from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 29 July 2013

'The Perfect Tense' (poem)

In the summer of 2004 I found myself brokenhearted after a brief but beautiful and profound love affair. I needed a change of scene, and to do something completely different, and creative. On impulse I applied for a six-month residency at Sherborne Boys' School, in Dorset.

You have to understand that my politics are oriented to State education; and a private right-wing leaning all-boys school might not have seemed the obvious direction to take. I was deeply ambivalent, to put it mildly, about becoming part, even temporarily, of the public-school system.

I was interviewed by the Second Master, and the Head of English, both of whom were utterly charming, widely intelligent, interesting and engaging as well as socially-engaged men (I have to admit to having been party to certain stereotyping prejudices about the politics of teachers at English public schools). I was won over already.

My fate was sealed when I mentioned that I had dogs in the car, and the Head of English offered to show me the ancient holloway which formed part of the school's cross-country course where I could give the dogs a run. I fell in love with the landscape, and HoE and I talked non-stop of poetry. I realised with some chagrin that I then had to be presented to the Master; by that time I was muddy from head to toe, and the interview was to take place in the beautiful clean silent mediaeval library. The Head looked me up and down, smiled, and said 'You'll fit the bill. Your brief will be to introduce creativity into every aspect of the curriculum, in whatever way you see fit.'

And they found for me a wonderful little dog-friendly cottage with a walled garden in a small and utterly unspoilt village where, as it happens, the writer Thomas Hardy spent some time, writing it into his books, as his grandparents lived there.

That turned out to be one of the most rewarding and happy six-month periods of my life. In addition to working with creatuve writing in every department (which included posting electronic poems between the cadet-force and rugby fixtures on the digital displayboards around the place) I completed two books.

There's much to say about it all, but here that's merely an intro to this poem, which I wrote driving back from my interview (I pulled over into a layby maybe half a dozen times to jot this in fragments):

The Perfect Tense

Those young faces, smooth, unknown; their perfect limbs and white

                                                                                    whites of eyes -

            the way the world - here at least in England -

has not made holes in them; barely skims their shoulders,

barely pressing. No edges

                                    to host shadows.

            I think of my daughter, her face

unnavigated by more than a couple of decades. She is

            a windflower in a dusky wood.

                        Impossible to imagine that these collections of atoms

            could have so come together; will one day drift apart. Impossible

to want to imagine.

    Our children: they do not know how smooth their flesh is; are not aware

that the perfect tense is

                        here   now   always;

            and how easily it’s unmade.

Life, be unbruising; lend them lightness to outweigh

the shadows, lend them

            the perpetual motion of hope.


Late afternoon: wind seizes the trees with a madness; the puppy

            skips after fat leaves of hazel, oak, chestnut.

                        Clouds piled like grubby pillows in a laundry.

                        Later, back home in the field, on a flat stone

a little posse of glow-worms wait for the darkness to step by

            and light them up.

Across the hedges Shetland mares stand with their new young folded into creases

            among timothy grass            and buttercups.

                        Moths graze the air.

Now, dusk is slipstreaming calm

                                                and Venus

pokes through from the other world.


‘I don’t fear death,’ said Peter today,

            ‘only the dying.’

I am now, I realise, one of the initiates who know

             the truth: that death is an inescapable promise;

                                    a truth that will overtake me, too.

The light through water,

                                    under the cloud canopy,

is beautiful now, and frail -

                        it says it will not last;

and it promises, while it does, that it will loose something

in us

to wander towards the horizon

                        and go on wandering.

If you tune everything else out the silence you hear is the white noise

            of the singing spheres: the voice of the universe.

                        You can never get to its edge

                                    and yet

you could fit millions of universes on the already-crowded head

            of that pin, with all those minute-particle-angels.

            Come back, Giordano Bruno; they wouldn’t burn you

now. Your heresies are old-hat orthodoxy.

                                    The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way

                        our umbilicus. Is it

             a consolation

that the stuff of which we’re made is star-stuff too?

                        That wherever you go you can never totally disappear -

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

            Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.


The year

                        falls away from the zenith

            and the rowanberries are rouging up.

The hands tick round.

What will I salvage of this calendar?

            The throwing-away process has begun.

                        Between now and Allhallows falls the equinox:

the opposites poised in perfect creative tension

before the tumble into darkness.


            November 1, a new beginning for me

and the Celtic New Year.

            Remaking my life.



Now, dusk; all the available light -

            yellow, cyan, magenta -

inhaled and re-emitted by cranesbill, loosestrife, muskmallow.

My hand, making these words.


 © Roselle Angwin, in Looking For Icarus, 2005


  1. Roselee,

    I've arrived here from Ian Hill's blog, and I must admit, I've fallen in love with this post and will shortly be off to discover whatever else you have here. I teach high school English, which is to say, I'm daily at the feet of creativity, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I have added you to my RSS feed. Best wishes, and I look forward to your next post.

  2. Emily, hello and welcome! And thank you. Hope you find posts to enjoy here, and that chime with your own life and work.


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