Jackie Wills
Poetry in the countryside

It Started with Ringo

Someone heard he was at home

and we'd be like twitchers with news of a rare bird -

on bikes up and down the lane, ready

for the white Rolls, any movement of the gates.


We wanted to be seen, imagined him studying us

from windows poking above the walls.

A lonely star with only children for company.

He'd invite us in, "swim in my pool,


listen to music, chat with Paul, George

and John," who happened to be visiting.

It went on from there. Collecting addresses

the way we once swapped autographs.


Hidden houses were worth more

than any signature marked on a wrist or flyer.

Houses couldn't be lost, washed off.

We wanted a hello to play back


big as a Western; settled for blackberries

from Clapton's hedge, the postman viewed

through parents' binoculars, an Instamatic

wound on, ready for Collins to appear.


In between we fed squirrels crusts

of peanut butter sandwiches, watched

jays fly screeching over tight fences,

claim for themselves, the tops of trees.



From the ridge you can see two ponds,

twins but only in name. The little one's

more hidden, occupied by moorhens;

in summer, boys who strip off

and wade across for a dare. My father walks

clockwise, close to the water, then back

onto sandy footpaths, hard and grey.

Eyes upwards, he watches a flock

circling the pond, as if it's an airshow.

He's with them; sharing the instinct of flight

learned from decades building planes

but never understanding the need to leave.



At weekends, or when evenings last

my mother puts us in the old grey Rover

with the dog and drives to Hankley.

In the pond, by the car park, fishermen

hunch under umbrellas big as tents,

nets slouched in the shallows, and summon


pike big enough to take a hand off.

The water never moves. This is the place

in the woods we walk away from


for a view not tinted green, hemmed in

by trees which press insects between a skin

of dust and overhanging branches.


The pond's too much like home.

On the common we struggle through sand

churned up by trucks. She warns us


to stay out of the heather, where lost flares

and cartridges hide, unexploded. We walk,

and talk more easily than in the house.


The sky opens us up and in summer

it's as if fire cracks in every stem of heather,

bums in the sun on our necks


the prickly heat reddening my mother's hands,

in clumps of beaters, stacked like paddles

waiting for canoes, and a river to carry them.


Then it's gone. Leaving patches of charcoal,

maps of new territories scored into purple;

landmarks which will last a year at most.


There were Daleks here. We know

there are targets where soldiers lie low

on their stomachs and wait, like the pike. 



We're on the last hymn

Sister Alexander centre stage

other nuns huddled by the wings

when Mrs Skinner switches

to the Monty Python theme,

her no-nonsense piano

signalling assembly's over.

Deirdre starts tapping her feet,

nodding like she's concentrating

on the lead into a solo.

Cathy whispers, "She's been up

all night at the Blue Note."

One of the twins nudges

Deirdre out of Mrs Anscombe's

line of sight and four of them close

in, Cathy, Rebecca, Angela, Hilary,

surrounding her the way a herd

of wildebeest protects its calves;

push her to the toilets

where they splash her face,

call her name, urge her - "Double

maths, Deirdre, double maths."