I Slip into French like Tolstoy

My fifth poetry collection, I Slip into French like Tolstoy, is now published.

This varied collection explores the themes of death and philosophy in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, the reality and horror of mental health issues, nature, and the catering industry.

Cover design and pen and ink illustrations by Mark Sheeky.

2023 is the year that I finally got round to reading War and Peace by Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy after having a dusty copy for over 10 years that cost 30p from a charity shop. (A lifetime achievement! I have his image as a screensaver on my desktop, anyway..). So I wrote my first six poems inspired by it. The title of this collection, and the first piece, refers to the way the Russian aristocracy slip into French when they lose their Russian values, a bit like an aside, or slipping into another character. The first line refers to Pierre Bezukhov who joined the Freemasons and vowed to love death. Tall order? Then we witness the musings of the character Andrei Bolkonsky as he lies next to his enemy in a war tent. Crikey. Does he forgive him? And…pourquoi avons-nous peur de la mort? Why are we afraid of death?

I Slip into French like Tolstoy

At last he wears the Freemason badge that says he loves death
Oh, death…
while his enemy groans beside him
feeling blood pump into his absent leg

A rip in the war tent reveals a cloud
plump full of petty vanities
floating over black fields

He went to war just to feel something
To lift himself out of the animal experience
instead of nourishing contempt at la vie
Yielding to sloth potatoes
Raging over fluffy conversations at parties
and his enemy groans beside him
nostrils eating low notes of butcher’s slab

Pourquoi avons-nous peur de la mort?
I slip into French like Tolstoy

Why do we fear death?
Have we not, then, lived?
Have we only lived for ourselves?
Tut Tut…
His regret winces before the Russian Grandmaster Reaper unsheathes his scythe
I love death
I love and forgive my enemy
Pourquoi avons-nous peur de la mort?
I slip into French like Tolstoy

Slave mined diamonds from our pestled earth are not enough
Those jagged reflections of want
It is not our earth
We are mere serfs in frigid winters
We don’t own rakes
We eat fallen rye crumbs from golden plates

© Deborah Edgeley

Crewe Tree of Light Ceremony: Sky Robes of Celeste

Sky Robes of Celeste

Sky robes of Celeste sparkle in winter’s breath
Studded with polished buttons of silver stars
Swish of indigo silk cyclorama
the smile of a golden crescent
the Plough edged with violet lace

Tree roots dormant
Oak stasis in weathered rocks
The sleeping burrow of tiny worms await
yet the cemetery carries whispers of rich veined springs

From emerald to russet
the chlorophyll fades as centuries turn
yet through frost iced ancestors’ soil
beloved snowdrops peep…

Sandalwood curls conjure
the labyrinth of memory

We dance with our ancestors to a silent tune
We listen to their gift of crimson treasure
pulsing their song
lit by her moon


This poem was commissioned by Crewe Council for the Tree of Light Ceremony. Performed by Fall in Green at Crewe cemetery, 3rd December 2021.

Things To Make and Do

Bikini clad dip
into giant moving body of blue
without flinching
yet he flinched
Memories of a science lesson
where you had to draw the digestive system from memory
make a list of pieces then jig-saw them in
to the red nosed man in Operation
so if you unravelled the gut
it would stretch around four houses
and all that time she sat in warm blood
thinking it was a bit of warm wee
and the old school cleaner got her a hammock pad and said it’s your period

Uncle Jonathon strode in
like he was in a movie
Her dainty breaststroke versus his front crawl
head turning to a macho rhythmic gasp
to check if each side of the sea was still there
thinking of the coffee dribble by the kettle
He was thinking of his sums
The end of the tax year
to take his mind off the bikini
Tables, graphs, pi squared, algebraic muddles, leaky pens, computer screens
Pens in Star Trek cups
Pencils with dirty cracked erasers like his eye wrinkles
Formulations, cogitations, lines of logic
Timetables, clients, pound signs.
That coffee dribble
has been there since last week
Then he thought of the chimney that he could fix when he got paid.
Front crawl

She thought more of guts, liver, heart and spleen
Holding hands, the beating heart
Memento mori
Forcing blood as a blanket of soothe
Where was the list of things to jigsaw in?

Taken from Super 8 Magicscape (2021)

Dead Hand poem translated by Chandra Gurung published in Nepapese Magazine Sabdha Sanyohan

My poem, Dead Hand, from Solitary Child: Friend of Immortals, translated by Chandra Gurung, is published by Sabdha Sanyohan. Dead Hand is a tribute to Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, about a passionate yet destructive love that transcends death. The poem also is performed by Fall in Green, on our album, Apocalypse of Clowns, with music and visual art by Mark Sheeky.

Dead Hand

On the moor
Ragged as you were
I saw you
through the cracked window
Where my dead hand touched yours
Where my name was etched in three on the wooden desk

Your dark long locks fought the wind
like your soul
MY Heathcliff
You destroyed everything

Yes, I became a lady, yet, I loved Edgar not
it was always you

Your face I saw
when I tangled in flesh
trying to make a hybrid us
with the wrong man

You walk this earth without me, yet
I walk with you
in you

I look into your eyes of pain
and I weep
until you return to me

Rest in Peace, Dear Chlorophyll (from Wilkommen Zum Rattenfanger Theater 2019)

Patchwork overcoat of amber
waits for gust
Hark back to the days when
we used to store sunlight

after the laughter of summer
when our green architecture
supported flowery pedestals

We used to store sunlight
from green to brown to black to light, and back, we will return

Juicy to dry willow trails
Cracked midribs
Mellow to the core
the freeze

What was vert, grün
turns to

We will show you the passage of time
Rest in peace, dear chlorophyll
Our russet wreaths lie in
Pembrey Woods, with fellow garlands

We used to store sunlight
Richly veined pipelines
of original solar panels
Memories of snap
Snaps of gold


Protection and fun
We make hedgehog duvets
Snails’ hover-boards

We used to store sunlight

We Stood On Viktoriastraꞵe

An abandoned cycle lies flat
Wheel spinning

Fat graffiti rests on guitar curves
Thoughts of bored teens
The word web in white

The house where you lived is now an art collective
Ghosts squeezing under your door
Your scullery a gallery
Your en-suite an office

Crimson brick café across the road
Coffee sippers gaze at the spinning wheel,
at the framed prints in the window,
unaware of our pilgrimage euphoria

Light song of metal screech
Lime green tram casts shadows
on the chequered path

Here is your home-town
we knew only from lips, letters, pixels

A leaf pulled from a hedge
on the dashboard it dries
in the air of our ancestors

From Wilkommen Zum Rattenfanger Theater (2019)

In Bielefeld my sister Syl and I stopped to take pictures of the place where we think our mother lived. Magical.

Whose Apple Thou Art? (A sonnet) from Testing The Delicates

In Greenwood, studded with crab and perry,
out of tempest mind tumbled Caliban.
So say yeomen of sixteenth century,
‘Bring thee where the crabs grow,’ said the madman.
Drinking proverbial acidity,
Gossip’s Bowl was spice sipped by Bidford folk
in restaurants of ancient forestry
acid draughts intoxicate shallow jokes.
But three crabbed months had soured themselves to death.
‘He’ll never have Miranda,’ they concurred.
The Bidford souls muttered under their breath
‘Goddess and a madman?’ with spoon they stirred.
‘Whose apple thou art, gem grown from deep root?’
‘Yours, but I will never bear sweet fruit.’

Copyright © Deborah Edgeley

Herr Kasperle (from Wilkommen Zum Rattenfanger Theater 2019)

Herr Kasperle

Every man is a Faust (Dr Zhivago)

Near the gushing Jordansprudel
and the high green hair of the ginko
is an antique shop
set in palatial grounds

Herr Kasperle sits next to the Polyphony turntable
on a black wooden box
Watches tourists pass by the score of Schubert
as cut glass tulips sparkle in the window

Layered Deutsche Mark faces, cheek to cheek
shiver with dust rain as the door creaks
Kaleidoscope hides the meaning of life in peephole spiral jewels
Encyclopedic postcards of People-Proving-Their-Joy with a rushed hand

Woman coughs as she descends the spiral staircase
Russian sickle jacket hides behind the door
The owner adjusts his pince-nez

Ghosts hear echoes of red hammer taps
Carved head tilts, stares
Herr Kasperle blinks
dreams of his string ancestors
Shadow, Tabletop, Glove
Finger, Stick, Ventriloquist
The entertaining races
Curriculum Vitae displays appearances in Faust
Street theatre in a frayed patchwork waistcoat
Glued beard en pointe
Makeshift stages conjure children’s gazes

Herr Kasperle repeats his line:
A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart

Desperate clutch of memento to prolong pilgrimage
I hold your wooden hand
I have to take you home

Copyright © Deborah Edgeley

Rattenfanger Theater

Folge Mir

Meine Damen, Herren und Kinde
Folge mir…

Under the belled tower
We wait for the clockwork Rattenfänger

Staccato chug
Brass feather in cap
Cold flute lips call coloured shadows of what was…

Our past has tails
that swish in the mud

Shaky Super Eight sketches of the 70s
Our Past Existed (PG, 118 minutes)

A splice of plastic eidetic
Encode, store, retain, recall
Have you got capacity?

Brain as projector to an outdoor screen
Orange flames from neurons
fire original vignettes
from a haphazard storyboard
STOP AT 5:31:
Graceful Mutti
Chiffon siren swish
Smoke screen of Uncle Georg’s cigar
Chime of the first bell
Backlight of Vater’s steady hand
Black onyx glints

Eyelashes flutter as manicured nail flicks ash
Pigtailed girls hold hands and look up to the belled tower
Leiderhosen with embroidered edelweiss

of the Rattenfänger
Folge mir…

Our Present Exists (18, Infinity)

STOP AT MEMORY #85647923788…
We watch the cartoon in Hameln
Synchronised whiskered faces poke through holey käse
Choreographed ballet-pointe gallop
I like cartoons, you said. I didn’t know.
Is he a good man or a bad man?
I didn’t know.
Where do all the lost neurons go?

Hypnotised kinder skipping
Koppelburg mountain cave
To the crippled boy
who slings his crutches
Cartwheels to…

-Candy Heaven (away from carpentry bondage)
-The Grim Reaper (rescued from plague, under his cloak, like stolen watches)
-The Teutonic Land (Landowner gathers orphans, like hay bails, legs flailing)
-The River Weser (drowned with the rats because of anger issues towards the cowboy mayor)

Is he a good man or a bad man?
Folge mir…

Now, imagine our What-Was-Vignettes as others saw
Not from your eyes, from his eyes, then her eyes, then their eyes
Aerial, behind, extreme long shot
from a bird
1974 Hameln town hall
Six family members’ vignettes of the same moment
Stretch our sketches into patchwork perspectives
Fact and fiction splices
Swishing tails in mud

Create you own theater
Clapperboard snap
That’s a wrap.

Copyright © Deborah Edgeley