March – Tom Sastry





No-one knows where the clowns went.
Perhaps the found their own country.
Perhaps they were frightened.

Look –
there’s a boy in Weston-Super-Mare who swears he saw
lined up in the mud at low tide
small piles of braces, red wigs
bellied pantaloons and oversized shoes.

The great marquees of England stand empty
and somewhere
a melancholy lion licks an abandoned red nose
whilst children hurl themselves over the guy ropes
with look-at-me smiles.

And the politicians are explaining.
If they have left says the PM
It was their choice.
I myself am the child of clowns.
We just wanted to disperse them, to prevent them
from clustering together
in ghettoes.

It’s not just her. No-one admits
to feeling guilty. There’s just this
nostalgia. There are record downloads
of classic bike-horn and ukulele tunes,
new museums are planned,
the Commission on Nightmares
has proposed a new terror
of badgers
but we all know it won’t be the same.

We do our best to remember.
Last night a group of us
sniffed trick roses on the bandstand
an wiped our dripping faces
smudging our greasepaint smiles.


This is the title poem of Tom’s 2016 pamphlet, slightly revised. An even earlier version appears in the anthology The Best of 52.


The importance of not listening (pt.1)

Yes. It’s a real un-made-up fact.
The Russians sent a dog into space
to see what would happen. She says in that case
the Russians are evil. That’s how
the cold war starts. I say I don’t believe
in evil, and she says
they should send bad people instead
of innocent dogs. But what if the dog
had bitten someone?

She knows I’m mocking her.
It sounds cruel now, but imagine:
it’s 1986, missiles pointing everywhere.
She wants to go to war over a dog.
She thinks people who don’t love dogs
are monsters. She knows I fear racism:
she hates whole countries. She won’t see it.
So I do a brave thing. I laugh in her face
while she cries. I’m young.
I can’t let it go.

Experiments with empathy

Today, I am the gargantuan drill
splintering the sea bed
making tunnels for cars

I am the child-killer in the white van
as cameras totter on raised arms
groping for pictures.

I am the floor-cleaning machine
with its tank cabinet body
and swirly-swab mops.

I am the voice saying Hello, my name is Tom.
How can I help?
to a furious caller.

I am the city of pipes, quaking
beyond the ceiling tiles,
the building’s breath.

I am the gadget that sucks the air
from half-full bottles
and seals them shut.



Death is coming

Death is coming says the sticker
(black bold on lilac, no picture).

I only saw it because I was on the top deck
thinking about the worst thing I have ever done
whether it is worse than things people go to prison for

what it means to be worse
and what it means to be forgiven.

Then I started wondering why
someone would put a sticker like that
eight feet up, on the brow of the bus shelter

and that’s how it got into my head
that I might need to worry.

First published in Clear Poetry January 2017

The importance of not listening (pt. 2)

Do not listen to the sea.
It contains the consequences
of everything you have done.

Do not listen to the sea.
It hides weapons
of mass destruction

Do not listen to the sea.
It is nothing to do with you.
You’re just a normal person.

Do not listen to the sea.
It’s all fake news.
Keep talking. Keep breathing.

Do not listen to the sea.
It’s Halloween down there
full of dark and bones.

Do not listen to the sea.
Build a wall on every beach.
Sing patriotic songs.


An earlier version of this poem was published on the website I am not a secret poet under the title The Sea.




Simple magic for dark times

Try to see clearly what it is you love.
Whatever you love, be honest.
If it is your family, more than the world
do not be ashamed.
If it is your cat
or the smother of the morning bed
or a certain goal scored at Wembley in the 1970s
have no regrets.
Be proud of your love.
Bring it to mind. Bring it to the front
ahead of all other concerns.
It is hard to do but not impossible.
Hold it, as literally as you can, in your hands.
It is touching you. Touch it back.
Say goodbye.
You need to get it out of the country.
You need to preserve it.
Write it, draw it, pickle it, cure it
freeze it, hide it, bury it,
put it in a bottle,
tell it to a friend,
carry it in the hollow sole of an old shoe
to wherever it will be safe.

And when hope has bolted
into the deepest cave of your belly
hiding from all the temporary things,
the memory of your love will have a form
and you can summon it –

when its lightness feels like an insult,
when you need it most.


First published on Amaryllis December 2016 under the title Before entering 2017



We’ve walked fifteen miles.
It was meant to be ten but the map broke.
Our phones are no use.

We are on a rise. Our legs ache.
The ground is a sump and the tussocks
distort our ankles. Birds cry to their young

that the day is sinking
and must be abandoned.
The moon swims in the late blue

and the heart sings but mostly with fear.
Then, above the grassy loaf,
we see orange light, hear sounds

raucous and human. Hands gather us in.
Drinks are pressed on us. Bows are drawn
and fiddles soar. Our hands are seized.

Boots give the rhythm. Later, we admit
it was not exactly like this. For example,
we walked only a few steps up the street.

But before that, we decide
that in all important respects
it was.





The bag splits, the fruits spill:
enough to fill two hands.
Brittle leaves curl like shells.

We take one each.
The skin yields easily. The flesh is sweet.
You smile at my busy mouth. On good days

we place the rest in the bowl
next to the occasional flowers.
On rare days, we sweep the cat dust

and say Welcome! This is how we live.
Our friends seem pleased –
their sink is full and we are abundant

with effort and love. I am drinking wine
and my mind sticks in the wrong places,
but I feel that this life,

this home, is not wrong.
I have noticed that hope
through the mix of things. On the best days

it purrs in my ear, smooth and low,
like the throb of a flame in still air
like soft religion, calling.


Tom Sastry is a man who sometimes remembers to think. He was chosen by Carol Ann Duffy as one the 2016 Laureate’s Choice poets. His pamphlet Complicity was one of the Poetry School’s Books of the Year for 2016 and was Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2017.