Slow Train North
Alice leaves King's Cross and loses her
mobile signal. She sits in the quiet
coach as it rumbles through the
hinterlands of the capital. Flats and
terraced rows give way to avenues,
semis with clipped privet. Here's the
Lincolnshire flatlands – big skies, reed
beds, wild ducks. Alice listens to the
person opposite breathing, to the
rhythm of the diesel engine and the
whirr of an old heater in the carriage.
Her coat's heavy with it. There's her
reflection, bunched up like the March
Hare caught by headlights somewhere
in The Wolds. There's the warmth of
her face against glass. The Wash sprays
salt through an open window, and that
pull north is stronger than ever. The
Pole's magnetic embrace.
Maybe she'll cradle a block of ice and
rip the skin off her fingertips. But right
now, she's reading Louis MacNeice and
this is the 'Slow Movement': the pause
between opening and closing, the
allegro and appassionato. This is where
she sits. Between the city and the
icebergs, the heat and that stretch of
winter. No sun for three months. She's
just passing, finding joy in the view
from the window: wetlands alive with
trout, fireflies dancing, rookeries
chattering and their offspring plump
Anne Caldwell. Prose poem from her
new collection, Alice and the North
(Valley Press) November 2020
Ferns and Voles
Alice doesn't have a looking-glass but
there's a full-length mirror in her
mother's room and a cat that refuses to
smile. She's five and the world's full of
wonder. She makes rose petal tea for
her dolls, rabbit and stuffed tiger. Alice
has a den in the bottom of her
wardrobe that smells of plimsolls. She
visits a treehouse at Sarah's in a crack
willow where the branches fork and the
sky falls in. Henny Penny run, run!
When it snows, Alice burrows in drifts
like a vole and the world is crystalline
and mauve. Ice ferns her bedroom
window and she doesn't speak for days.
She turns six and a baby sister appears.
Alice makes a new den in the garage
from two deckchairs, a broom and a
grey felt blanket. She steals a packet of
her sister's Farley's rusks and eats them
out there on the concrete floor.
A chest freezer full of lamb carcasses
and frozen veg hums in the corner.
Somewhere in the house, her father is
curled up like a caterpillar in an
armchair, listening to Bach, his head
wreathed in smoke.
Anne Caldwell – Prose Poem from her
new collection, 'Alice and the North'
(Valley Press November 2020)
Dr Anne Caldwell is a freelance writer and education specialist, based in England. She has worked for the British Council and is due to become a Royal
Literary Fellow next year. Her specialism is prose poetry and she is a keen walker. Her poetry has appeared in a range of anthologies and magazines in
the UK and internationally. These iinclude The Rialto, Writing Women, The North, Poetry Wales and Stride. Anne has published three collections including Painting the Spiral Staircase (Cinnamon Press). In 2019, she was co-editor of The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry alongside Professor Oz Hardwick. Her fourth collection, Alice and the North, is available for pre-order from Valley Press. and is being launched in November 2020.