscripted.

He says nothing, tries to look as though he’s going
somewhere else. He watches how the curl comes off
the plane, and hangs, and falls. He finds a bag

and without a word and only a glance at me,
picks up every one. Once, I catch him
as he loops a ringlet round a finger, feels its spring

before he crams it in the sack. I smile. He manages
to reciprocate as though he’s labelled me
and remembers what smiling feels like.

Day after day he comes, hut only when I’m here alone.
I tell him about you,  my son, and how, at home, the sun
falls on the workshop steps at this time of year.

There’s a sack of assorted nails and screws. I sit him
on the floor and show him how to sort: nails from screws;
galvanised from brads; round-head from countersunk.

He shows me when he’s done. Each one is laid alternately
head to point, in rows, touching and parallel. He grins,
and this, I realise, says something, either

about the German character, or how when we’re like this,
where things can get no worse, it’s order that we want.
I thank him in the best German I can manage.

This won the Wessex section of the Wells Literary Festival competition in 2006 (I think). A nice cheque and lunch in the bishop’s palace.

African landscape with figures

You see them first down the long perspective
of motorways, men dwarfed by distance.
Flashing past, no details impinge, but a sense
of want that’s driven them out here where
no goal or departure point is evident.

Soon you expect them, walking where you drive,
walking – where to? Where from?
Sometimes two or four, not together,
spaced as though to make some point
in a language you don’t understand.

Later you find a destination or point
of origin in the hillsides of plastic sheeting,
plywood or corrugated tin leaving you
to imagine all the life that’s buried there,
marked off with high walls and safety barriers

stopping this other world colliding
with your safe white rush from beauty spot
to national park. Later still, you see them
everywhere, these walking, waiting Africans,
driven to the edges of our perceptions.

They walk through a landscape theirs
by law and ancient practice, but which
they didn’t make. Not strangers, not foreign,
but curious, unreadable, and, like the landscape,
strangely eloquent.

And this won the following year. Since when I’ve contrived to miss the deadline every single year. Mind you, they’ve cut back on the lunch in recent years.

Going to school with D H Lawrence

She doesn’t know this yet, your mother,
the place her father and his brothers played
in literary history. It’s been enough for her
that solid money was made, enough to buy
the maid her uniform. But lurking there
is the quiet dark-haired mummy’s boy
across the classroom, reading – so out of place
in any decent pit village – dreaming of sun
and flesh, and what it all might mean.

So when they went down into the dark
and he went off to clerk in Nottingham,
did they each remember how they talked of girls,
consider how sons turn into lovers, fathers
into corpses, rings in a family’s timber.

It turned out that my mother-in-law knew perfectly well that her father had been at school with Lawrence, but she’d never mentioned it because, well, he’s not quite nice, is he?

The Tesco Metamorphoses

In aisle twelve, between self-raising flour
and custard powder, Tom Shore, the farmer’s son,
balances white pebbles along the shelves
and dreams of his girl in green
who stamps the discount labels
on yesterday’s bouquets of seasonal blooms.

Behind the deli counter, Christopher Chant,
the Saturday boy, blows softly
on the thigh-bone flute that lulls
to acceptance the fisher-maid
who pauses in her shovelling ice
around the many-headed sea bream pile.

Between the serried ranks of breakfast
cereal, organic or chocolate coated,
Steph Garner weaves images from stalks of wheat,
brought to barn by sweating men
who drench the last sheaf home with beer
to safeguard next year’s lorry-loads.

There’s a fire in the cigarette display,
fuelling Sandra Woodward’s  dreams
of burning Christmas trees, whose roots
disclose a lover who leads to late night
rendezvous on freezing pavements,
the new beginning she desires.

Glencoe, Culloden, Killiecrankie

It seems some explanation is required
of what went on in places such as this,
how geography and politics conspired.

Designers and PR men have been hired
to keep alive the bloodshed and the mess.
It seems some explanation is required.

They hope all visitors will be inspired
to balance victory against the loss
that geography and politics conspired

to inflict on populations deeply mired
in hapless warlords’ daydreams of success.
It seems some explanation is required.

Museums and bare landscapes, attired
in colour-coded, interactive dress,
show how geography and politics conspired.

But these places mark where men expired
in welters of vomit, blood and piss.
It seems some explanation is required
how geography and politics conspired.

An Atlas of the World’s Edges

Here is a map of what you don’t see.
Here is the space between the factory’s back wall
and the canal; here is the ribbon
of nature reserve we speed past in our juggernauts.
This is the belt of trees holding in
the town’s gut. This is the pointless
gap in the trees where the boy and girl,
skiving Witnesses can kiss.
This is where old supermarket trolleys
gather weed until someone rings for rescue.
This is the roofless barn where smokes are traded.
This is the drainage ditch that loiters
through our industrial estate,
where industry staggers on and on.
This is the path behind the church
where our children go to drink cheap cider.
There are forgotten tracks to link
all these places, but the motorway
creates culs-de-sac on both flanks.
I promised you a map, but you knew
all along that it was there. Choose a wall.
Take your spray cans. Make your own map.

Three more recent ones. This last one won something. I’ve forgotten what exactly and there wasn’t any money attached.

The last one took ages to get to this stage, with lots of commentary from Listers. It’s probably still not right, and in any case I’m a bit suspicious of this Golden Bough-type stuff.

Harvest 1946
After the wheat is all cut, on most farms in Devon, the harvest people have a custom of crying the neck. It is done in this way.

J G Frazer – The Golden Bough

The camp at Chivelstone was for Hitler Youth types. They helped with the harvest.

 Phyllis Hocking

They will not do this any more.
Their hearts are elsewhere. Devon men
can’t take such rituals with straight faces
after what even they have seen.

And the scrutiny of the prisoners
foisted on them brings discomfiture
and a light shone too strongly
on things their fathers knew for certain.
The Jerries are still just boys,
but their eyes tell histories
of places beyond bloodshed.

The farm women relish
the tradition, but harvest will still finish
without the last sheaf cried and chased home.
The boy will get his kiss some other way.

They were promised a life
at the world’s summits
but imprisonment exposes
such arrogance to the light.
They find in harvest’s end
a matter of blood and soil
just as much on this red
English soil as at home.
They’ve seen this ritual’s image
amongst the peasants they mocked
when labouring for the Reich.
The men shout for the last cut -
and homesickness like hunger
rises among them.

The binder’s clacking stops and in the gloaming
horses head-shake off their day’s labour.
The labourers half-solemn, anticipating
the custom’s accomplishment and pleasure.

The prisoners, half-recognising, half-amused,
can take no part, are set aside.
Their training and experience foreshadow
the harvest home, this rustic English rite.

The tension of the moment holds them all.
The horse-boy who will catch and run,
run for the barn where the women wait,
the prisoners and the reapers who don’t know
yet that something’s ending.

The scythe sweeps once,
and the wheat falls.


3 - Afterword

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