Red Sky In The Morning – Saturday Live BBC Radio 4

It’s been a hectic week within a week. Wonderful too.  And today I woke at 5.30am to put the final touches to the poems written for due to be broadcast live between 9 and 10pm on
BBC Radio Fours Saturday Live presented by Fi Glover.  The programme is a thunderstorm of human experience at its most tested and triumphant.  

My Job is to write three poems relating to the subject matter of the day. I receive the
information about the programme on Thursday and Yesterday.  Doris’s story told by herself is heartbreaking.   Simon Weston The Falklands War hero chooses Louise Armstrong singing Wonderful World  as his Inheritance track. Inheritance Tracks
is a weekly spot within Saturday Live where someone known to the public chooses
their favourite tracks in memory. He chose Wonderful World sung by Louise

So  I wrote a poem about “Doris” to the exact structure of Wonderful World. keeping the last line of each verse the same as the last line in the lyric – “And I said to myself what a wonderful world”.

Doris lived with her husband and two young children (daughter 4 and son 2) in a prefab in
postwar Felixtowe England in 1953. The waters of a river broke and in the middle of the night Doris was awakened by her husband. She stepped out of the bed into ankle deep water. The front door was barred by the sheer force of water. Her husband climbed through the window and onto the roof where he would help the children up onto the roof while Doris passed the children through the window.

The water was now above waist height and Doris had to push her son under the water and out  the window. The water was now neck height and rising  and her daughter seeing her son thrown under water would not do the same. Doris had to fight with her daughter to push her under and out the window to her husband who was waiting to push them up onto the roof outside.

Now, with the water chin high it was time for Doris.  Her head was twisted by the
ceiling for air. She dived down to the window.  But she couldn’t get through it. Doris was eight months pregnant. She kicked the window through and swam. She remembers her husbands searching hand beneath the water. He pulled her upwards and they slept in the freezing cold on the roof, a pregnant woman her daughter and her son and her husband settled down for the night. 

Police arrive by boat and took her to the nearest dry land where she was taken to hospital
in a coal cart.  Within her delirium and hypothermia she kept asking for her children. “they are taken to a different hospital” she was told and the next morning she saw her son saunter down the corridor. Thank god they are okay she thought as she slipped back into unconsciousness.  

But her children hadn’t been taken to hospital but to a friends house, to warm them up.
Warming up was the worst thing to happen to her daughter. “ she froze to death” said Doris of her little daughter.   Within a month, Doris had given birth to a new baby, a daughter.  This is the poem that was not included in the programme. I understand why, legal people can be excrutiatingly conservative.  And this must be what blogs are for, not to break the law, but to break out…   The Irony is that if I hadn’t called the BBC and asked them to consult their legal team I would have read it.  As I said before, it is written to the exact structure of the song itself. I’ll follow it with  “Red Sky In The Morning” the poem that was broadcast. Remember these poems have been written in one day.



I see the cattle float by and the window break
I see the dog spin on the coach and the clock wait
And I think to myself what a wonderful world

I see skies of red and eyes in fright
The clammy day the dark scared night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world 

The colours of my daughter so pretty in the sky
I see her in the faces in every girl passing by
I see friends shaking shouting what can we do
I see my daughter again mouthing I love You

I hear my new baby  crying, I’ll  watch her grow
She’ll never see her sister passed But she’ll know.
And I’ll think to myself What a wonderful world. 



Broadcast poem

Do the children inside pregnant women sleep?
And if they do, then do they dream?
And if they do then what?
This was not a night for dreams.

 And tide and time wait for no woman.
She’ll know the storm. It is the birth
And if this is so then pregnancy is the calm before.
And it’s the most terrifying thing,  this calm.

She can feel the rising tide from  inside
And hears the shhhhhhhhhh of oncoming  rain.
She even smells the sodden earth carried in air
Her breathing has changed. It’s the wind. 
Her breath has become the wind.
And her skin has changed.  It’s the earth.
And she swears that if she put her hand on the ground
moss might grow on her wrists, crows would nest in her hair
And if she screams the world may shake and men will cry.

The storm is here The storm is here
Smashing the window sills and locking the doors.
She passes children through broken glass
Into the sky, into tomorrow and she’s filling with water
– can barely breath the  room swims around her.

She sees father and mother and her grandmother all
The wall clock spin away on  frantic waves 
she prays her children will hold on till tomorrow comes..
But  her daughter, swims  through that window,
Never to return.  

 and as she saw this  she knew what it was to be a woman 
To lose something and gain something in the same word
To be the centre of all things and on the perimeter
To be all powerful and all vulnerable
And in that moment the mourning the red sky dawn
Through the wreath,  Good grief…A child’s  born.



2 thoughts on “Red Sky In The Morning – Saturday Live BBC Radio 4

  1. Lemn, I was listening to the programme in the car with my two young daughters (4 mths and 3yrs) asleep in the back. The poem is beautiful. It brought me to tears (I don't think it's just the hormones!) with its force and understanding of motherhood. Really beautiful. Thanks.

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