The Cast Iron Hamlet

I found this poem on a site called Poem 800 that celebrated Liverpool’s 800th Anniversary by having 400 poets contribute 800 poems. Although Terry Clarke is describing a landscape twenty years or so before my experiences, he manages to describe my memories of the place better than I ever could. Eerily I even knew a boy who wore callipers, who like a real Forest Gump became a top runner almost as soon as they were removed.

I contacted the site but they didn’t have any contact details for Terry but gave permission to publish it here. I hope Terry sees it. To accompany the poem is a photograph of some of my older brothers and sisters that was taken on the Cast Iron Shore around the same time the poem is is set.

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The Cast Iron Hamlet

Within the kindly shadows of the cast iron church,
the sleepy post war hamlet lay dormant,
upon its riverside perch.
a bastion… still,
to the unwelcome incursions,
of the post war awakening of the outside world.
From those rusted, red bricked terraces,
encrusted with a slatey grey…
a new generation of “Baby Boom” children
was released each morning, to squander…
the endless hours of summer away.
In rudest health, swelled with free school milk,
fuelled with concentrated orange juice,
and newly unrationed food.
as yet, well drilled in etiquette,
still disciplined in their play.
like trusted homing pigeons,
once set aloft, expected only to return,
for their meals at the appropriate time of the day.

The nine o’clock bells of old St Michaels,
chimed out and slowly died away… in seductive tones,
and struck an irresistible chord,
to entice a friendly but cantankerous “horde”,
of well scrubbed youths out to play,
“Freed” from the cast iron comfort of their homes,
“Freed”… to roam the benign, traffic less roads,
of bubbling summer tarmac… yet secure,
within the extended family gaze, of an army,
of unrelated uncles and maiden aunts,
Guardian angels, hovering behind every twitching curtain,
and every half open wooden door,
the girls, red cheeked, with plaited hair,
in navy blue knickers down to their knees,
the boys, impatient in their flannel shorts,
and their cotton shirts, all sticky out ears and Brylcreemed hair,
desperate to be on their way,
carrying their cricket bats and Dinky toys,
eagerly straining to test the boundaries,
of their fast expanding world…
Swapping stamps and comics on the way,
except for the lad with the leg iron,
frantically lagging behind,
a survivor of polio, who was clattering down the cobbled entries,
in his gabardine mac’.

From the vicarage to the corner shop,
past Cragg’s Cottage, they wouldn’t stop,
until they’d broken out across the golf links,
playing cowboys and Indians in the long grass,
and hiding in the abandoned air raid shelters,
as imaginary German bombers… droned past.
then how easy it seamed for them, as they streamed out,
over the railway bridge, Shrouded in sulphurous steam,
and bathed in an eerie light,
to go splashing through the marshes,
squealing after newts and frogs,
prized jam jars held tightly aloft… in flailing arms,
screeching seagulls, dive bombing overhead, raising their alarms.

Abruptly halting in the Priory woods,
at the very margin of the cast shore,
before sliding, legs akimbo,
over the seaweed, sand and shingle,
desperately struggling to keep their balance,
stuttering unsurely, legs astride, and pirouetting,
along the greasy, oil jetty pipeline,
to test their mortality again, by shadow dancing with the waves,
until the tidal pull of the family drew them back home…
to safety…at that very point,
where cast iron was forged,
into a safety net of steel.

(A tribute to post war St Michael’s In the Hamlet, where I grew up.)

By Terry Clarke

http://www.poem800.com

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