Poem introduction

A hospital in which Mum was dying was very close to a park she used to take me to as a kid, and there's a big boating lake in the park. A poem called 'Armada':

The Armada

Long long ago
when everything I was told was believable
and the little I knew was less limited than now,
I stretched belly down on the grass beside a pond
and to the far bank launched a child's armada.
A broken fortress of twigs,
the paper-tissue sails of galleons,
the waterlogged branches of submarines -
all came to ruin and were on flame
in that dusk-red pond.
And you, mother, stood behind me,
impatient to be going,
old at twenty-three, alone,
thin overcoat flapping.
How closely the past shadows us.
In a hospital a mile or so from that pond
I kneel beside your bed and, closing my eyes,
reach out across forty years to touch once more
that pond's cool surface,
and it is your cool skin I'm touching;
for as on a pond a child's paper boat
was blown out of reach
by the smallest gust of wind,
so too have you been blown out of reach
by the smallest whisper of death,
and a childhood memory is sharpened,
and the heart burns as that armada burnt,
long, long ago.

from Armada (Flamingo (HarperCollins), 1996), copyright © Brian Patten 1996, used by permission of the author.


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1The Race to Get to Sleep

2Curtains for Gran

3Cousin Lesley's See-through Stomach

4Uncle Ben

5Mr Dahl Supping Soup


7The Lion and the Echo


9The Daft Owl

10Miss Shush

11Someone Stole the...

12Burying the Dog in the Garden

13Mr Ifonly

14A small dragon

15The Nightlight


17The Rose Tattoo

18Geography Lesson

19The Minister for Exams

20Sleep Now

21Little Johnny's Confession

22Come into the city Maud

23Interruption at the opera house

24The Projectionist's Nightmare

25Blake's Purest Daughter

26The right mask

27Into my mirror has walked

28Angel wings

29Sometimes it Happens

30A blade of grass

31The Stolen Orange

32Song for Last Year's Wife

33Simple lyric

34Her Coldness Explained

35meeting again

36The Ambush


38The Armada

39Inessential Things

40How Long is a Man's Life?


Books by Brian Patten