The Hope Frog – poems on resilience

These are recent poems to accompany the Bethlem Gallery’s exhibition on resilience ‘It’s How Well You Bounce’. I hope you like them.

Please do visit the exhibition and/or see one of the performances, such as the one I will be in… see below for more details on that.



A Listening


I thought I had something
to say. But what’s best said
is like geese in formation,

late bees on lavender
or sparrows at the fountain.
The way we begin and end

a sentence, is not by words
but a listening for wings.



Hope Frog


Hope comes twitchy
like a frog
that your toying cat brought in,
its leg hanging off.

Wait a few minutes.
Poke it
with a stick
to see if it is still alive.

Leave it
under the rhododendrons
just in case
it’s a flesh wound.

You’d prefer it gone
to flopping around
or flies.
Wait a few days

for it to be finished off
by the neighbour’s tom.


Three Short Dreams of Madness



unkind bird
beating its bluish wings
behind evening’s eyelids

its black call shuddering
from the tall reeds
by night’s ringed marsh

before it settles
voiceless against
the shush of the deeper wood



compulsion lies just this edge of insanity – though
what is madness, but that which
is deemed too far by others – those

cousins that cannot bear witness
to its unlikelihood?



like flight       without landing
like dawn      without light

like war          without flags
nation             less


Four Kinds Of Nothing


There are four kinds of nothing
but I can’t remember the one
I should be afraid of.

Is it the witchy whisperings,
dull bird
or the silence when both gone?
Or the other –

the dreadful other – that which
I cannot imagine and won’t want
to remember even when
I can imagine it.



Meditation On Resilience


I am cold still for all my troubles
at the turn again told by the river.

Older, I can hear the fury a good mile off
as the quickening water is taken

and as it falls, almost taste the spume
and further, the raging silence.

What is this resilience if
what it brings is, with its aeons of thanklessness and injury,

only a chilled pool of unkindness?
And me cold still.





We are an hour by water.
Off left, the boats come to and from.
Day sifts through me
and needs no words.

We scatter sugar from the pastries.
The sparrows maraud.
Words are a vice.
I want to say what helps us

enter a kinder field.
I want to explain that words
are human for what we carry
between surfaces.

But I am too much in love
with words that lead nowhere,
save only once in a while.
How like time they are,

refusing to be still.
I will walk in bare feet over stone
so as to feel, so as
not to write again.





When I say we have lost the dead, what I mean is
more prosaic. We forget
the picture that hangs by the bureau,
dust clinging to its glass.

And: I have inherited my grandfather’s
time-piece, but cannot remember where I put it,
which is worse than crushing it underfoot.


How does poetry come into this? An antidote perhaps
to the days – whole weeks, lifetimes – where you are taken away
from song or whatever it is that brings you back.

I have drifted so far away from stars.
What will it take – the arteries to wrap
the heart in their loneliness? The brain to clog?
The call from a friend whose mother has slipped
all the way down the stairs?

I can see you in the midst of shifting from this thought,
hoping to hang on here to this
but lulled toward an everyday density.

Where is the pause? And the recognition
that you have wandered?


Yesterday, there was a dust of pollen
covering my car – come

let dust be blown
across motorways and lanes.

I move from one form
of coldness to another

having lived through speech –
the words for

bringing a bad man down,
fearing for myself.


Eyeing the appearance of jasmine,
bringing flowers belonging to green
into the firefly evening

because everything is beyond recall – insubstantially
ours – unsuspected splendour

to ambush the wanderer
turning wordsmiths to gardeners and vice-versa
both with a fondness for wild weeds, clover, dandelions
as well as buttercups, violets, anemones…

The gaze must become as soft
as the surface of the water
that meets it.


Here is a reminder: We chased the mouse
from your mother’ porch. The birds returned
to the breadcrumbs. Order restored. Nice things
to look at. I winched up the vast umbrella meant for sun.
Today it’s rain. We wait through hours of rain. Me
at my book, you at the dampening place between
translating your mother to me, falling between
two tricky languages, patterning of cups of tea
interspersed with small talk – we decorate our time.
Something is on hold. Big things to talk about
when we get home. The mouse is cute, waiting
in the wings. But your mother doesn’t like mice.
I chase it away again. Persistent little bugger.
That and the rain and whatever else is waiting.


 Sure-Footed – a song of resilience


I have come too far now
to be tentative.

I have long watched
the sure-footed

goat climb the scarred hill
from below,

the owl’s grip of the night branch
while all over the field

and you of all people
walking toward the edge, admirably.

I am still unsteady.
But this no longer holds.



Chinese Lantern


The house is quiet now.
High above the garden
a bright red Chinese lantern
drifts between the dark trees,
glowering against the night sky

then grows distant, pale
and finally invisible.
All heat gone. Free

to be no more itself
or what it is supposed to mean.


I am running a writing workshop on resilience at the Bethlem Gallery’s exhibition on resilience called ‘It’s How Well You Bounce’. I will then be performing poems with music and song on Friday 22nd September composed by Rose-Miranda Hall and sung by Lila Palmer. The sessions will be based on a parable called The Tale of The Jewel Merchants.



All poems © 2017 David Gilbert