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This poem is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Five Poems Sophie Hannah

Black River

I asked to return to my original love
but I gave the wrong code and access was denied.
The clocks went back, though by no means far enough.
My white form came up green on the other side.
    It was so long since I had tried
that to do so was both a relief and a source of pride.

I asked to return to my original niche.
'My house and furniture at Black River,' I wrote,
Then read it through. It read like a limp pastiche.
My white form came out smeared as a ransom note.
    I decided I must devote
more time to the box marked 'Enter witty anecdote'.

I asked to return to my original ground.
'Original,' scoffed the clerk. 'Like there's such a thing.'
I thought his procedures all the more unsound
for being based on a rusty playground swing.
    Above us, a blackbird's wing
made a powerful case for never really bothering.

I asked to return to my original point,
but was that a person, a place or a state of mind?
A man in the queue shouted out, 'Let's split this joint'
so I shared my stash and he left it all behind
    singing, 'We, the undersigned,
don't know.' Then I wandered off, and what should I find?

Well, what I should find (though I cannot say that I did,
since the arrows were keen to point towards something new
and all known rows, whether Savile, Death or Skid,
had become the past, the ephemera and the view)
    is that none of it is true,
and back at the starting line your original love is you.

The Shadow Tree

In the lake, a reflected tree dangles
While its counterpart squats on the land.
Together they look, from some angles,
Like a hand growing out of a hand.
Trunk to trunk, bark to water, they stand.

One is real, that would be the contention,
While the other, illusion or fake,
Is a trick of the light, an invention
Of the skin on the top of the lake.
I am here for the shadow tree's sake

For its unannounced coming and going
(No one plants, no one chops). I would give
Anything for a shadow tree, knowing,
As its branches get caught in the sieve
Of the surface of water and live

For a glance of the moon, moments only,
That the dark fabrication I saw
Was a miracle, not like the lonely
Unexceptional lump on the shore,
Such a stickler for natural law

With its sap, its botanical listing
And its representation at Kew,
Its pedantic disciples, insisting
That one cannot be both false and true.
We are shadow trees; that's what we do.

Where to Look

The leaves that this year brought
Next year won't bring again.
If Autumn has one thought
It is not 'Where?' but 'When?'

Summer is on the ground
Long before Winter's sting.
The loss must be profound
To make us hunt for Spring.

Eyes down, we find it dead:
Red powder at our feet,
But staring straight ahead
We see its green wings beat,

All future and no past,
Baffled as Winter grieves.
Next year, not this or last,
Is where to look for leaves.

First of the Last Chances

I stand back as the Skipton train advances,
having to choose too fast

between the scorn and sympathetic glances
of my supporting cast

all of whom think boarding this train enhances
my odds. I wave it past.

If I don't take the first of the last chances
I will not fear the last.

The Cycle

I cannot stay - I'm not the one deserting -
Or go. You are no longer here to leave.
I can't forgive, not without also hurting,
Forget, or I'll be even more naïve.
I can't confer: I'd feel that I was cheating.
I can't concede a case I've never fought

Or win and not administer a beating.
I cannot settle in or out of court,
Can't give, in case I implicate the taker,
Can't take from everyone with ground to give
And gather acre on untended acre
When I need just a few square feet to live,
Can't end this in a neat or messy way,
I cannot start again. I cannot stay.

This poem is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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