Shirley Bell

Hidden Change

Here I am slotted into the secret space behind the houses,
walking in the fine silt of a reclaimed sea bed, and
the farty smell of cabbages scents the air. Men are waiting
for the carousel, where the vegetables are cut and
carried to the trailer in bright red cups.

As they move for the dog and me to pass one smiles,
and pretends to hide the long knife that he carries in
his top,
and I smile back. To be honest, they are usually just
figures
from the car. Harvesting the sprouts, in fog and ice,
sitting side by side behind the tractors, dropping

brassica seedlings into place, sometimes bunching armfuls
of daffodils. Working hard. In the town, they are invisible
until they speak. Maybe they crowd us a little side by side
on the Town Bridge – body language conventions differ I
suppose.

There are rumours that schools and GPs are feeling the
strain.
Shopfronts have altered. An illegal still blows up in an
industrial unit.
In the paper some of the petty criminals have foreign names.
A friend says I’m not racist, but… at a dinner party. But,
but, but.
In a generation, the children will have vanished, them
to us,
their accents gone, only surnames remaining.

Back and back – Dutch drainage engineers, rubble
of Norman Castles, Roman salt pans, humping up out of
the ripening wheat. And more recently, and less
forgettably,
the sombre, indigestible, 1930s and the 40s, when people
fled here, refugees from the claws of history.

The unchanging here is full of hidden change,
and the past, existing as it does in days and years,
swallows our differences in the end.

Shirley Bell is the editor of The Blue Nib, a growing online literary magazine and small publisher, and she is a widely published and anthologised poet. Her poetry is archived in the Special Collection in the University of Lincoln’s Library and, as a result, she has collected together all her published poetry from 1982 to early 2016 in her book, Dark is a Way and Light is a Place. The Wide Skirt published her pamphlet Hanging Windows on the Dark. She was Literature Consultant for Lincolnshire and Humberside Arts and edited their magazine, Proof.