By Rebecca Bilkau
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The experience of moving from England to start a new life in Germany with her German husband provides the background to these vivid and thoughtful poems by Rebecca Bilkau. They chronicle the mixed emotions that come with upping sticks and making a home in a new country. As well as the struggle with language, identity and belonging, there is also an outsider’s perspective on regional culture and history. Her rich and energetic language is underpinned by an engaging honesty.
“Though her poems do not flinch from examining the challenges involved, Bilkau faces contradictions with engaging humour and a sturdy directness. The poems are rich with layers of history, landscape, local scenes and incidents which bear re-reading for their delicate imagery and carefully light touch.” Pippa Little
“These poems offer dense and challenging writing……….Bilkau writes in a free-wheeling forceful, metaphorically-charged style” Dilys Wood, Artemis
The Continuing Testimony of Mathilda of England and Brunswick
On the ‘Eiserner Heinrich’, a statue of her husband, Henry the Lion 1129–1195.
I might as well have been a soldier: my marriage
was a tactic – you’ll have to ask my dad
the king, my noble lord the duke, what kind.
All I know: I was deployed. I asked no
questions, lest I learned my commanders
were lost. Like any conscript parsing the stars,
I kept mostly quiet. Easy. My lord’s German
was a riddle to me, my English tongue a puzzle
for him to conquer. For some peace, I let him.
Often, other noises won: it’s a man and boy
affair, power and the drum. The battle-stink,
the twist of death, those are forgettable
as the pangs of birth: always to be redone.
So when the blood roared, and my lord’s wants
draped his world red, my silence endured.
I kept the sword of my tongue sheathed,
through all the whooping wars, the shriek
of exile he brought on us. He quieted too,
as he noticed every fleshy boy dies just once.
His shudder, when it started, ended with me.
We other ranks, we have our own inexhaustible
tenderness. Quiet as a mortician, I stroked
his face. Look at the man, a league of loss,
tall, nailed to duty, his cheek split with grief.