by Bert Flitcroft
There’s no way back to ancestors.
We cannot eat their crude bread, their meat,
nor breathe their air. And yet we can return,
beyond the archives to the ancient place
for we are of their time as well as ours.
I have stood by the river’s edge and watched
the hunters leave, take their arrowheads
and skins, and follow the tracks of wolves.
I have seen the gatherers move in, fan out,
fell trees, and set their boundaries.
A few apologetic scraps of thatch remain,
a few old beams and timber frames leaning
like ironic exclamation marks;
but it was they who gave this place a name,
the settlement by water and by wood.
And you cannot obliterate a settlement.
Isolation is not possible where rivers are.
I have cowered in the reeds and seen the Trent
give birth to long-ships in the morning mist,
trembled as their hordes laid waste the mickleholme.
I have seen how the weight of waters balanced
as we joined the river at the hip to a slit of sky
where now the narrow boats come gliding in,
all cruising the possibilities like dogs let out
at first light onto the village green.
We have embraced old names, and what they were.
Walkfield, and Oakfield, and Essington;
a well, a mill, and a furlong to measure out.
I have dreamed of the fox still padding the lane
when the village beds down for the darkness.
Though we are a fragment fallen from a moment
it does not seem so. There are memories of
memories; and brooches and burial mounds.
There are names, always names, that outlast bones.
This place is still their place. And it is ours.
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Bert Flitcroft was Staffordshire Poet Laureate 2015-17 and curated The Staffordshire Poetry Collection. He has two poetry collections published: ‘Singing Puccini at the Kitchen Sink’ and ‘Thought Apples’.
For more about Bert, his experience and his poetry, visit his website at