For Kate Foley
The river twinkles on my right. I’m walking
briskly past a pair of disused shipyards
whose noisy histories have been condensed
to fit on plaques as neat as boiler-plates.
The river’s banks are fidgety with ripples
tilting floating grass this way and that
while little breezes tease the orange poppies.
A launch breathes easy at its midstream mooring.
Beyond, a quarry’s grading drum is munching
mouthfuls, spitting out the coarser morsels
like Hardy’s yokels gnawing gritty bacon.
The sand’s been used to level paving stones
in Wivenhoe; the gravel’s gone as ballast
in empty coal boats back to Newcastle.
A swinging chain against a barrier
beats out a steady bell-tone chime, a kind
of angelus above the chattering
of gangs of taut excited dinghy sheets.
It helps to know the words harmonic motion
if I want to make my poetry
avoid imposing humanising notions
like excited, chattering and gangs.
On the dock a sprocket and a pinion
mesh without considering if fingers
or a butterfly get caught between them.
Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is a semi-retired mathematician who is now poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip. He has published four collections and five chapbooks, the latest of which are, respectively, Poems in the Case (Shoestring 2018) – which combines poetry with a murder mystery – and The Man Who Wasn’t Ever Here (Wayleave 2017) – which speculates about the life of his Irish grandfather. With Nancy Mattson he organises the Poetry in the Crypt reading series in North London.