Air-Raid Shelters

by Peter Riley

Peter Riley

the affection we had won was contained
as by the walls of a room, red brick,
and the true place was always there.
There was nowhere else, no other hope was retained
but the song where love stokes its own heat,
passing round mugs of tea in candle-light, the sweet,
ever sweet, relief of company, as of ripening wheat.


Teach me the meaning of the word “statute”
and I am with you all the way there,
and standing barefoot on a Herdwick rug,
earthfast, I’ll warble to the night sky
the song for recalling parliaments,
dictionary in left hand hot water-bottle
in right and so compose a redemptive anthem
but what comes out is Goodnight Irene.
Sometimes I live sometimes I die we need help.
We need to find out what we want to be.
We have lost it and handed the decisions to lizards.
We need a law, we need a constitution
or for ever be the victims of our own deals
and lost children in our own dreams.


Every morning at a quarter to eight
six schoolgirls pass by my window
on the towpath, chattering. I can’t hear
what they say, but the tone is
normally bright. Then one voice says
I can’t stand it any more and another says
Yes, it’s not fair. I am merely the scribe
to this world. I am merely the librarian
to these spirits. I sit quietly at my table
while these world spirits pass my window
at 7:45 every weekday morning, rain or shine.

Last updated July 20, 2021