Clifford Forde was born in England. He grew up in Co. Cork by his grandparents. Now he lives in London. Several of his poems were published throughout the 90s in anthologies of new poets: New Prospects, PHRAS National Poetry Foundation, Quartos. The New Writer. He won third prize in London Writers Competition in 1993. Clifford Forde is the winner of BBC Radio 3 Poetry Prom Competition 2011. He published recently in The Interpreters House, South, Sentinel Literary Quarterly, South Bank Poetry.
Having a go on the bicycle first time
we lined up on the snow-slipped road,
the banks on either side blinding white.
Blue knuckles on the handlebars, the air still,
and no brakes – only the wall below at the Turn,
concealed in last night’s vast feathering.
Fear caught in my throat like a parched ache
as I strode the knock-askewed saddle.
All hands to ferret me into position, steadying,
before the collective trust to gravity.
Then they pushed me off – free wheeling at first,
the whiskery rush of spokes in the dry air
and my feet lambasting the sides,
still scrabbling for mastery of the fat pedals
as I hit the Turn sideways with a gasp.
Looking back up the road at the scatter of figures,
they seemed to me further off than I knew.
Their choice and mine this diversion – and pain.
I picked up the bike and walked up the slope
that I would not ride down again.
Coming up for singing we called it:
boys and girls waiting our turn
lined up on chairs in rows.
Ballads and popular songs –
off by heart and from the heart.
The proud one hogging attention
and the torch swung askew
by me – to undercut the light for his
Silvery Moon song: my rival brother in
and out of doors. My own melody running
on into the future of Far Away Places –
far from the cottage songs of home.
And soon already grown, suitcase
prepared – a cheap brown cardboard
boxy thing above me on the rack –
and in my pocket a 10 shilling note
with the scribble of a London address
as I settle into stiffened clothes
with trousers pressed and pencil-creased,
attending that rumbling cacophony –
the grinding strains of iron and steel,
the chuff and puff of shunting out.
Then on and on the train, the train …
But now we gather here lined up in pews
join in a chorus of goodbye hymns
not singly this time but all in unison
trying our best to keep in tune,
then rising and dipping to the Service,
with the earnest droning of the Priest
urging us on to a solemn close,
and to those handclasps for the loss we share,
and for the ones that are not there –
our ghostly other selves:
the selves of almost 60 years ago.