After Adlestrop (for Helen Thomas)
As usual, it is not widely known that you were there beside him
in that carriage, at that station, suffused in sunlight and birdsong
when someone cleared their throat as no-one left and no-one came.
As usual, you are invisible — the hidden framework, an underpinning
without which he would crumble, diminished by disappointment.
You understood the only way to keep him was to let him walk, write, talk, fight.
As usual, such love is forgotten, until on this day his words in your voice
crackle out of the radio. All I can think of is Edward, on that last night
wrapping you in his khaki greatcoat carrying you to bed.
In the colourless, muffled morning the children walk him to the station;
you stand at the gate calling Coo-ee Coo-ee to each other until he disappears
in mist and snow, leaving you panicked in the silence of death.
I too loved a silent man and only now remember
moments when you think nothing is happening — but so much is.
Valerie Bence is on the ten-person shortlist for Primers Volume Four. ‘After Adlestrop (for Helen Thomas)’ is taken from her shortlisted manuscript On the soar. We’ll be showcasing the work of all the shortlisted writers over the next two weeks, so check back to read more poems.
A retired university researcher and librarian, Valerie Bence completed an MA in Poetry at MMU’s Writing School in 2016. She writes ekphrastic poems in the broadest sense, encompassing truth, memory, place and time, and is currently finalising a collection based on Rembrandt artworks. She has three adult children and lives in Bucks.