Not Fade Away

In an overgrown cemetery, slipping downhill,

an impossibly steep hill, held in place

by a low wall, the views of the canal

running its clogged-up artery through the village.

I walk through darkness even though

it is mid-afternoon. The stumpy trees

cling to each other, the graves slant

awkwardly like drunks. Here, nothing

speaks or creaks or rustles. It is like

being in a silent film, black/white,

distorted by the dark green light

that comes from I can’t tell where.

The only angel is sad-faced with scarred

limbs, looking down as if heaven were mud

at her feet. She is petrified, her head bowed,

her hands wrung stonily together in prayer

as if god had promised her the earth, pretending

that this included the leaving of it. Sick,


that sharp sting that brings me face to face

with you, as if my veins briefly brought us back

to life, back to memory which was not how

it was supposed to be. The trees are closer

than ever as if they had grown for a century

and never been pruned back. Have we been

sleeping for one hundred years?  Faces float

like moons: Mae Marsh, the girl with the bee stung lips,

bee sting, gentle bee sting, blonde, beautiful, bee stung.

Now the afternoon light is a shining halo of blonde

then as the sun slips down the chorus line,

Clara Bow, flaming youth personified,

all auburn hair and scarlet smile bursts out

dancing her frantic Charleston.


Night, and we are alone. I touch her chipped neck,

her verdigris eyelids, her weatherbeaten hands,

her broken wings, wings of marble. She

can barely tolerate their weight. I

almost think she will speak to me for

I have shown her kindness, but her lips

are closed forever and underneath the stiff,

white shift, her heart is broken.

The gates of what could have been

a low budget heaven are rusted shut,

browning flowers entwined and crumbling.

The script is torn and scattered, The stars are dead.

I feel a rush of rain, then nothing. My eyelids

are far too heavy to open. My back is bowed

and my hands won’t move. My face

is an ugly, cracked blankness.

from Not in this World (Bloodaxe, 2015), © Tracey Herd 2015, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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