30 June 2011 § 10 Comments
Close of business
For my mind today:
It’s been a strict
Eight-hour forced march
On hard roads
Of others’ choosing,
The telephone bawling orders
And the Inbox driving me
With frequent lashes
Of its electronic whip.
Now the rest of me
Weary with inaction
Rises up; a quiet insurrection
Fomented by the sun
Shining in my window
And the swifts
Like black new moons
Racing over heaven.
The world has made a market of my hours:
Those that remain
Till sleep claims me
Are not for sale.
I am free.
24 June 2011 § 7 Comments
I wish that I could be a noble knight
And roam the kingdom wide on errantry;
But there are now no dragons left to fight
Or damsels in distress that I can see.
Yet I can still assume a gallant manner
Though chivalry be dead: I ride alone,
A freelance, fighting under no man’s banner
But that I choose; my destiny’s my own.
What need have I of any sword? I wield
The pen – a weapon mightier indeed.
I have this screen before me as my shield;
My lady’s favour all the spur I need
To accept the challenge of my daily quest,
And fight on, dauntless, to my nightly rest.
23 June 2011 § 15 Comments
I have found myself
So filled with others’ clamour
My own word-hoard is spent and plundered.
I have measured each hour’s value
While leaving its true worth unweighed;
Made walking in the woods and fields
Another tick on the to-do list,
Gloried in the dawn departures
And burning quarts of midnight oil,
Talked of plans and strategies,
Of doing, being, wanting more.
So I must lose myself
Again; become forgetful,
Run my hands along the bark
Of growing trees, watch the wind
Turn ash-leaves silver,
Smell the grass the cows have trodden,
Find my old ways through the woods.
And if I wander far enough
I know that I will meet myself
Coming back again.
22 June 2011 § 9 Comments
The longest day
I need not wait
Until the earth
Tilts my hemisphere toward the sun
At twenty-three degrees:
The longest day
Can come on any given date:
Each time I find myself
Confined indoors by work or weather;
When the phone is ringing
Constantly, each call adding another hair
To this shirt of mine;
When the bike betrays
A secret creak or nervous tick;
The hunting-dog goes lame or off his food;
The numbers topple
No matter how I stack them;
The lame knee does protest too much;
Or one of my beloved girls
Days stretched and overstuffed with hours,
That end in nights
With far too few.
12 April 2011 § 8 Comments
Life and living
I know how it looks:
My riding the roads and
Walking the woods
My chair growing cold
Keyboard quiet, screen boarded-up
Dust settling slowly on the desk.
Putting others’ words on paper
Like hammering bent, rusty nails
Into a rotten, splintered board
Is just a job.
The real work is here,
Among the tongue-tied trees
And voiceless flowers;
The wind grows weary
Of whispering to itself,
And the woods are bursting
To share old secrets
So long held in.
Must be taken down,
Absorbed, distilled, translated.
A life’s labour,
Without pay or prospects,
No kind of living;
And the only true life.
7 April 2011 § 16 Comments
Call it a wood
Call it a wood
If you will,
But this is my cathedral;
A greater glory captured in a single hornbeam bud
Or papery anemone
Than any Caen stone vaulting
Or stained-glass acreage.
And this is my study;
These living trees inspire more lines
Than the dead wood of my desk.
And this is my schoolroom;
These mute tutors hold the wisdom
Of the earth, and every lesson worth the learning
Of life and death, of failing and returning.
And this is my hospital;
In these soft scents and shaded paths
Lie sovereign remedies
For all my pains of heart and mind.
And this is my sanctuary;
The fears that stalk my nights and days
Dare not follow when I claim
Protection beneath this canopy.
And this is my stronghold;
A bulwark against the madness,
The ugliness, the noise
Of all that lies outside:
Call that the world.
24 March 2011 § 6 Comments
Fickle Summer picked up her skirts
And took a short, unscheduled break,
Lending the farm to Autumn
Who, having no truck with harvesting,
Drove us from the fields
With a thin and ruinous drizzle.
A snapped belt, sheared bolt or burst hydraulic hose
Deep in the combine’s vitals
Would leave the big machine
Bellied like a bog-bound mammoth,
Spilling its guts in gouts of oil
Across the gasping stubble.
As such times
We lads, not seeking or permitted
To wait out the delay with idle hands
Would fill the old blue van with plastic sacks
Then bundle in ourselves
And rattle to some distant field
To hunt out rogues: the wild oats
Whose tasselled heads rose, mockingly,
Above the standing crop.
We’d deploy along the headland, sacks in hand,
And take a tramline each, walking steady
Like policemen on a forensic sweep,
Stopping to pull the rogues up, roots and all
And bag them for the bonfire. To relieve
The tedium, we’d tell the green boys, out from town,
Them ol’ rogues’ll hear you comin’, see,
And bein’ woild, they’ll duck down quick
And ‘ide till you’ve gone boi,
Then pop’en up again, so moind you watch ‘em.
We learned to curse those wily weeds
And the gaunt, grey man who sent us there:
Four-pound-fifty seemed so little
For an hour that felt so long,
And all the while we knew
The rogues would not be vanquished
And we’d be back to pull more out next year.
A hopeless task, but honest, and somehow
No crazier than the work I’m doing now.
Rogue n a plant that falls short of a standard, or is of a different type from the rest of the crop; vt to eliminate rogues or inferior plants from (a crop, etc)
Roguing is the traditional way of keeping the harvest help occupied when inclement weather or the inevitable mechanical catastrophes bring the main activity to a halt. I know weeding a fifty-acre wheatfield by hand sounds daft, but compared to some of the so-called ‘proper’ jobs I’ve been given since my far-off student days, it seems like a sensible use of time.
24 March 2011 § 6 Comments
Towards the grey stone house
Like a battlefield surgeon coming down the line
Or a man who, shaving hastily, contrived to nick
An artery in his neck.
The warm red rain has spattered his face,
Soaked his cap and shirt-collar,
Stained overalls and hands like some apprentice butcher’s.
This was a task he should have tackled
Back when they were calves,
The horns mere buds, and their removal
No more than a touch of glowing iron,
A brief sharp stink of burning hair –
A job for life in a minute’s easy work.
Now, left so late, it took three men
And a whole sodding day of trodden feet,
Shouting, straining, geysers of muck,
Maddened beasts slamming on sleepers and steel;
An improvised corrida, short on finesse,
Long on blood.
The time, the hurt, the fat fee to the sweating vet;
Still, it had to be done:
Seeing them swaggering into the yard,
Cocksure with their weaponed heads,
There was no question. The wounds, torn wire
And their seigneurial strutting at the trough
Left him no choice
But the crush, the needle and the blade. Yet
He cannot say who won this one. He’s left
Slumped and blasted, arms hanging like empty sleeves; the beasts
Bewildered, polls still stunned
By adrenaline local and the shock of shears.
All change in the herd, he thinks:
A social shuffling, a shift in power.
A bullet bitten, the right thing done.
But as he stumbles in to wash and eat
He shakes his head. And does not smile.
15 March 2011 § 5 Comments
An effort of Will
He watches me
With dark, half-laughing eyes
From the postcard pinned
Above my desk;
Gold earring gleaming
And, I like to think,
A wink of fellow-feeling
Crackling beneath the paint.
His presence there
Does not intimidate;
We’re confederates, co-conspirators,
Rattling off the long day’s paid-for pages head-and-hand
While the heart beats to the rhythm
Of words that will be written
When doors are closed, lights dimmed,
And the world looks the other way.
Two country lads:
One weaving his boyhood’s woodbine and eglantine
To make a bower for a fairy queen,
And placing a bouquet of well-remembered weeds
In poor Ophelia’s hands;
Winding his word-girdle round the world
Unknowingly; lines penned to play for pay tonight
That would stretch a thousand years.
Labouring under the master’s gaze
With foolish tales of tractors, trees
Shepherds, birds and hunting-dogs
In his own daily comedy
Of errors. I look on Will
And know that his perfection’s out of reach.
But I would learn from all he has to teach.
11 March 2011 § 4 Comments
The big John Deere
Is working late;
After so long waiting
For a reborn sun and drying wind
To strip winter from the soil
They’re staying out,
The ten-foot, two-tonne roller
Treads thick, green scents
From the tender grass;
Driving in frost-lifted stones,
Making pancakes out of molehills,
As it wraps broad silver bandages
Round the bruised and pummelled pasture.
But these bent blades will be re-forged,
Stronger, and in greater numbers,
Ready for the tearing mouths
And hooves of summer cattle.
The roller passes on –
No time to lose –
And the soft earth breathes again:
When pressed, we do not break;
Though crushed, we do not die.
I promised my good friend and fellow poet John Stevens another tractor poem; I had something different in mind, but this one came along first, during a ride on the Paramount yesterday as afternoon gave way to evening. Apologies for the pic; a long-range phone-camera effort, I’m afraid.