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In the house of chiming clocks
Mother and I sit down
to empty her desk.

Neatly filled drawers
yield up layer by layer
the marginal notes of a long life.

Here’s a bundle of letters from my father
a photo of a cousin dressed for war
a ration-book in a green linen cover

brittle discoloured press-cuttings
wavy-edged snapshots
baby-hair folded in tissue

a pansy paper-thin and colourless
from a cliff-top garden
devoured long ago by the sea.

I wander through the years
my little mother beside me
vague as a faded snapshot.

The unasked questions back away.
Two clocks tick and tock
each in the other’s silence.


Placed 3rd in the Bridport Prize 2008

My third choice, Time Travel, is a study in melancholy. It’s of a piece in tone and narrative drift alike. It carries a ghost-novel between its lines. The poem gains, I think, from remaining deliberately unemphatic; the lines do their work without becoming strident or sentimental. The list – letters, ration-book, photo, lock of hair – finally extends to encompass the mother who, by the time the piece closes, has become almost a part of the narrator’s collection. The deliberate retreat from questions, from the gently implied weight of risk in the past, provides a nicely-pitched emotional alternating (therefore tyrannical) clocks, seems to leave us on a held breath.
– David Harsent

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