2 Poems by Tom Phillips

Men fishing at Sawtell

Up to my knees in it, the estuary smooths to a sheen.
No action here. The trees hold their ground.
Our lines flatten, unmoved, across the water.
Not a bite. Beers flick open, yanked from the case.
The afternoon’s solid and jests sink with no trace,
not so much as skimming the surface like a stone.

Peace by any other name: insistent traffic
keeps its distance. Destruction is elsewhere –
at least for the moment – dead calm.

Then his racheting reel scratches silence
and a plume of galahs explodes above the skyline.
Something rustles in the bushes behind.
It’s enough to recall we’re not so far
from air strikes, incursion patrols,
and rage masquerading as duty.

And as before it’s not to be
our choice to leave lives alone
we might just let live.

On that estuary, shame
was making its pact with grief
when – another sudden movement there –
with no more than a flick, it clipped
the back of my leg and was gone –
a ripple of muscle shimmering on …

And then Col’s voice,
loud from the creek –
‘A water snake – Jeez!
We should have killed it!’

But the water was already healing
It had meant no harm,
that creature with no interest
in constructions made in our name,
our economies of threat,
leaving us be instead,
to stand knee-deep in its element,
relearning our place on the planet.



Redirecting the stream

For Antonia and Nigel Young

Between his death and the funeral,
we’re sucking up breaths
of Yorkshire air.
Fox’s crag, Pendle Hill,
and the dale’s spacious reach
stand in for a sense of loss.
We’re dredging marshy ground
for split stones compacted in mud.

Yours is another way of seeing things:
how we might learn to understand peace,
traditions of hospitality
that would change the political geography.
We will have to return
and give that loved one
his premature last rites,
but for now you grant us
your open house here in Hetton.

And here in Hetton
as clouds cusp late sun,
limestone fists shuck out
of the beck’s untidy banks
until there,
under nascent willows,
the water gurgles,
it courses clear.


Published 22nd of September 2022


About Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips is a writer and translator currently living in Sofia, Bulgaria. Publications include the poetry collections Unknown Translations (Scalino, 2016), Recreation Ground (Two Rivers Press, 2012) and Burning Omaha (Firewater, 2003). He also translates contemporary Bulgarian literature and his own work has been translated into a dozen languages.