This is a country of ghosts. Down the eastern shore
Lie the drowned villages, drowned luggers, drowned sailors.
After a hot summer, fields grow talkative.
Wheat speaks in crop marks, grasses in parch marks.
Wheat or grass, what they tell is the truth
Of things that lay underneath five thousand years ago,
The forts, the barrows, the barns, the shrines, the walls.
These are the native ghosts. After a hot summer.
No haunting. No rattle of chains. They just lie there
In their rigid truthfulness, the ghosts of things.
We carry our human ghosts around with us.
As we grow we face the mirrors, and see
The spectre of a great-aunt, a vague look
Known only from sepia snapshots. The hands we're used to -
Yes, these - their contours came by way of a long retinue
Of dust. We are photofits of the past,
And the future eyes us sideways as we eye ourselves.
We are the ghosts of great-aunts and grand-nephews.
We are ghosts of what is dead and not yet born.
Ghosts of past, present, future.
But the ones the living would like to meet are the echoes
Of moments of small dead joys still quick in the streets,
Voices calling I've passed / We won / QED /
It didn't hurt much, Mum / They've given me the job /
I have decided to name this apple Bramley;
And the women convicts singing their Holloway march,
While Ethel Smyth conducts from her cell with a toothbrush.
These are the ghosts the living would prefer,
Ghosts who'd improve our ratings. Ghosts
Of the great innocent songs of freedom
That shoulder their way round the world like humpback whales,
Ghosts of the singers, the dancers, the liberated,
Holding hands and cheering in parks, while the tanks
Squat immobilized. Ghosts of the women on the fish quay
Hugging each other when at last the boats come in.
Ghosts of the last night of the Proms. And ghosts of lovers,
Wandering round London, so happy that they could
Have danced danced danced all night.
from Collected Poems 1978-2003 (Peterloo Poets, 2005), copyright © U A Fanthorpe 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher.