Peter Allmond was born to RAF parents in 1946. He spent 6 summers as a boy on a small Cornish crabbing boat. He trained and then worked as an actor for 5 years. He subsequently worked as an auxiliary nurse in general and psychiatric hospitals, a plumber’s mate and various market stalls before spending the last 25 years of his working life with the university library of Oxford, the Bodleian. He retired to the village of Charlbury in Oxfordshire and began walking the countryside again, and to write poetry, largely inspired by reading Seamus Heaney.
My father setting it up, split cane,
two pieces simply slotted,
with rings he sighted down like a gun
for a straight run of line from an old Mitchell,
fixed spool, threaded through to the hook,
bread flake pinched on and wrist flicked out
beneath a quill float into a pool
of mist and water, perfectly weighted
and slowly settling to a fingertip, just showing.
All I had to do was take the rod and wait
for the universe to drift and dip, then lift when it did.
I walked my local stretch of river today,
and where it forks away
from the main flow, down a lasher
green with the kind of silkweed he taught me
to drag a hook across for roach,
I watched the water curve to the narrow point,
falling through to a memory pool
and the first tench I’d ever seen, not weighed,
but a good five pounds, and female,
look at the underfin my father said, olive-green
and gold, tail like a spade, gasping in air
not long after the war, Bomber Command,
all the big ones, Lancasters, two tours,
beer and the quickstep, concentrated love between raids,
then I arrived and thought he’d won it on his own,
watching him kneel at the water’s edge with the golden fish …
… and looking back down a wider lens
at the way he must have held her, and deeper than blood
the space between his hands when he’d let her go.
No wife or son, awkward on land
and unremarkable, except with her,
as if she’d always been waiting,
imagined first, then slowly, beautifully built
to share his daily sea without fuss.
And he never prayed to any god
as far as I could tell,
just held his own breath beneath the cliffs
and drift of gulls for the sudden take,
the pollock line’s tight, deep run
tied to his father’s blood
and tobacco rope stretched against his thumb
for the same blind knife cut
through to a touch of skin. Dark spit
with the catching tide, dark boat
in the early hours dipping him down
to a lost sea blue shine of lobster,
knife nicking its fighting claw at the wrist
and lifting it up for me to see,
the way a father might show his son
his whole life, the old sea,
the slow, rhythmic haul from the deep unseen
before he was, and now he’s gone
the village tightens to rock, to a small, coffined boat
shouldered from a granite church
and eased down by rope, settling alongside
Billing, Pascoe, Liddicote …
for Lindsey, d.1953.
Twin bird, cruciform on rock,
raven black against sea and sky in silhouette,
no shadow in bright sun,
hung at the perfect point of balance
over supplicant wings, sea skimmed flight
drawn in to stillness, deeper water, splintered light.
I have lost your face,
my eyes these days all upswell and back out
from the memory cave
with things as they are in the hollowed dark,
in the heart glance over the shoulder
where I night prayed you safe and sound
when I was a child, when I closed my eyes
and found the miracle place
where Jesus spat and the clay bird flew,
and how the swallow cuts through the risen day,
feeding on the wing, a touch of blood
above the healing hill finding a way back in.
The arch is a perfect circle, the waters mirror still,
a leaf boat sails on the sky’s breath,
a kingfisher whips through
and threads the river gold and blue.
In the stippling arch and the bird’s quick wing
when the wind picks up, I still look for you.
Evening. Drop a broken stick
from the old bridge into the missing half of me,
let it carry to the sea. Write your name
on a spinning stone, skim it through sixty missing years
as if it could reach you
and you could somehow let me know.
The leaf I caught as it fell
is tinder box dry in my child’s prayer wheel
of spinning shells and stones
found years ago. Spells for nothing lost,
for leaves I missed, rain pinned
to night roads or blown away to dust, up there
with the rusted buzzard’s weightless drift
sky calling something lost, and dark in silhouette
until she drifts across the sun
and the eye blinks her dusted wings to gold.
And breath seems innocent again,
as a boy’s breath at the dandelion moon,
old time told the old way, rings through trees,
calling bells and candle melt.
Or watching you come from the garden
with an alstroemeria broken by wind,
set it in water for my table, and go out again,
when nothing stirs in the room, or sounds,
just the day slowing down to the way things are
in the gift of a single stem, telling all the years.
Over the years the iris in our pond
have grown a root ledge for safe water
so I know where she’s been. I watch her preen herself,
her quick head knowing danger works at her wings.
And the silence leaving always leaves behind
I keep in photographs, in the sitting and looking,
when nothing sometimes seems the way of things.
Or sensing the earth is a garden of gaps,
something I missed between flagged stones
carefully laid, where the dust falls
and I believed the sun, what it leaves behind
in a burning sky for the easy heart
in its early evening glass of wine beneath the apple tree.
And in autumn the fall and rake of leaves,
no distant view, just you and small acts of kindness
hung over the daily deepening well,
and wondering where they go, your heart
a brief beating place, mine a cautious fox, watching
the egg shell moon measure out with light
from a fallen gift of sun some sacred lit up space
in the doubting heart, where I see you across the table
in the growing dark, uncluttered, unlocked
inside the autumn leaves of your skin, just out of meaning’s reach.