The Visitor's Book

The Visitor’s Book

Penniless Press Publications
August 2014
Paperback 6″ x 9″ 65 pages
£5.99
ISBN 978-1-291-96018-1

Purchase: Please click here

Mark Ward’s debut collection Thunder Alley was a semi-autobiographical account of the diversity and divisions within his hometown of Blackburn. The Visitor’s Book expands on this theme, exploring the relationship between people and their environment. It collates and chronicles the overlooked, the ordinary and the remarkable: the things that pass and those that endure, into a rich seam of narrative poems. “Vivid, sharp, memorable observations of the places that have touched Ward’s eye and heart; the tone is characteristic of the man; poems worth reading!”
Jack Mapanje

Hellefield

Rarely seen rain like it!
Torrential: vertical.
Great globules, hurtling past
my window at high velocity:
shattering – dispersing in the road.

In its aftermath, a lull: silence,
the stillness after violence.

The air fills with the noise of water.
Accentuated by the high fells,
it carries the torn leaves with the dust and grime
of the last days of summer, through the culverts
and gullies to the barred jaws of the iron drains.

The meadow opposite is sodden and pale,
except for a small patch – richer, more verdant,
where last year’s stillborn lamb
had rotted in the corner of the field.
And I find myself going back –- to the
tree-lined road to Hellefield.
The saplings have taken well, along
the ridges and slopes of the high embankments;
the bulldozed bulwarks that once concealed
the foot and mouth depot from the road.

Hellefield: burial ground of the slaughtered Danes.
Appropriated by the ministry for its despatch units.

Blood and bone: bone and ash.
It always comes down to this.

From my window the sky turns pallid,
as a grey drizzle enters the vale: its greyness
permeates the landscape,
and everything of beauty is made dull by it.

We were redirected through a neighbouring town
the night they set his cows on fire.
But they couldn’t redirect the smoke.
Iron grey: sweet, nauseous; it drifted far into the evening.
I saw him later that night on the telly:
slumped on the fence like a beaten fighter.
He’d been that way since the final ‘pop’ of the bolt-gun.

Blood and bone: bone and ash.
It always comes down to this.

The squall returns, gusting, though
with less intensity: pellets of rain
bounce off the window: raindrops falling from
the overflowing gutter, splatter on the sill.

It continued throughout the summer.
Each day the bright red trucks – the carcass bearers,
would leave Hellefield for the farms, the pits, the pyres.
Returning each evening to swill out and disinfect.
The land, un-grazed, turned to wilderness.The visitors didn’t come: the vacancy signs stayed up.
The screw tightened.

The sky outside begins to brighten,
from mercury to silver then pale translucent blue;
delicate, fragile, reassuring.
Sheep resemble cotton grass on the high fells.
Cattle lounge in the low pasture.
Everything is so much clearer now.

There’s a disused airfield to the north of here,
where the grass grows rich and verdant.
Beneath its surface, the matted hair and skeletal
remains of half a million sheep and cattle;
in each skull an identical hole, a finger’s width.

Blood and bone: bone and ash.

El Greco

The meals they couldn’t sell usually
ended up on the ‘specials’ board:
from there – the soup.
The seats were tilted forward
so you didn’t linger too long
after your dinner,
and the fruit machine
paid in tokens that could
only be used on the premises.
Yet minor inconveniences aside,
for the price of a cup of tea
there was no better place to hang out.
A meeting place at the end
of the precinct: a forum.
Dates arranged, disputes resolved,
shopping lists ticked off.
People coursed through its aisles,
eddying round prams and trolleys,
crossing junctions in rows of Formica tables.
You could meet a girl; or maybe pick
up a bargain from Fred the Bag
on his round of the pubs and cafes.
It was here I experimented with a purifying
tablet in a vinegar bottle, and was amazed
to see it turn clear as water.

Clear as the memory of how one day
the collective consciousness that
gravitates us towards a particular place,
waived; and I never went back.

Stamp Collecting

I was never an enthusiast as such.
Couldn’t get excited over first day covers.
As an anodyne to rainy days and boredom,
I took up stamp collecting with my brother.
Chiefs, presidents, and fierce braided generals:
girls with garlands; palm trees by the sea.
A world within a 20p assortment
of used stamps from the former colonies.

Jamaica, Honduras, St Helena:
The Christmas Isles; New Zealand, Tanzania.
Exotic names – we’d board our ship in Blackburn,
embark – and moments later we’d be there.

Saw an Empire where the sun never set.
Returned as it descended on the West.

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