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Archive for the ‘poetical sketches’ Category

Photo by Magic K on Pexels.com

My first, when I was young, I sowed from seed,
raked the bare earth, picked out the stones,
the weeds, levelled the undulations.
It was seasons in the making,
but never took the mower well.

And she disliked the way it grew,
the shape of things, and the borders,
as they took on angles, and a sharpness.
She moved her mother in,
and moved me on.
And that first lawn?
It went to hell.

The second lawn was older, long-established.
But I found it weary with weed, and ire.
It was bare in places, too,
scars of abuse, and neglect.
So many seasons, that one,
in the nurturing,
but then such lush maturity,
and a pleasure in the mow.

It was rich, and sweet,
a summer wine, sipped slow.
And her love, it was rose scented,
grown children, from another man,
the only thorns.
When she passed, my love died with her,
As did the lawn.
And the children, vexatious,
they moved me on as well.

Now the seasons they grow numbered,
As I cross the void once more,
Seeking love in loneliness,
And one last lawn to mow.

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Do I see only a reflection here
Of my own place in time?
Is it impenetrable,
And mirror to my whims?
Or is it a portal, a way through
To something new,
Beyond these bland, trinket-hung walls
Of an already blurred understanding?

Can I render myself small enough,
Do you think?
Atom small, let’s say,
And squeeze through?
Or might I only observe from here,
Anchored in this half seen corner
Of the world?

How can I discern the truth?
Test the evidence of my eyes?
Can I reach out,
Attempt a crossing to that other place
At risk of smeary fingerprints,
Marks of bruised rebuff upon the glass,
Witness then I could not pass,
And skittered back to grey?

Better to pretend I see nothing.
Feel nothing,
And thus guarantee,
I do nothing to offend.

Originally published as “Doing nothing to offend” at Visual Verse.

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A stinging thing, these waspish thoughts,
They built the castles, and dug the moats.
We churn them round, we thrust them out,
Those waspish thoughts, without a doubt,
They fell the mountains, burn the earth,
Stunt the spirit, and still the birth.


If only all could go our way,
Those waspish thoughts, to win the day,
Then they, who’d dare to do us down,
Would fall into our moat and drown.
Or so we’d think, but so it goes,
With never a day without some cause,
Some hook on which to puff our pride,
To dig our moat so deep, so wide.


We stand there thus, our pride to sing,
‘Mid clouds of wasps, to buzz and sting
When should we not, to be our best,
Heal first our selves, and forget the rest?

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Dean Black Brook, White Coppice, Lancashire

The cold seems to have been hanging on this first week in June, the house struggling to warm, most days never breaking eighteen degrees. The boiler lies dormant. Jumpers and jackets suffice for comfort and, of an evening, only essential lamps are lit. Appliances are scrutinised for kilowatts, and used as necessary but with circumspection. I don’t know if such economies are futile, but we make them anyway. And as I gaze out along the street, none of my neighbours are lit up either, so I guess I’m not the only one feeling a way through these strange times.

Meanwhile, malodorous smoke drifts, chugging out from the chimneys of those with wood-burners. These were purchased no doubt, for fancy, when they were of a fashion, but are now pressed into the more serious production of free heat – this, I suspect, from the burning of old pallets, and window frames. All of which is to the chagrin of those with hung out washing, and to me, whose sinuses swell at the merest whiff. Reluctantly, I take an anti-histamine.

For such a tiny pill, the anti-histamine packs a mighty punch, and I never could handle them. It does nothing for the sinuses, but puts me in a muddle all the next day long, and takes my legs. We’ll say that’s what it is anyway, as we feel the path bite. We’re in White Coppice, a little late in the day, so it was a struggle to park. I think some schools are still on Half Term – so hard to judge them these days. The plan is to wander up the ravine of Dean Black Brook, breaking out towards its head to Great Hill, but I find I’m overdressed for the day, which warms suddenly, and my legs are – well – leaden.

It’s becoming quite a sporting route, this, the path eroding, and dangerous in places as it slides away to a long and exposed drop. Or it may just be my age, and it’s always been this way. As an approach to Great Hill, it’s a more intimate route than the more popular path by Drinkwaters with its wide moorland vistas.

There are little cascades along the way, some accessible, some not, as the path sweeps up and down. At the first of these, I rest a bit, pull off the jacket before I boil, and settle down to take a photograph. It’s a cheat, I suppose, but even a modest runnel of water like this can be made to appear dramatic, from the right angle, and with a bit of cropping. Thus, I fuss over dozens of shots, thinking at least one is likely to come out all right. I’m packing up and turn to recover the path, only to be startled by a pair of Amazons coming at me like they mean business. That’s it with running water, you don’t hear the approach of others.

They have stepped out of an Instagram shoot, these girls. They are – what do you call them? – influencers, or perhaps more likely influenced. Tall, both of them, blonde and shapely, in their twenties, hair tied up in identical ways, like twin sisters. They wear identical gear: very short shorts, tight tee-shirts, little back-packs bouncing in the smalls of their backs, and running shoes. They are moving fast, and have looks of grim determination about them.

The lead girl is bold, and sure of foot, heedless of the sometimes sporting nature of the path. The girl who follows is more hesitant. She is the one I would have most in common with, I think. I never had much time for bold leader-types, nor they for me. I feel almost bowled aside by them, but they do not seem to notice me.

I venture a polite hello. The lead girl ignores it, or does not hear it. The girl who follows makes a belated, surprised response, as if indeed they had not noticed me. With a fragrant waft of body-spray, they are gone, up the side of the ravine, climbing like mountain goats. I see only legs, and sky. I reassure myself I would have outpaced them once, but not today. Today, I flake out at every opportunity, and fiddle with the camera.

We fiddle with it some more, at every insignificant sparkle of the brook along the way. Our progress is slow and halting, the day of a sudden somehow jaded. We take pictures of the more unfamiliar flora to identify later (heath bedstraw), and note the fresh green ferns now sprouting, marking their assertive dominance. In a few weeks they will be tall and wavy, and the valley will be pungent with them, and the air caught in their fronds will be thick with the drone of flies.

I see the crown of Great Hill ahead, and the sycamores by the ruin of Great Hill Farm. The Amazons are already two jogging dots of white against the heat wobbled green of the moor. They were indeed beautiful girls, but they struck me as cold, and that’s always something of a paradox, as I always imagine beauty to be warm. Bodies to die for, of course, and which would lure even the most nervous would-be lover from his mother’s apron, but they possessed not a smile between them. I don’t know why that struck me. Perhaps it was just the day and the muddlement, caused by the anti-histamine. It would need a poem to explore it.

We leave Black Dean Brook by the kissing gate that brings us up to the ruin of Drinkwaters, and there we sit in the shade of trees, enjoying a cooling breeze. Even the sheep are reluctant to relinquish their shade, now, and keep us company. A few lines of a poem by Betjeman comes unbidden:

Fair tigress of the tennis courts,
So short in sleeve and strong in shorts,
Little, alas, to you I mean,
For I am bald and old and green,..

And while I thank the unconscious pixie for its wry humour – which does indeed raise a smile – I know that’s not it, and it knows I know, but challenges me to mull it over and come back with a more serious answer to the question the day poses. So then it’s down to White Coppice in weary defeat, Great Hill seeming an Everest of effort, and quite beyond us, nothing in the legs, and this haunting sense of Beauty having turned its back.

At home, we sit out with coffee, and watch the sunset. The day is cooling again, and needs a sweater for comfort. Then the village stokes its wood-burners for the evening, and we withdraw to the cleaner air indoors, to dream, not of Amazons, but of sparkling rills along the Dean Black Brook.

And we attempt our reply, not as erudite or as witty as Betjeman:

Awakening to loss, we mourn the day’s swift run,
Seeking shallow waters, so to play,
Mistaking splash and haste for meaning,
And with foolish swings,
Scythe then our harvest home,
Thin as air, wholesome as the dust,
Of windblown clay.
Only in the lingering pause of beauty,
Do the depths reveal,
And then, smiling, lead the way.

The forecast says the days will turn warmer. I welcome that.

Thanks for listening.

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On Spitler’s Edge

You catch up with me this afternoon, on Spitler’s Edge, in the Western Pennines. It sounds precipitous, like a mountain arête, but it’s not. That said, it’s still quite an airy aspect, in a dun coloured, tussocky, bog-cottony, sky-scraping, moorland sort of way. Indeed, the views are spectacular, from the hills of eastern Lancashire, to the west coast. Southwards, we have the porcupine ridge of Winter Hill, and its cluster of transmitters, while to the north we have Great Hill. The crossing from Great Hill to Winter Hill is always a treat, not to be underestimated in bad weather, but much easier now the route has been paved to spare erosion of the precious peat and bog habitat. The highpoint here is around 1286 feet.

I’ve not come over from Great Hill, though. I’ve come up by an unfamiliar path that snakes between Standing Stones Hill and Green Withins’ Brook. Early maps tell us there was always a track here, though aiming a little lower, for the coll, and the pass to High Shores, then down to Naylors. Naylors is a ruin now, and the current map shows the track petering out in the tussocks of Standing Stones. But there’s still a clear and well trod footway that carries on, though aiming more for the featureless summit of Redmond’s Edge.

It’s a hot day, down in the valley, with a dazzling, head-bursting sun. The sky is streaked with great fans of whispy, stratospheric clouds like white dendrites against the blue, and I’ve been photographing them with various foregrounds on the way up. There’s a cool wind on top, now, and a dusty taste to the air. The moors are ripe for burning, but so far so good, and the idiots have spared us their perennial pyromania. We’re a little later setting out, having waited in for the Tescos delivery man, so it’s getting on for tea time. The light is turning mellow, and a poem is gnawing at me, wanting me to remember it from way back.

I was crossing Spitler’s Edge,
With the sun touching the sea,
When a stranger on a dark horse,
From the distance came to me.

So I took myself aside a-ways,
To let the traveller pass,
And leaning on my staff, I paused,
Amid a sea of grass.

2002, I think. No strangers on dark horses today, though – just the occasional mountain-bike going hell for leather and with an air that suggests a supreme confidence I’ll be stepping aside for it. Although we’re in a post CROW access area, this isn’t a bridle way, so, strictly speaking, bikes have no place on the edge – walkers only. It could be worse, though. It could be motorcycles. You can’t police stuff like this, though. It relies on conscientiousness, hillcraft, and good manners.

So where was I? Standing amid a sea of grass? Okay,…

From there I watched the sky ablaze,
Above a darkening land,
Until I felt a chill and spied,
The stranger close at hand.

He stood upon the hillside,
While his horse about him grazed,
And with his eyes cast westwards,
On that same sunset he gazed,…

Yes, an old poem of mine, insisting on rhyme, at the risk of meter. It came out of an odd feeling, when crossing this way, late one evening, forty years ago. It was the antiquarian John Rawlinson, in his book “About Rivington” who wrote of the origins of the name “Spitler’s Edge,” it coming from the Knights Hospitaller’s of the Holy Order of St John, who had holdings in the district – this being in medieval times – and who, legend has it, would pass this way en route. So the guy I meet in the poem is a medieval warrior-monk. So what?

He wore a cloak of coarsest wool,
Around his shoulder’s broad,
And, across his back was slung,
I swear, the mightiest of swords.

But I did not fear the stranger,
When at length his gaze met mine,
For I knew we shared that hillside,
Across a gulf of time,…

And, speaking of time, the evening I’m thinking of was some time in the early eighties. I’d had a bad day at work, plus the realisation the girl I had the romantic hots for had the romantic hots for someone else – a colleague of mine, and a decent guy I was friendly with. So I’d driven up to Rivington, and set out to mull it over. And in mulling it over, I’d walked, and walked, and walked. Thinking about it now, I would have been better just walking home that night, which would certainly have made for a shorter walk, but I turned around and came back to Rivington over the edge, as the sun set.

It was a beautiful night, a perfect stillness across the moor, a faint mist rising after the heat of the day, and I was kept company by a long eared owl whose silent, broad winged flight was the most beautiful and eerie thing. All right, I didn’t actually meet a Knights Hospitaller, but if you believe in gaps in the fabric of space-time, that would have been an evening to encounter one. The walk did me good, cleared my head. There was no way I was going to fight over the girl, and I reckoned I had it in me to find a way of finally letting her go. As for the stranger,…

I nodded my slow greeting,
And he duly did the same,
Then he climbed upon his patient steed,
And ambled off again.

But turning back, he caught my eye,
Then slightly cocked his head,
And smiled to me a kindly smile:
“Fare thee well, pilgrim…” he said,..

Not as long a walk today, but then I’m forty years older, and I feel the miles differently. Just six miles round from the Yarrow Reservoir, to which we return with the sun sparkling upon it, and the oak trees of Parson’s Bullough, with their fresh leaves luminous against the blue. I still think about that girl from time to time. She’s still married to that guy and, in retrospect, she was always going to be happier with him, than she ever would have been with me. Sometimes it’s the ghosts, and the shadows who let us in on secrets like that, but you need a vivid imagination – a mind’s eye sort of thing – and the faith in it, even if it sometimes works backwards way, and is never any use to you at the time. Still, we get by.

Fare thee well, pilgrim, and thanks for listening.

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I made a little lantern,
From an old glass bowl I found,
In a charity shop,
For a couple of pounds,
And rice lights, two hundred or more,
Solar ones. A tenner,
From the bargain home store.

Builder’s silicone,
Keeps out the wet,
All wiped neat and clean,
Before it could set.
Then I found some old copper wire,
Which I bent to a hanger
With a stout pair of pliers.

By day, it sits out,
And feeds from the sun.
But at night it comes in
As the darkness comes on.

It’ll take a long time
To catch up the cost,
But it’s pretty,
And persuades me
That all is not lost.

That so long as our minds,
Continue to spark,
There’ll always be something
To light up the dark.

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What now shall we do,
With the red, white and the blue?
Our jolly jack, half-mast, and shredded,
Timbers liberally embedded
With grapeshot, of raking volley,
Scrap metal of corruption,
Sleaze and folly.

So many left to die, felled by cutlass
Of entitled spin and lie.
Holed below the water,
Pride of fleet adrift,
Towed out to slaughter,
No steam, no course, no captain.
No steerage in the storm,
And not a single friendly port
To call our own.

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Dial you down that thermostat,
Pull you out that plug.
Keep you now the cold at bay,
Beneath a crocheted rug.

Turn you off your games machine,
Ration out your brews.
The energy’s shot up, you see?
They said so on the news.

Bread and butter for your dinner,
Hard cheese for your tea,
Seal the doors, plug the draughts,
Or we’re all going to freeze.

I don’t know how it’s come to this,
We really tried our best.
There’s only one thing left to do,
And that’s to wear a vest.

But when by night the darkness falls,
With your single bulb to see,
Remember what a pleasure,
It is to sit and read.

When the world is looking shallow,
And the future’s looking thin,
For depth and riches, turn you round,
And cast the gaze within.

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As I’ve grown old and hard,
She has softened sweet,
regressed to sleight of youth,
and dances now,
thin-veiled, in the forest of this,
the moon’s first crescent whim.
And she teases with her fluid hips.

I did know her, once,
when we both were of an age.
But she has grown so young,
of late, and wise,
and I can no longer enter in
that forest’s ferny shade.
For I am grown too slow,
to bide, and dance such fevered reels.
I must, alone then, brave
this slower time of turning, and
the wilderness within.

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The payers, grown lean of late,
Fall to the myriad blades,
Of this, their unfortunate fate.
They perish in great number,
Rule takers, not breakers,
While the players, and rule makers,
Wrapped in capital colours,
Prance, booze faced, and hearty.
They make large and party.

Meanwhile, in the hollow land,
A bare tree claws the last warm rags
From a sinking sun.
A kestrel shoulders air,
But – nothing worth the dive –
Moves on.

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