Guest Poem by Edward Ragg

Edward Ragg was born in Stockton-on-Tees and now lives in Beijing. He is the author of A Force That Takes (2013), Holding Unfailing (2017), Exploring Rights (2020) and And Then the Rain Came (2022), all published by Cinnamon Press. He is a Master of Wine (MW) and co- founder of Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting as well as an authority on the work of Wallace Stevens. Edward is currently working on his fifth collection of poetry.

Final Diner at the Banquet of Dreams

Eight months of English sun and rain sifting
through the shadows of towering cumulus
billowing like ships’ sails in the northern wind
have composted your remains in the uncaring earth.

Never had imagination so vividly and swiftly
transplanted me to that same spot where
I scattered you. In less than a heartbeat
considering the green turf our final picnic spot.

In dreams even more quickly returned, leaving
Beijing’s volcanic hills for the forested slag heap
of an old mining village beneath Durham’s skies
hedged into the ridged back of an old Roman road.

I have laid the table here a thousand times, knowing
the grass too wet for rugs and regret, preparing
roll-mop herrings, raw onion, gherkins, sour cream,
a frost-chilled glass of aquavit and carafe of golden wine.

Always I am serving you as an intimate who knows
he will join the feast when the appropriate time arrives.
Only later do I see I cannot break bread with the dead.
Not today at least. Besides, your soufflé has yet to rise.

We observe how well your ashes have melted away,
seasoning the great stock of the earth. Certain cheeses
are compared, accompanied by red-faced renditions
of the best Port vintages in your living memory.

Only when coffee arrives do you shift in your chair.
For eight months you rustled up this revolving banquet
of dreams. But as I let slip a cheery ‘Until next time’
you look sheepishly at your watch. The hands have stopped.

Suddenly your chair is gone. I am clearing plates,
scattering cheese rinds for squirrels and birds, as a voice
keeps saying Alas, how is’t with you, that you do bend
your eye on vacancy? But he was there. Just there, you see.

I am become an old butler employed by no one
holding discourse with the bodiless air. My pulse
racing like a drunkard’s high jinks falling down
each and every nightmare’s continuous flights of stairs.

This is not madness. Bring me to the test and
I will recount what dreams these were and what
you said that very day. My heart beating more temperately
now, the picnic table folded, the grass green and bare.