John Greening

Three Poems


Walking, walking down the Great West Road, where there is no traffic,
no tarmac, and the cats’ eyes are all of lynx or pine marten.

It is midsummer’s night and the sun is directly ahead, cutting
and bleeding at what is not yet Gillette Corner, but will be

once the Heath is old enough to shave. Where the Firestone Building
will roll out its tyres there are only rubbery tussocks and sprung

heather as far as Henly’s roundabout, where nothing goes round
except those two red kites over a dead bustard. Keep walking,

walking past the invisible tube that is cleaning itself in the chalk
for some future rush-hour, past Coty’s concealing foundations.

No need for the windscreen wiper factory, the gyroscope factory,
the only knitting mill is at your feet as you drag through weed

hallucinating a Lucozade bottle that will one day famously
empty its fizz on the A4’s Golden Mile, where tonight the shower

is of meteors, the June Boötids, and your boots walk you west to the swish
of Brentford Nylons, to the rustle and crunch of Smith’s Crisps, to Currys

the wireless people’s hooting, whirring, whistling white noise,
gravel and grasses, insect-life and owls, over the Heath.

The future’s children will count the factory Christmas trees, but you
(in the absence of fire extinguisher manufacturers) wish on a star

that seems to be guiding you gently towards the obscurity of Heath Row.





There is no future tense on the Heath: memories bubble up
where nymph A was chased by god B and turned into C
not stopping for the sake of possibility or certainty and certainly not
for any swing that’s prefixed by a fore. Papyrus grows there – or would
if Hounslow, Middlesex were Syracuse, Sicily. In fact, it is an English reed

that can be played on, picked, dried or rolled, but if you try to write
its smile broadens, its wrinkles crack into dusty laughter at the thought
you might do more than let things sink. No ink will ever
dry in time to record what is happening, has happened, and the moment you
reach for the simple future, let alone the future perfect,

the nose goes up, flaps swivelling, and all is motionless, mistbound.





The thicket on either side of the road has been cleared to a depth of two hundred feet.
Now The Flying Coach can take off from London and land in Oxford two days later.

Three hundred coaches a day, their huge coloured neckerchiefs and gaudy buttonholes,
striped waistcoats, white beaver hats, yellow jackets, livery, finery,

fourteen battalions of foot, thirty-two squadrons of horse, and a single steam carriage
the Duke of Wellington proposes (creaking from his inn sign) to fit with armour plating for the charge,

ten thousand head of cattle, one hundred thousand sheep off to the slaughter,
roundhead or cavalier, princess or whore, with ostlers, innkeepers, postboys, postilions, all

weaving in and out of thirteen gibbets where the wrinkled monochrome remains from Tyburn
are brought and hung up in rows to dry like engravings designed to imprint on the traveller

the dangers of a flageolet duet, or a corante, with the lady in the coach on its way to Windsor,
or accepting a hundred sovereigns through the window watched by three small would-be sovereigns.

O tell the one who says the Heath has nothing to detain the traveller: ‘From the Nine
we this advice receive: do not leave unattended, you may be removed without warning.’



Winner of the TLS and Bridport prizes and recipient of the Society of Authors of Great Britain’s Cholmondeley Award, his most recent books are the collections To the War Poets (Carcanet, 2013) and Knot (Worple, 2013), the anthology Accompanied Voices: Poets on Composers from Thomas Tallis to Arvo Pärt (Boydell, 2015) and a new edition of Edmund Blunden’s First World War memoir, Undertones of War (Oxford University Press, 2015). A collaboration with Penelope Shuttle, Heath, appears in 2016. JOHN GREENING is RLF Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge.