Janet Fisher

A Huddersfield Poet

Tag: janet fisher poem

NOT KNOWING THE NAMES OF PLANTS

you study the pictures on the boxes,
pick out stocks, chrysanths, snapdragons,
the strongest and healthiest. Why is it
so hard to choose. Twenty years ago

we ate tough rump and laughed at the waitress
for chilling the house red, at the next couple
for sitting not speaking all evening, not like us.
Last night the tournedos were tender, the claret

chambre and we did not say anything. Today,
our bedding plants tucked in the boot, we drink tea
from flowered cups and a monsoon drums its heels
on the café roof begging to be let in.

in Listening to Dancing

 

– Ray Fisher

The second anniversary of Janet’s death has just passed. A few weeks ago in the Meeting House I was shown the plan, the one that opens like a book to reveal the tabulation of names, each hand-written, each framed within the carefully-drawn grid. I had seen it before, but this time there was one more name.

Outside in the burial ground the headstone has stood for more than a year now, but one Yorkshire winter has done little to disguise its pristine newness as it almost shines in today’s gloom, distinguishing itself from its neighbours in a most un-Quakerly manner. But at least nature has been more obliging with the grave itself, as the various weeds and grasses have encroached over the bare earth. As I reflect that Janet would no doubt be able to identify them I recall the poem whose title sums me up. Its final lines spark a vivid memory, one that would surely have been lost without her words to prompt it, and I reflect on the countless similar trivialities of everyday life together now gone for ever.

BIRD AND FLOWER MARKET, SHANGHAI

The old man sits on a stool
scooping in noodles, watching me,
his narrow stall a jungle
of maple and magnolia;
at his feet bowls of bulbous guppies,
crickets and kittens in cages,
baby turtles scrambling for air.

I can’t speak his language.
I smile, poke a finger through the wire,
and he taps out a price on his calculator,
hands it to me to bargain, but I hold back,
embarrassed I don’t know
what’s for eating
what’s for company.

Janet Fisher

From set of poems The New China
In Women who Dye Their Hair

Day Trip

Never go back, they say, you won’t find what you are looking for. But I did go back. We both should have returned for our 40th but we delayed – next year medical treatment would make travel easier. Seven years on and travel is certainly easier now. The time was right, and the place.

Of course the cathedral was still there, its solitary spire still intimidating those gazing from below. High Gothic indeed. For over 500 years the spire had soared defiantly alone and now, another half century gone, still no sign they had even begun its twin.

But something had changed. The spiral staircase clinging to the outside as if an afterthought was now enclosed in glass. Yet all I could see was those gaping holes in the stonework, that sudden vista of nothingness each time we completed a circuit, beckoning us to take another unsteady step down into the void.

But this wasn’t what I was seeking. Somewhere in this city of many islands was a path beside the river, a bar where the conversation, water and wine flowed, where we laughed at my attempts to pour as the table started to shift – every detail as vivid as the spire. But I knew the dangers. Half a century for the city to change, half a century for memory to impose its own reality.

So I wasn’t surprised never to find this spot. I selected a near fit only to be turned away because riverside tables were for meals. I sat at another café nearby, the table round, not rectangular, formica, not wood. But I didn’t mind, and neither did Janet, as she spoke from the pages. The wine had to be Pinot Blanc because the poem said so, and maybe it really was. And with enough refills the table would surely have started to shift as I poured…

DAY TRIP

In ’67, some weeks after the Israelis
had kicked the shit out of the Arabs,
I crossed Belgium with my friend Shirley
heading for the Conference of Christians
and Jews in Strasbourg, where they stuff
geese for their livers. I met an anti-
Zionist called Martin with a degree
in politics who made mincemeat
out of people’s arguments and we went on
odd visits – the Cathedral spire is completely
open at the top, after two bottles of Pinot Blanc
no joke – and to the local camp, the only one
they built in France apparently where I stood
in the porcelain room they used for the gassings
surprised it was so small.

Janet Fisher
in “Listening to Dancing”

ANCESTORS

Dust on the mantelpiece; postcards and brittle letters

telling of boys in old swim-suits, picnics on hot sand,
piano-playing at dusk. Photos of aunts
and unknown friends of aunts; laughter
in gardens of houses long moved from;
baby and dog on a rug.

Merciless, I rip papers from folders,
pack books and ornaments for charity.
She will live in my heart, I say,
I don’t need her on my shelves.
But my heart is lumbered with ghosts, flickering
on the turn of a stair, in a child’s grin.

Janet Fisher
in Life and Other Terms, Shoestring Press, 2015

Chalk Farm

CHALK FARM

Blaring elephants echo from the zoo.
Friday evenings as you cross the Square
I watch from the fourth floor, throw down
the key. We’re squashed into the side room

while my flatmate makes it with a violinist
just back from Prague and its brief spring.
She can get us freebies for the RFH,
acoustics crisp as sheets on a line.

Cheap folk nights in cork-lined rooms,
or a stroll up to Heath Street for a curry
over Primrose Hill where MacNeice heard
the trees felled at the start of the war.

‘Summer of love’ – that was last year.
You can see St Paul’s from here, clear as a bell.

In Brittle Bones
“Throw down the key” – our version of the balcony scene when you’re 4 floors up.
 

Life and Other Terms

LIFE AND OTHER TERMS

I split autumn perennials,
layer rhododendrons for spring
lashed by winds,
lacking even good bones
against the virtues of age.

With full hands
I pull at heels of rosemary,
lad’s love sweet and sad,
bitter rue and yarrow.
Geraniums on the patio
turned out like children to get the sun;
the faint green of old bottles
wait for something to be done with them,

and I see living’s a job like any other,
that there are no true and perfect implements
to trim the edges, only working usages, like knives.

In Life and Other Terms

 

The Moon And Arlo

THE MOON AND ARLO

The harvest moon
in a scarf of cloud
whitens the fields.

Jupiter rests by its left flank.
There’s a lot to think about.
The stars are humble, waiting.

Sheila’s eggs are small moons
naked in the Petrie dish ready
for a strange act of love,

the best to be picked,
implanted in their warm bed.
It’s the date my mother died.

After four weeks
my son texts ‘heartbeat!’
The moon’s full.

in Life and Other Terms
“Like a ghost, laughing” – notice how her mother crept in.
And “The stars are humble, waiting” – where did that come from?

Tin Roofs

It’s more than malaria gets in the blood
in Africa: its red-soiled, potholed towns,
jungles of car parts, sewing machines,
mended T-shirts from Leeds and Seattle,
herdsmen lean as their cows.

We were asked out as honoured guests.
In the village where we stopped on the way
for yams and cooking oil, every other roof
an advert for Omo or Blueband,
an ancestral tableau of gossiping women
gathered by the standpipe with plastic demijohns,
and far from the cities young boys
begged to be photographed.

And if we hadn’t turned up when we did
to hoik Emile’s father’s barrow up
alongside the spare fuel on the LandRover
he’d have strapped it on the next bus up the mountain
squashing someone’s mangoes
and their chickens too, probably.

If you catch it you ache in places
you didn’t know you had
but the local medics know their stuff,
and not till you’re back home,
years later maybe,
does it grip you again, the fever.

in Women Who Dye Their Hair

Dash

Men have come to fix the pebbledash,
fifty years of it, cracked and letting in the rain.
It needed doing, but it’s so noisy
and the scaffolding blocks the path.

In the damp May evening I tiptoe
to the foot of the ladder, up the poles
and onto the roof, the chimney, leap
my giant’s leap across mills and fields,
mount the TV mast (all 900 feet of it),
grasp at a passing plane, swing
over and out to the moon, the stars,
till I’m sighted by a schoolboy
at his bedroom window with a telescope,
top of the universe and climbing.

in Listening to Dancing

God’s Wife

God’s Wife

He grew up round here. His own country.
‘Since God were a lad’ they say,
remembering. The local paper
prints yesteryear photos of old teams.
There he is, foot on the ball.

He was always restless, spent
hours in our back yard, fettling.
He’d come up with all sorts – animals
you’d never seen the like of, bits of stars.
All gone now.

His smile shone like sunrise.
His fingers were lightning bolts
jolting my skin as he smoothed my breasts.
His blood ran swift as rivers, his heart
a rock veined with silver.

He was changeable as the weather.
His temper ran riot: that booming voice!
That was the start of the split.
He couldn’t stand being stuck in one place.
By Whitsun he’d packed his bags.

I hear rumours, like thunder across the tops.
We’d wanted kids, but it wasn’t to be.
Then he took up with this girl, under age,
already spoken for. A son was born –
I often wonder what became of him.

I love it round here, but I miss him:
the stirrings, the danger.
Sometimes I go walking,
gaze up at the hills,
but they don’t help.

Janet Fisher
In Life and Other Terms
Shoestring Press 2015

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