These four poems are after some poems by Patrick Heron (1920-1999).

The Elements

A woman walks through a field of tall, green stalks
and leaves a narrow trail of grass-gap as she goes.
She has reached the trees, and is starting to climb
towards the ridge.  Her miseries are slippery and roll
off her down the slope behind,  but oblivion is not to be
paced out on this earth, not while there is only the usual
muddle under her shoes: of pebble, sand, clay, the different grains.
No room is empty, no: it is divided by
darknesses and light and full of that stuff
we might breathe if we were there, and in which
floats dust, mites, essences of floorboard
and plaster, flakes of skin and hair belonging
to me which you could snuff right in if you
flared your nostrils like that and just inhaled.
A man who eats fire comes to understand monochrome.
He touches dark-haired women, walks the cliff
at night, searches for the gaps left by falling stars
and muddies whatever colours are left.  When you roll
a sunflower towards him or suggest he bites
into that tasty red sun making summer arches
behind the crashed aeroplane, nothing flickers.
So water is geometry, the waves oozing little triangles
and folding like old carpets.  So there?s an earth sea,
made of furrows and cracked clay; a wood sea made
of bark and sticks; a stone sea made of split flint
and light.  But when the river enters my bedroom
complete with little steamer and gangplank I borrow
pools of water, to water the floorboards that bring forth trees.

uncollected poem: Jo Shapcott 2018, used by permission of the author

Jo Shapcott in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.

Featured in the archive