Cold Spell

Back from the grave my mother chills the air
as she used to. “It wasn’t like that at all,” she says,
speaking from a frosted pane on the stairs.

She shakes herself into her shape – quite
a feat after nineteen years under ground:
“You know I did my best for you, despite

the sacrifices – which I gladly made,”
almost as if now dead she spoke her mind,
who in this life left much she meant unsaid.

My childhood passed as if she wasn’t there.
What I remember most was her blank face
turned to the window, empty as the air.

There are many things I am tempted to say
like: “Yes, but you always lied” or “You never asked
what I thought and wouldn’t listen anyway”,

but I half believe the claim because I know
how tenderly I felt at first for her flesh
that winter underneath its ice tattoo.

But now it is the season of stone-hard ground
and she is back again in modern dress,
a new lilt to her voice, more refined.

“Give me what I never had,” I say, and love’s
blast furnace barbecues my face. It’s still
not what I want but I can’t get enough

and slam out to the cold night, leaving you
your angry tears, to gulp the icy air
and breathe the distance as I used to do.

by Julian Turner

from Orphan Sites
Anvil, 2006
Copyright © Julian Turner 2006

This must have been a hard poem to write from the personal point of view, but it is done without over-dramatization and with not only great power but understanding and restrained feeling. Turner’s technical skill quietly reinforces what’s going on in the poem: you hardly notice them, but both the rhymes and the way that colloquial rhythms play against the metre are finely handled. It isn’t one of Julian Turner’s funnier poems, for sure (read the books for those), but it’s a compelling poem.

Julian Turner was born in Cheadle Hulme, near Manchester in 1955. He lives in Otley, West Yorkshire, and works for the mental health charity Mind. His first collection Crossing the Outskirts appeared in 2002 and Orphan Sites, his second, came out in 2006.

Anvil Press Poetry was founded in 1968 and publishes English-language poetry and poetry in translation, both classic and modern.