When the Americans Came by William Bedford

today's poem vertical

USAF Hemswell: North Lincolnshire 1962

When the Americans came,
they didn’t take to our gardens:
the apple orchard smelling of wild garlic,
foxgloves growing among the runner beans.

‘Do you have vampires around here?’
a visitor from Carolina asked me.
It was a shambles, Wilfred knew that,
nodding wisely as though apologising

for the ill manners of King George,
the clematis purple in the thatched roofing.
But come the softe sonne,
there are oxlips in Fry’s woods,

forget-me-nots in the shallow stream,
lettuce and spring onions for a salad.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat*

I tried to tell them. But they weren’t women,
and didn’t care to listen to a boy.
They preferred the red rosehips
we used for making wine.

Danced outside the village church
round the maypole Jack Parnham made.
Now they’re gone,
the wild garlic has returned.

*W.B.Yeats, ‘A Prayer for my Daughter.’


William’s poetry, short stories and essays have appeared in over a hundred magazines worldwide. His Collecting Bottle Tops: Selected Poetry 1960-2008 was published in 2009. His selected short stories and non-fiction, None of the Cadillacs Was Pink, was also published in 2009. He was on the Editorial Board of Poetry Salzburg Review from 2007 to 2016, and was Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Oxford Brookes University from 2008 to 2011.

Recent collections include The Fen Dancing and The Bread Horse.

2 thoughts on “When the Americans Came by William Bedford”

  1. Really enjoyed reading this poem with its mixture of chaos and calm – I could almost feel the atmosphere. Love the dispersion of language and cultures which comes through – the ‘soft sonne’ and particularly the quote from Yeats (thanks for pointing me to reading it all again), compared to the ‘vampires’ etc. and the suggestive ‘red rosehips’. I so enjoyed its sense of upheaval and questions, and then the return to the calm and unmistakable smell of wild garlic in an apple orchard. The change of tense in the last two lines works well because it leaves so much of the poem open. Thanks for this.

  2. I enjoyed this poem very much – it’s full of life, carefully crafted, with the contrast between the quiet tone of the speaker and the more boisterous people (of another culture) he tells us about. Love the use of the wild garlic and Yeats quote. And the specifics of time and place also show how individuals play roles in the bigger picture of politics. After reading your poem, I went to Wikipedia and read a bit about the role that the base played in the Cold War. You’ve shown me how effectively history can be used in a poem. Thanks!

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