Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: Baldwin Road By Cliff Yates

Baldwin Road

Patches of melting snow on the sodden lawn
the other side of the coal bunker we built and demolished.
Horses shiver in the field. Dad cycles up the hill
on his way to work, haversack on his shoulder,
beret pulled low. It’s his last day.
Next door but one, the John Denver lookalike
is burying something in the garden, watched
by his new dog, ears back, tail moving.

Jack sweeps his drive, sweeps up the years,
gathers them in a bucket, leaves
them by the streetlight that’s still on.
Condensation. A noise
from the chimney. The photographs
on the mantelpiece pull themselves together.

Cliff Yates’ fine, understated sonnet reads like a series of stage directions for the opening scene of a play. Subtle, yet suggestive, the reader is drip-fed the detail of a domestic quotidian whose substance will be revealed in layers, and by inference. As simply and beautifully rendered as a late Beatles ballad, the narrator’s tone is studied but invested with a meaning beyond the distilled and prosaic nature of the language.

As the day unfolds, the years also coalesce, as though memory might be inveigled into the furniture of the present, as though experience and purpose were somehow wrapped into the singularity of an otherwise unremarkable morning. We learn in the humdrum momentum of the opening octave, of the passage of time, of redundancy or retirement, and of the clap-cold of darker suggestion delivered in the ironic ear-to-ear rictus of a John Denver smile.

The sense of something buried – maybe guilt, maybe foreboding - returns in the closing sestet like noises-off in a theatre, culminating in final images which disturb as effectively as ghosts scratching at windows.

‘Baldwin Road’ is taken from Cliff Yates : new & selected Poems, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.

More information here