Cemetery at Bavelincourt
On one side are the graves of people
who’ve lived here all their lives, such as
Pierre Dubois et sa femme Marie.
On the other are the headstones
for soldiers who’ve been dead here far
longer than they were alive elsewhere:
Lewis Crawshaw, Ian Fell, Albert Olds.
A rush of lapwings makes me turn
and when I look back a man’s heaving
himself out of the ground, one hand on
either side of the grave. He gets to his
feet, brushes the earth off his uniform,
then wanders over to the hedge.
He blows cigarette smoke into thin air.
When he looks in my direction I can
tell he doesn’t see me or beyond me
to those bales wrapped in plastic or our car
outside the gate. And now he’s walking
down each row of headstones looking
for names he knows, for riflemen in
the same regiment. Sometimes
he bends closer and once he smiles.
He pushes his cap to the back of his
head and checks his watch. Now
he’s making his way to his grave
in Row D. He spends the little time
he has left buffing up two brass buttons
with his cuff. He admires how they gleam
in the weak sun before he settles down.
Yesterday, in a restaurant in Yarmouth
full of Sinatra, moussaka, battered cod
and Retsina tasting better than I recalled
and both of us wondering what might happen
you quietly laid down your knife and fork
and said that when you saw me in the circus scene
of The Bartered Bride at school,
I cartwheeled into your heart.
This softened me and made me see you
differently, and now, less than a day later,
I’m remembering the music, my turquoise tutu,
the hot spotlights, and I want to do it all again
– stand on my head, walk on my hands,
be swung round by my wrist and ankle,
then somersault and land beside you
on my fourteen year old feet, out of breath.
Tessa West has written four novels, all set in East Anglia. She worked in prisons for many years, first in education departments, and then as an assistant governor. She has published three short collections of poetry: The Other Vikings, Maps and Poems and, most recently, The Lewis Chessmen, A Narrative Poem. She lives with her partner in Suffolk and is now working on her second biography.