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Two Poems

James McGovern

Like the Roman

So because you thundered to me, in third person,

                     from fire mountain 火山

          that you mean little of what you say,

although you do believe in every action which you

                     set in motion,

          each gesture, every posture finely weighed

on golden scales, with an engineer’s precision

                     and freedom

          like the dreaming eremite who hears God’s song in the hills,

I must bring myself to remember that

                     you overflow

          with an intentionality most of us cannot grasp,

primitive tongue lagging thick behind you, unable

                     to keep pace with

          your superhuman acts, those of some Ashoka,

a light which withdraws from lumpen humanity,

                     shutting forever

          the screens of dawn, marshalling vitalities,

marching in Nietzsche’s dreams, debellator, hypergiant glowing

                     volatile, plunderer,

          mesmerising troubled girls with its peril and purpose

(at least if I’m willing to buy what you’re selling)

                     pure force,

          not just a cause of fights and broken plates

while I expend my heartbeats on this heating planet

                     of outmoded fears,

          waiting, like the last of the dinosaurs, for calamity.


Provincial Life

To take sixteen remembered years

of plastic chairs of morning blue,

summers that wheeled past like bicycles

through the air,

beyond the window,

someplace else,

of chewing yellow Staedtler pencils,

Hovis sandwiches with a single slice of ham

and apples swapped for Wagon Wheels,

of steel files striking into sparks,

holiday pavilions on crisp packet beaches,

biking up Beamhill Road,

of creaky bunk beds,

of what wasn’t said,

of stillness—

and distil them,

if not into real lines, then at least into

the shape of lines

on the shape of a page

the vanilla-flower scent of verse,

to take my true yet unpoetic past

of Iceland dinners in a cladded house,

of shadows darkening the night and

the gas fire burning blue through the icy air,

yes, to raise it up somehow

to sit, uneasy, in an incandescent waiting room

thumbing a copy of Gardeners’ World

alongside Ozymandias and Achilles,

who serenely contemplate their crosswords,

giant, untouchable.


James McGovern studied English (BA) and Creative Writing (Master’s) at the University of Oxford. His work has appeared in LitroProspect, the Oxford Review of Books and others. In 2019 he was selected as one of The Best New British and Irish Poets 2019–20 (Eyewear Publishing) and longlisted for the Calibre Essay Prize. He is Advisory Editor for Creative Writing Studies at Vernon Press.