Images in Winter cover

From Images in Winter


It was one of those days in a dull provincial town,
one of those half-days when everyone has gone home,
and the shops are shut and their owners
are playing golf, or watering their gardens,
or climbing the stairs for the last time.
One of those half-days in an empty town
when you really are the only person around
and police-cars follow you like eagles’ shadows;
the shop windows stand as testaments to solemnity,
like tombstones in a graveyard
and the next bus doesn’t leave for an hour.
That was the day I found the joke shop,
I hadn’t seen one for years,
there was the itching powder, the stink-bombs,
enemies of pomposity, and something new, a dancer –
how he danced! Round and round on a made-up merry-go-round,
or was he skating? I can’t remember. But how the people clapped!
I thought it would last forever. And then the joke – the dancer falls …
It was one of those days at a country bus stop,
when you gather your thoughts around you,
your life-time’s thoughts, like the strands
of an old sea-woman’s shawl,
and you realise your thoughts are tawdry,
and your Life’s ambitions unfulfilled.
It was one of those years at a country bus stop
when you are standing still,
and you see your own reflection in a passing car’s window
hurry away, in the rain, in the sun.


From my classroom window I can see a scrap yard
where the cars are piled on top of each other
like souls in purgatory,
they are the disassembling dreams of panel-beaters.
Only a broken fence and a gate hanging
on the gibbet of a single hinge
separate them from their landscape
of broken, churned up grass
where gypsies’ horses and iron wheels
walked yesterday.
Then there are the shacks where the dogs are tethered,
barking and crazy all day,
and an enclosure for hens
where the birds run senseless in the pelting rain,
and skirting it all
the dull backs of terraced houses
with their broken chimney cowls and bins,
and the rain, the incessant rain, beating like a timpany
on the roofs of the cars and splashing like acupuncture
in the puddled field.
And there is a man’s pigeon loft:
I think he is a magician,
For every morning as he walks on this sea of wreckage,
the rain stops, the grass seems to stiffen, the rooftops glisten,
and even the cars take on that frozen intensity
of Still Life After Rain.
The man lifts his arm,
the sun rises,
the loft door opens
and a hundred swirling, tumbling acrobats cascade
and dance
in the dismal air.
And other birds squawk and cry and reel, magpies,
seagulls far from the coast, attracted by the water,
and build around the column of the sun.
The man lowers his arm
and bows to me.
The children stare at him –
they can see that he has changed a landscape
which their teacher thought was ugly,
into the trappings of music and the movement of wings.

The Rooks’ Song

I’ve bought a house in Ripponden
I’ve asked the sun to shine
I’ve asked the splashing waterfall
To bring me what is mine
I’ve asked the people in the town
To make a song for me
“We don’t want you here, my lad,”
Is what they sang to me.
“Our sons are dead on Belfast streets”
Is what they sang to me,
Go write your songs high on that hill
And talk to willow trees.
The rooks build high upon the ash
Their wings are darkly spread
I hear their song to no tune’s notes,
“All our sons are dead.”


Part one

Winter’s death-mask on the ground has broken,
The earth begins to breathe,
flowers open like eyelids in the fields
and round the trees snow-drops cluster
Like children round a storyteller.
The earth’s mouth sighs
And valleys turn their faces high
into the mist and sun.
The rain that nailed the death-mask down
is soft and grey and comes into my valley now
like the cloak of a prince to end a fairy-tale.
A story has been written
in the language of the sky.

Part two

On the Rochdale road in silence
winter holds its funeral;
even this morning the mist had snow in it,
it covers the hedges and the dry stone walls in patches,
like gypsies washing,
or like frills on a widow’s table,
while across the moors
the old slushed body of winter
slowly decomposes into Lancashire.
The hill-sheep eat its guts
and slowly walk and drink its white remains,
the crows come to mock it.
There is no requiem.

Part three

In Baitings reservoir the great ice-floes sink
like whales into a mystery
and for an an hour the water becomes the Atlantic,
battering at the edges of a sea-board.
Then the sun is on every wave like frog-spawn,
the water laps, begins to summer,
and like an old dog’s tongue
gasps, against the edges of the dam.
Winter is done.

Part four

The oak, the elm, the sycamore (that dizzy lover!)
put their adverts out, “Rooms to Let – short lease”
and the  musicians and the starling poets all move in,
blackbirds, thrushes, yellow-hammers, songsters all!
The season begins

And in Riley’s tea-shop comers-in
look out the window, not having read the story.

Part five

In the houses
coats are hung in the corner for a year,
winter is done.

Part six

The village girls have used the hearth light and the village nights
to turn themselves, like grubs, into something beautiful,
they walk like ladies past the post office
and later go dancing.
The boys have spent their winter wage on motor-bikes,
they speed to Scammonden and back
to the phone-box outside the Golden Lion
where I ring home to make sure no-one’s dead.
By half-past-nine the streets have become a glistening echo
of footsteps and pub doors closing:
high on the hills my own footsteps are echoed by dogs barking,
each sound is so staccato, separate, like an ikon,
flattened from the night,
in step, in tune –
winter is dead, another day is about to die
and the vivid, searching hills have found the moon.

©Shaun Traynor