Jeanine Stevens

Wintering in Bloomsbury: 1981

The holly bush, a sober lump of green,
shines and smiles at winter. John Clare

Lucky to find a cheap flat off campus, with breakfast:
bacon, egg, tomatoes and toast (white or brown).
Ideal location, just around the corner
from the British Museum (free entry
on days when studies lag). On a side street,
I walk past a book stall: purchase
a leather bound: Tudor Shakespeare,
1916, and The Cloister and the Hearth, 1920.
The mist is still and gray; streetlamps refract
at 10 a.m. Waiting at a stop sign, a local
asks, “And how do you like your President Reagan?”
I will check in with my tutor, maybe Tuesday.
My essay on wooden henges can wait.
For now I need to hear the crackle of winter branches,
freckled leaves splitting under icy arms.

If it were Spring, I would join John Clare,
in the Kentish heights, seek the ox-eye daisy,
startle the wild duck, and watch
weary rooks fly to distant woods.
The walk will find some places still and warm.
If Summer, I would lounge in parks, enjoy outdoor
dramas on college lawns, everyone more
obvious then, analyzing maps, pavilions filled
with bright florals and floppy hats.
How pleasant to learn that little rivers still exist
under London: the Walbrook, the Tyburn.
Fog follows me as I tighten my tweedy muffler
and step inside a small hotel; here a ‘Ephemera Sale.”
(Little sandwiches of potted meat offered.)
I purchase a tattered copy of English Country Life.
Past the American University,
the British Library is overcrowded. I only want
to stand before adjoining displays: early
handwritten Beatle’s lyrics
and King John’s Magna Carta.

Heading back, denser fog disrupts sound.
I hear the murmur of sales clerks in a booking office,
and folks in chilly flats stirring their evening meal.
Yesterday in University lunch room,
I’m wearing Birkenstocks and a denim jumper.
The clerk asks, “Do you have a faculty card.”

John Clare: “A Leaf Falling in Winter.”
“A Song.”

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Wintering in Bloomsbury: 1981 by Jeanine Stevens was highly commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition (March/April 2020) judged by Mandy Pannett.

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