Two poems by Noel Williams


Windfall phrases flutter on the path, dry whisperings,
litter scratching at my boots. As if someone
doesn’t want me hacking through these brambles
to that neglected shed. Someone is me.
But I’m not listening.
Time to cut this to the root.

In it those toys that Oxfam should’ve had –
the microscope with slides of spider-legs
and eye-bright copper sulphate, a bible scribbled through,
bruised Swoppets and the yellow saxophone
with scarlet keys still creased in cellophane
as if a toy-shop window bent and buckled round it.

You knew I’d kept them. But never said. As if
your silent threnody could scour guilt from these things
heaped up and hidden. Forget this pushchair with rust-soiled wheels
once a chariot. Imagine this typewriter
stuffed with your hundred spidered drafts
holds nothing but pages yearning to be trees.

You wished, I know, to become tongueless as oak.
Instead of words we might have a treehouse.
But what’s the point of knowing? I know this billhook,
for example, was your aunt’s, borrowed to slice
the first thick swathe of nettles from this yard
to clear it for that red pedal car. So what?

I know now this Lone Ranger Colt falls from its holster
if you sprint on the road. I’d planned to stitch it.
I know that if I’d cleared all this and dumped it when I should,
we’d have new tools, oiled and gleaming,
mounds of fecund peat, a dozen rows of seedlings,
fingering the trickling sunlight, if I’d unwebbed the window as you asked.
It feels like rain.

Return to Kabul, 1990

Under the carcass of a T72, the greybeard
elbows professional orphans,
spreads a Quran against a pillow of stone.
We face the same way.

We filter rice and cumin with our fingers,
chew kidney beans folded in spinach.
Stained by firelight we laugh about the carpet,
the lost washing machine, the hours
we’d prayed at that fizzing TV.
Who now crouches by its flattery?
Is it kicked in and sightless, like Mazar-al-Sharif?

Yesterday we counted a blackened mile of buses
lining the pits. My father wouldn’t come back to his cell.
He gave me the hasp of its hacksawed lock, talisman
against its sixty thousand silences.

Between the crazed walls and the minarets
pale pigeons glide like angels.
In the Ziaranth glazed by autumn sky,
a woman in a white burqua kisses the caliph’s tomb.
Those lights rising over the broken stone
are not the beams of any helicopter.

‘Overgrown’ and ‘Return to Kabul, 1990’ by Noel Williams were highly commended and second prize winner respectively in the Sentinel Annual Poetry Competition 2015 judged by Afam Akeh.