Poetry by John Greening


Poetry by John Greening




for Gerður Kristný


And not a Fischer or Spassky among them –

delightful, light-hearted, cartoonish, clean-cut


fruit of the walrus or the whale, whose final

unanswerable move at time’s hand was to


checkmate on a beach in the Isle of Lewis

when England (of course) claimed eighty-two pieces,


leaving Scotland just this eleven. The knight

on his oss oss wee oss like a prop from a


scandi panto; the bishop boggle-eyed at

a sheela na gig or green men in his choir;


a warder rook, shield against chin, still afraid

vikings might raze the board; and then the kings, who


are taking it one step at a time, sceptres

decommissioned, but scowls active, two of them,


who’d guessed that after seven hundred years they

might well be rescued, only to be chosen


for the B-team… And no time, any of them,

to turn and even notice how those three queens


were simply shocked by it all, each touching their

unwrinkled cheeks with a fine-bred, distant look


that stared down the future, saying: one of us

at least could have taken that flight to Iceland.






for the baize of a

billiard table, or

other evenly

raised pile, but


today what I pick

is one that pricks

me out of a habitual

nap – not silver


for Christmas as we

used to arrange,

or as hedgehogs

and hairbrushes, no.


But seeing them in

their natural state,

a procession up

the aisle and through


to this shortest day,

kings of the year

they tease again

that smooth chin.


John Greening is a Cholmondeley & Bridport winner: his recent books include To the War Poets,(Carcanet), editions of Blunden and Grigson, Heath (with Penelope Shuttle), an Egypt memoir and the anthologies, Accompanied Voices and Ten Poems about Sheds. The Silence (Carcanet) appears in June 2019.



29 July 2019