Poem introduction

I’m rather ghoulishly fond of churchyards and gravestones because you find great stories there. This particular headstone is in the Roman fort of Arbeia, which is a fort near Hadrian’s Wall, though not actually on it, in South Shields near Newcastle

Regina

Regina

Arbeia: ‘fort of the Arab troops’

Cold is what they will notice
first, this company,

Syrians from the Tigris,
landed on the Tyne.

The commander will take
one look, fish out his cloak

and have a new house built,
underfloor heating throughout.

His troops, every chance, will haunt
the baths, lap up

steam, swap memories
of warm summer nights.

Barates of Palmyra,
finding his bed cold,

will buy a woman
of the Cattivellauni,

free her, marry her,
name her Regina.

She'll hold to the light
the brooch he bought her,

listen, smiling,
to his tales of deserts,

fig trees, shaded gardens.
When, aged thirty

for ever, she is figured
in stone, the east wind

and the river mist
will chill Barates

less than his suddenly
ungoverned house.


from Long-Haul Travellers (Seren, 2008), © Sheenagh Pugh 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher

Books by Sheenagh Pugh