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Then the deep cold descended 

and we started splitting wood 

to move from next to this year’s stack. 

When our hammers flashed red or gold 

it was more from the braziers than the brief sunlight. 


                 from Heko by Rip Bulkeley 

Detail from a portrait taken by the Vermont photographer, Abby Raeder, in 2017






Cutteslowe South 

Four Haiku 



Our Hunted Parents 

Rear View 



Wolvercote Trains 




1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Rip Bulkeley


Rip Bulkeley’s poems have been appearing in magazines since the 1960s as well as more recently online, for example in Carole Ann Duffy’s lockdown anthology. His collection War Times was published by Ripostes in 2003. In 1999 he founded Oxford’s Back Room Poets, which continues to thrive. He has edited Poems for Grenfell Tower (Onslaught Press, 2018) and Rebel Talk, forthcoming from Extinction Rebellion Oxford. He is also a historian of science; in 2014 his book about an early Russian Antarctic expedition was awarded the Anderson Medal by the Society for Nautical Research, and a sequel has just appeared. 







Not much interesting nowadays 

comes down from Skopje. The big stuff 

turns left for Salonika. A few refugees 

head up the other way, though mostly 

they keep inside the EU by crossing to Italy. 

But there was someone, back in the day, 

little more than a boy, and not our concern. 

Didn’t have two words of dimotiki, 

but you could tell at once that neither he 

nor his women would ever lie easy. 


He stepped out of the road, said Hi, 

sat down about where you are now 

– with the pressure lamp hissing 

almost as loud as the cicadas – 

and stared deep at the sea, like a nomad, 

unable to get enough of it, or of us. 

Well, the table is still here under the vine, 

and if ever he comes this way again 

we would take it hard if he passed us by. 



Cutteslowe South 


For months this was your furthest north, 

a shabby bench in ditto park, 

something achieved and sufficient 

before you sank beneath the leaves 

and were befriended by strangers. 

Might the river have been kinder? 

The birdless, sullen stream is dumb, 

indifferent, but has tasted blood before this. 

There was never a path from then to here, 

a labyrinth that love or intellect might read 

and overcome. The enemy’s moves 

have been inscrutable, zen toxicity, 

pitiless but without malevolence. 

Now your black coat and woolly hat, 

over which the neighbourhood sighed, 

are bound for Calais and a better life. 

But I have cried havoc at the water margin 

taking dead nettle, cow-parsley and teasel – 

let these commiserate with you 

while some bide here. The rest 

shall be carried at night to friends 

whom you will never meet. 




Four Haiku 


Full moon of April 

    behind the apple branches. 

        Rising. And rising. 


Stars in the fir tree. 

    Lost Christmas decorations 

        hoping for Easter. 


Dark, quiet gardens 

    swarming with radio waves 

        for noisy houses. 


quartering con-trails 

    horizon to horizon 

         star – moon – cloud – poet 





I shall been have go soon 

across a firefly verandah 

lifted on heavy, scented beams, 

into a dark cool space 

that separates the low 

collected waters of her voice 

from those of the long fjord. 


My naked feet can must seek out 

the warmer spots where hers 

have grazing the floorboards. 


I am not late been released 

from this that enchantment 

and have not ask to be. 





The year of the great winter we visited 

old friends at their farm in the north 

arriving well before St Lucy’s Day 

to spend Christmas and New Year 

that time their third son, Heko, died. 


We were lucky, we thought, to get there, 

both cars and a trailer with much needed supplies 

through heavy snow. Such a reunion it was. 

Ten kids for ‘gentle hockey’ on the tarn 

and two still learning to skate. 

Every night we watched Grim Krakenson, 

about the childhood of a sea monster. 


Then the deep cold descended 

and we started splitting wood 

to move from next to this year’s stack. 

When our hammers flashed red or gold 

it was more from the braziers than the brief sunlight. 


Things were timeless – nearly: 

beans and bacon most days; 

salt fish from the ‘codpile’ every Friday; 

reindeer faggots on Sundays; 

oaten porage with cranberries for supper; 

Hans Christian Andersen at bedtime.  


It got so bad there had to be a rule: 

no young ones – under twelve – 

outside below 25 degrees. 

But this went on for many days, 

and Heko was an outdoors boy. 


We all searched. I drew the toy-barn 

fruitlessly. But it was his closest sister, 

Alfhild, who found him by a wall. 

She, indeed, went on to lead us 

both at morning and evening prayers 

and between them, setting prayer aside. 


We were quite cut off from the village 

whether for carols or a funeral 

so that Heko must wait in a shed 

well shielded against vermin. 

We ate no codfish that week 

but we needed to continue with Krakenson. 


In one episode they introduced him 

to his future, adult skin. 

It was the shape of Europe and 500 metres wide. 

A crowd of children were gathered to paint it 

with the colours of their fields and cities. 

What happened can not have happened 

because the name was coined for him only, 

but there, in one corner of ‘Scandinavia’, 

up popped a little blond ‘Heko’ with a paintbrush. 



Our hunted parents 


Barbed wire cutting off the hills and beaches; 

nerves at their splitting limits, long year long; 

the darkness feebly lit and thinly heated. 

Nothing’ to eat. The one with their name on it 

round every corner. Herded into opinions, 

jokes, entertainment, discoveries of beauty. 

Washing their bodies at rationed periods 

with ill-spared fats and shared hot water. 

Pinned down; then ordered about by any 

little jack-in-office. The nauseous dead 

swarming everywhere, despising trenches. 

In sum, wretched reprises of their own parents’ 

fearful, violent and sickly lives. The sex 

is said to have been good. It better had been. 



Rear View 


catching my naked back 

for the first time 

with a long pair of accidental mirrors 

instead of clipped and snatched 

in a barber’s nod 


how absorbing to cross 

towards the everyday glances of others 

to see directly what I share 

their quiet vulnerability 

their far and human side 


if only touch 

could sometimes be 

a distance sense 





How delicious, the early morning 

on the first day of virus summer 

with squadrons of sparrows charging 

between the motionless gardens,  

and my silent riot of back-door roses 

tucking into their daily ration of sunshine. 


What a privilege, to visit in little 

those dawns and sunsets of the Western Front, 

the mighty Turner stormscapes in fury 

against the cliffs of Robben Island, 

the black-green forests barely moved 

by the pecking of colonial axes, 

the frost flowers on gulag windows. 


The obscene indifference of beauty 

even when itself the intended victim; 

the nameless genocides of slavery 

uncompensated by a handful of songs. 





They kept their black skin-boats together 

because they were open and easily swamped. 

All they had for thirst, on this part of the voyage, 

was some brash-ice stored in a dinghy. 


Then either they became embayed 

or their captain intended it anyway 

and they called at a small fish dock. 

There wasn’t any friendship 

amongst the freezer sheds and generators 

but things went easily enough. 


Their last landing, before they would climb 

out onto the back of the ocean, 

was at the harbour of Thorfinn. 

They hauled their boats far forward 

across that broad shingle beach 

where things were still ordered in the old style 

by an obstinate, obsolescent ruler. 

No chance, here, of glimpsing a woman’s face 

before fulfilling the guest duties. 


They were handed the bone beaker 

but given nothing to grease it with. 

Their singer’s mouth was dry from the brash-ice.  

He had to chew the herbs of his song 

and spit them into the cup, along with loud tears, 

before his words would start turning. 


Their way was set to the south and west 

but along the coast they were also searching  

for the steersman’s sister, or was it someone else’s. 

They learned only later that she had been there, 

at Thorfinnshavn, held in servitude. 

She was hanging high in the smoky rafters 

with a dozen other women 

put away until they were wanted. 


He was a strong singer 

and she must have understood him 

but saw no point in calling out. 



Wolvercote Trains 


Marylebone, Brockenhurst… – who cares 

where trains are singing their hearts towards. 

The passengers are too earnest and upright 

to hear them well. Only we, lying here 

with our arms full of love, can listen 

as trains deserve. Their unselfish hymns 

belong to our glory, and boundless desire 

lends them power. Like trains, and with them, 

we shall fly round the sun, round the clock, 

hand in hand round the island of us. 




Hawkesbury and Rear View were published in East of Auden (Back Room Poets 2003).  

Our Hunted Parents appeared in The Interpreter’s House in 2004. 

Summer was published on the Write Where We Are Now website in 2020. 

Thorfinnshavn appeared in THE SHOp in 2001, and again in the author’s collection War Times (Ripostes 2003). 


4 - Afterword

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