Lex Runciman: Three Poems

Feature Poet:

Lex Runciman


July, summer day, last year
of the car ferry to Megler, the wait
short enough—there’ll be room—
bump at the rim’s lip, our place then

kiss to kiss, narrow lane, brake set,
engine thrum, the car deck underfoot
and stairs uneven as we lurch our climb
to open rails clogged with arms,

some in motion, sunglasses turned one way.
And I see now, elsewhere and much later,
an elderly couple hatted, scarved,
April, the overcast pier at Tarbert, in Harris,

Scotland, and as we pull away, they begin,
arm in arm, so one the left hand
and the other the right—they begin waving,
at first a meek, small mime

that goes more vigorous as we go,
as they wane, soon just the two of them,
and I know I am not to look behind me
or side to side or to any upper deck,

rather to keep this parting private,
as is meant, though caught as I am, I too
watch their waving, their figures by then
one agitation, a blur

until a headland comes between us.
That last year before the bridge,
that ferry—with no whistle or shout,
it lurched, stutter-stepped, hull against sand,

slow grind and glide, stop. Motor straining,
off. Sky, gulls, a lapping of water.
An hour or two, so the news travels—
an hour or two and the tide will lift us free.


Say it starts on a sea coast,
basalt stacks, light on that spindrift corona
green, cream, pale blue, pink as wind takes it.

Or the story begins with clay from wet ground dug,
shaped to what a palm can hold, a dull weight
thunk on a platter centered and treadle spun

as fingers and thumbs lift it narrower, taller,
hollowed, round, while the blunt ends of feathers
wait to make pattern in and on that circled body—

not quite its story but a feature of it
and kept by firing, wish, care, and use.
If sun lights the beginning of the story

and the beginning of the story is lost,
where must we go but the year’s full dark,
as wintered birds to reassure themselves

chitter and call, and on Wednesday evenings
far, far elsewhere—across the great pond—
in Winchester’s shuttered, rain-black January,

Wednesdays, 7pm, the novice cathedral bell-ringers
in repetitive practice make startling, unlikely,
collective, bright, over-chiming imperfections—

they practice for summer’s dazzle of weddings,
they practice happiness.


Be as David Hockney’s blue barn roof
painted just at that moment it appears
ready to lift off its own red walls,
under a beechy grove its own tangled rising,
branch and stem wide curvature under sky—
and so for a few days the rowed field
colors stalk-green and bloom-yellow
or red or veined yellow-and-red
as bulbs decide and the eye declares.
So let all buttons love their blouses and shirts,
and may the personal health
of the small band of everyone you know
improve, continue, good work all day
and come good company home.

Lex Runciman has published six books of poems, including most recently Salt Moons: Poems 1981-2016 from Salmon Poetry (Ireland).  An earlier volume, The Admirations, won the Oregon Book Award. His work has been featured on Verse Daily and in various anthologies, including From Here We Speak, Spectrum 40, CutBank 40, and Alive at the Center. Individual poems have received the Kenneth O. Hanson Award and the Silcox Prize, and have appeared in such magazines as Ploughshares, Southern Review, New England Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Gettysburg Review, Crannog (Ireland), and Stand (UK).

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