“Farthing” by David Oates

David Oates


In Victorian London, a farthing could buy you three oysters, with bread and 
butter, from an oyster-seller walking the streets. Or in the East End, a sparrow 
that God has forgotten to look out for.
Farthing is also, I think, what happens when an outing goes bad.
Lostness, danger, no one to help, farthing
well past any address you’ve ever heard of.
Nearing is nicer. Closeness. Maybe the shore in sight, lights flaring
and concerned people looking for you, with blankets
and biscuits or maybe burly men to haul you, at last, in.
Someone to tousle your wet head, laughing because
it all came out right in the end. Meanwhile the surf crashing
and cries still heard from far out, farther, farther, farthing.
Everyone listens. Is that it? No, it’s not. Or it is. Wind in your ears,
salt on the rims of your eyes, your skin glowing now, but when
you look back … well you’d better not. And you don’t.
Someone brings you bread and butter and you think, oddly,
of sparrows.

from Rattle #80, Summer 2023


David Oates: “All the good luck in the world can’t quite erase the knowledge of what else might have happened. Almost did happen, maybe. Only the ones who survive are able to have such thoughts. We smile at the retro-inevitability of everything that has come to pass. But poetry can tell stories in both directions simultaneously, so fear and a sense of the uncanny infuse everything. All this messing about with language is a way to feel the grain of existence, so random and so beautiful.” (web)

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