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Keenness

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RIP John Foster (1925-2013) seen here enjoying fiddle music played by his grandson Dan at The Mitre, Shaftesbury, Dorset, in February 2011.

Dad was keen on a fine edge
he detested bluntness.
His tools had to be sharp
whether carving the Sunday joint
turning a wooden bowl
digging a trench for spuds
dead-heading roses
or trimming the hedge.
The smell of roast beef
mingled with the tart aroma
of shorn privet described Sunday.

Dad was as straight as a die
he would never make a diplomat.
Not for him, the turning of a blind eye.
He saw the world in black and white
not a grey, vague in-between
He could not be economical
with the truth.
People were either honest
or dishonest.
Tools were either blunt or sharp.
His keenness lives on.

Richard Foster
June 2018

*A poem for Father’s Day. RIP John Foster (1925-2013)

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Lonely Christmas

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A pre-Raphaelite stained glass window in the chapel at Castle Howard, near York.

“I wish it could be Christmas every day,”
sings the bearded Wizzard in grey
conjuring up a magical rhyme
that gets me every time
the one about doors
and Santa Claus.

Hearing it whisks me back to childhood
watching kids singing with Roy Wood
in fuzzy black and white.
Dad wouldn’t buy a colour TV
despite our selfish plea.
Oblivious to our peer pressure plight,
he deems colour isn’t worth a down
payment in our dull, drab Dorset town.
So we decorate the tree
play Monopoly
argue stroppily
as Mum dresses the turkey.

Years later, facing Christmas alone,
two songs brighten my gloom
making my Yuletide bloom
as I wait to call my kids on the phone:
David Essex chirping A Winter’s Tale
like a Cockney sparrow sheltering from  a gale
and a ventriloquist’s dummy
being all chummy
with Mud entertaining the TV throng
with Lonely This Christmas, a song
destined to echo round retail malls
decked with fake snow and glitter balls.

Now my children have grown and flown
we use Skype, not a phone,
to share festive cheer
and greet the New Year
but those songs still fill my mind
with memories; some good, others unkind.

Richard Foster
November 2017

Would you Adam and Eve it?

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Tryfan, Snowdonia. Photo: trekkingbritain.com

My numb fingers
feel for a hold
on cold hard rock
as a chill wind
whistles through
dark crevices
making my eyes water
distorting vision.
My boots lack grip
on rock worn
smooth by those
that went before me.
My heart thumps
and ribs quiver
I teeter on the brink
as I contort
my tired body
to find a foothold
a temporary haven
from relentless
frightening
gravity.
My left boot slips
creating a sharp
shower of scree.
Petrified and ossified
on the rock face
for what seems an age
I’m shocked into
motion
by an ejaculation
of encouragement
from above.
Fear of failure
forces me upwards.
After a cacophony
of slips and curses
I scramble to the top
to be confronted
by Adam and Eve
two 10ft monoliths
about 4ft apart.
A fellow climber
jumps the gap
without mishap
but I decline
their silent challenge
fearing a fatal slip
pretending to
save my strength
for a tricky descent
of Tryfan.
Off the mountain
I brood about
not making that
final leap
and, 20 years on,
still feel a pang
of regret.

Richard Foster,
November 2017

Lines

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The Millennium Bridge, York; a design inspired by the spokes of a bicycle wheel.

Engineers span
swirling currents
with metal and lights
in a bespoke design
linking a city
shaped by Romans,
Vikings and Normans
and throttled
by cars.
A curved bridge
marks
the Millennium
where an Ouse
ferryman
once plied
his trade
calloused hands
gripping rope
as imperial barges
disgorged
shells and bullets
on the river bank
to judder along
a narrow railway
designed to bolster
the thin red line
sent to police
another line
drawn in blue ink
on an immaculate map
by a buttoned-up
civil servant
oblivious to
the vernacular
that made
foreign places
a home to people
he did not understand
but felt a duty to civilise.
He strained to lift
the white
man’s burden
but was left
looking foolish
when his Savile Row
suit burst
open
at the seams
leaving
threads
frayed
and
cloth
torn
all
awry.

Richard Foster
November 2017

Conked out

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I doze until
an autumn gust
whips me off a tree
on to tarmac
where no
roots can clutch
a prickly green
hedgehog
rolled up
stranded
until a schoolboy
skins and holes me
with a butcher’s skewer
all sharp, metallic
and twisted
I’m left
dangling
until
two of us
line up
like polished
prize fighters
coming up to scratch
there’s a near-miss
“stringsies”
palpable hits
I crack first
knocked off my
knotted perineum
to languish
in lonely defeat
on a death bed
of decaying leaves
while siblings
take root and
unleash the
tree within.

Richard Foster
November 2017

All Shook Up

Elvis
Elvis. Picture: biography.com

White man sings like black man
murmurs fill hoods of the Klan
teens earn parental opprobrium
for rock’n’roll delirium.

Uncle Sam tames the star
with crew cut, sans guitar.
That’s when they castrated him
his feral muse caged and dim.

After Cold War military duty
Elvis never again tastes Tutti Frutti
singing on location by rote
in contrived films that hit a duff note.

Suited and booted in black leather
for a TV Special get-together
he mutates into the King of Pain
in Vegas jumpsuits, oh so vain.

Wealth is amassed by Colonel Parker
as the Memphis Mafia grows darker
until Presley dies on a throne of squalor
leaving the field open to clones that holler.

Richard Foster
October 2017

Bittersweet

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St Rumbold’s, Shaftesbury. Picture: http://www.dorset-churches.org.uk

With her silver curls catching the breeze
and dementia starting to clog her mind
Mum enters the graveyard
at St Rumbold’s where, 50 years ago, she wed.

Ivy crawls over crumbling masonry
obscuring names, some she knew.
On her knees, she tugs at weeds
to reveal decayed letters

spelling the name of a friend
destined to be forever young.
Billy was in my class.
Died of polio
.”

Handkerchief in hand
she wipes away
green moss
from the little boy’s name.

I stand aloof not wanting to encroach
on this tender ritual
that’s suddenly charged
with meaning.

Mum pockets the stained hanky.
I help her up
her left leg weakened
by the disease that took her pal.

Polio to contend with as well as Hitler’s bombs.
This thought lurches me to my own childhood
when Mum using her spittle as polish
rubs my grubby face with a Kleenex

and tames my unruly hair with Brylcreem
as Airfix planes dangle in a bedroom dogfight
before the rickety minibus takes
me to St Rumbold’s for Sunday School

where, huddled in the belfry, we hear how
Christ cured a lame man on the Sabbath.
Later, at big school, I queue patiently
for the sugar cube that came too late for Billy.