3 poems by Victor Tapner


Emmeline Pankhurst 1858-1928; Adela Pankhurst Walsh 1885-1961

I taught you how to walk
in step,
your school-bag full of fireworks,

gold stars for misbehaviour.
Playground balls
became bricks through windows,

museums and galleries
closed their doors.
Our art was protest,

statues maimed,
an old master tarred.
Patience wasn’t a virtue

in our house, walls hung
with newspaper cuttings,
photos of faces

trapped behind railings,
truncheons ready to strike.
We were a family

handcuffed by headlines.
In reeking cells
we starved for the right

to put a cross in a box,
watching our friends
force fed

or gagged with threats.
What a clever girl you were
to flee the field

when the guns were primed,
observing the battle
from your hilltop.

I gave you a traitor’s ticket
and stood at the quayside
to see you off,

but when you waved from the rail
our goodbyes were drowned
in the noise of the crowd.

Time by Shadows

Nikolaus Kratzer, astronomer and clockmaker to Henry VIII

A finch on the grass
pecks a fallen apple,

ants in a hollow
strip a crippled bee,

a spider wraps a moth
too weak to leave the ground,

the orchard is fraying.
A sundial on the terrace

takes another heartbeat
from the afternoon

shewing time by shadows,
not onely the hower of the day

but the change of the moone,
the ebbing and flowing of the sea.

Beneath a rowan tree,
watched by her nurse,

his child sleeps,
the seconds of her breath

too small to mark in stone.

Age of Enlightenment

   ‘I sighed as a lover, I obeyed as a son’ Edward Gibbon

As I scrambled for my footing
amidst the ruins of the Forum
that autumn evening

I couldn’t help but reflect
how Cicero and Caesar
confronted the gods

in the hope of omens
whenever legions left
for foreign fields.

Surveying Rome’s tombs,
I held a lamp
before a sarcophagus

of blue-veined marble,
a man and woman
exchanging vows,

hands clasped,
her head loose veiled,
a bride’s belt knotted

for him to untie
on their marriage bed.
When I set forth

from Oxford’s cloisters
to honour the sites
of antiquity,

you became a sacrifice
on the altar
of scholarship.

as I laid down my pen
from the last page,

I took a walk
through the gardens

and dwelt on that distant day

at the Capitol
when first I mused
on writing these histories.

I take my leave
as though of a friend
with shared memories.

Victor Tapner’s latest book, Waiting to Tango, is a Templar Poetry Straid Award collection. His first collection, Flatlands (Salt), was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize and won the East Anglian Poetry Book Prize. A chapbook, Banquet in the Hall of Happiness, won the Munster Literature Centre’s international Fool for Poetry competition. His individual poems have also won many accolades, most recently joint runner-up in the 2021 Keats-Shelley awards. He lives in Essex. victortapner.com

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