Poem introduction

This poem is based on our family metal-finishing business, where I worked for 23 years. It was one of those small enterprises which sound so glamorous, but are really just hard work. Every three months I had to do the VAT. This took a long time, and always ended with a large bill. So this poem is dedicated, without love, to HM Revenue and Customs.


These are not (you understand) the figures
which send cold judgement into the backbone
which leave us, workless, shrunk at home
staring in a sky grown black with leaves.
These are like the ticking of a clock,
the daily sums, a van’s new brakes,
three drums of trichloroethylene on the back
of a thrumming lorry; yet they take
a day to make: thin bars of figures.  While
I try to balance them, light scurries round
like a glad squirrel.  Radio music stales –
until shut off.
                        What’s left when it is done,
the green book closed?  There is no sea to swim
no mouth to kiss.  Even the light is gone.
Bookkeepers drink over-sugared tea
lie in dark rooms; are always hunched and tired.
Where I stretch up the low bulb burns and whirls.
And in it, I see him.  The dusky gold wing folds
across his face.  The feathers’ sharp tips smudge
his margins.
Sunk, in his own shadows, deep
in scattered ledgers of our petty sins:
he, the tireless angel:
Unaccountably, he sleeps.

from Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1991), © Alison Brackenbury 1991, used by permission of the author and the publisher


Alison Brackenbury

Alison Brackenbury Reading from her Poems



3On The Aerial

4At The Beginning


6After the X-ray

7At Eighty

8Dickens - A Daydream

9In The Black Country



12Rented Rooms

13The Beanfields Scent


15The Spring at Chedworth

16Edward Thomas’ Daughter

17Xerxes, an Opera

18Yesterday Vivaldi visited me, and sold me some very expensive concerto’s



21After Beethoven



24The Nymph Considers the Garden

25The Trent Rises, 1947


27On the Move


29The House

30Apple Country

31Robert Brackenbury

32High Notes

33Hill Mist


35Christmas Roses

36December 25th, 12 noon

37Bath Cubes

38The Blue Door

39At Needlehole




43Wilfred Owen at the Advanced Horse Transport Depot, 1917

44On The Boards

Books by Alison Brackenbury