Conversations at a Distance

‘In Solitude, for Company’ W.H.Auden

Blue Tits

There is still warm-blooded life in these battered fields.

Among flailed twigs – a flicker of blue-sky crown, a pale breast;

your movements like the flap and pause of a late bramble leaf

turning over in the autumn wind.

Mimicry, the protective conduct of hedge birds – presumably

perfected on former edges of wild understorey, still serves you well.

Ring Ouzel

There is still life up here where winter hangs on

in the riever’s den up in the Hen Hole, overshadowed

black peat path weaving into the hill, roar of

a deep hidden burn, scatter of old rockfall

desolation, the cold boulders we climb.

Almost unbearable, this mountain gloom. Then

over the meltwater diapason

from under a wet rock, comes your spirit song.

Curlews

understand air as an open system, adiabatic, chaotic;

how to be tossed in it, how to surf the wind’s upthrust,

to swoop love songs in four-dimensional space. You two

are nothing to do with me. This demonstration

is for continuing an idea of air, beyond me,

my boots on the ground.

Although somehow

you voice my sorrow for the retreating horizons.

Hedge Sparrow

Very close to the earth, and very close

to the kitchen door, I caught you

full face, and there was no face.

Little black beak little eyes

dark as deep time.

Robin

I knew you were there all the time

when I searched the bushes with binoculars

in the green spring. Yours was the inexplicably

sad song. But now you stand plain among yellow

remaining leaves in the field-maple, singing

quite cheerfully. Perhaps to me.

The

(Tears in the Fence,  2021)

Corporate Q & A

‘What does it take to be a truly effective board?’ 

            I am proud of my straight grain, strength and resilience. Ten of us were delivered by a Stenner saw, from a felled oak dragged in chains from a southern wood.

‘Discuss the importance of clearly defined roles,’

            I will always feel vertical at heart, though now I am alone and horizontal. The wind no longer stretches me, I have no roots to resist it.

            I am dried and abraded, waxed and polished smooth. My legs have made me immobile. The Board members admire my fine figuring: heartwood and sapwood, knots from branches lost to deer in my green days, even the tawny spalting from a rot that my young tissues resisted.

            Spring is for their AGM, not my rush of sap. In the wood I bore acorns and suffered squirrels, now I am papered over with their accounting.

‘and setting achievable goals’

            In the beginning they made us for gift, communion and sacrifice. A board can host a faculty, give or withhold approval; aspire to sanctity as altar, or gravitas in its board-room.

‘in our latest corporate governance article.

            I may be board now, but know this: only weather and daylength governed the wood where I grew.

Shearsman 125-126

Reasons why ‘young protester will resist until death’

Escobal Mine, Guatemala, 2010

Because at each season he knows where along his horizons to expect the sun

and where, before dawn, the morning star

Because he could recognise every cow – and milk her – blindfold

and predict the day’s weather from the wind on his face.

Because his muscles remember and perform

his family’s harvests of coffee, bananas, squashes and peppers         and his memory curates a map of their layout, according to each field’s fertility

the feel and smell of its soil, its underfoot give.

Because he still sows the maize his forebears bred from teosinte.

Because his whole self extends beyond his own skin

beyond the weekday chinos and necessary straw hat

beyond the walls of his house and its patch in the village

                                     as far as the bounding profiles of his hills of silver

their pines, oaks and cypress, their valleys and the hidden path

where his mother once picked a glittering pebble for him from a winter stream.

Finished Creatures 2020

Norham Castle: Sunrise. April

Turner’s epiphany was surely a morning like this. Too still, too bright for us, this Morgen fruh.

Da stieg ein Baum. No human sound yet. All I can see, at this northern tip of England, names itself to me in an old tongue. Here, there seems no Lingua Franca word for duck which works as well as duck. This Frühling is no primavera, no printemps; Ruhig breathes its soft g through the rising mist of the river, which is a fast-flowing Fluss, not a floral fleuve. Tranquillité, repos, it’s not; all bright specks and sparks, rainbows in the grass. These new-leaved bushes I can’t name as saule – the sound speaks of sallows, sickrooms, salicylic acid; they are willows, weide, and that stands for the field behind as well – weide’s water meadow. It’s alive with birds. Vogel’s made of voice and angel, the right word for the wing-borne hymns of songbirds. Oiseau looks elegant, but write the sound out: wuzzo?

Nesting in a flood-fixed bunch of dead grass high in the bushy bank, were flycatchers – Fliegenfӓnger – yes, that’s what I saw. Moucherolles? – for that darting flight?

Ah, old Germanic fisherman, netting Lachs (not saumon) from the skirfare, your words still sing. Your stone shiel, long underfoot, was Hütte; no chalet could have stood these floods.

Tears in the Fence 2020

Glyphosate

herbicied-treated FP at Bladon (2)To an absentee landowner

 

Oh don’t spray death across my field,

this wiped-out spring insults the soul.

Reckon beyond this year’s yield,

not just the profit, but the whole.

 

We locals have no power to wield,

to save the so-called weeds you kill.

It’s money in your bank, I know,

to herbicide our lovely field.

 

The year’s best time, we fear to go

out in the morning into brown

where green should spring and everything

lies on the panned soil, rotting down.

 

We’re unentitled, but we love

clover along the public path.

What ancient moot could have foreseen

this power to lay waste all that’s green?

 

Your hirelings come from far afield

and never walk the land they spray.

Seated high behind a shield

they do the job and drive away.

 

Airborne poison uncontained

drifts beyond your acreage,

and what you take’s not yours to spend,

but common ground along the edge.

Ordnance Survey One-Inch Map of Great Britain. Sheet 90. Wensleydale.

 

High Greenfield Pasture, Beckermonds, Far Barn
are summer fields, attractors of old trails
from hibernation fug through poached in-bye
to a curlew plateau arched between two dales
where deep-set tarns survey the flying sky.

Such joy to open wide the shippon door
then – one to drive, another hold the gate –
to loose the barging herd on to the moor
and linger on the tops with them till late.

 

The moor’s deserted, but you’re not alone.
From Ribblesdale to Yockenthwaite and Cray
fell-striding lanes host such a company
of travellers, herdsmen; future and long gone,
footlit by peat moss pools that mirror sun.

Places of Poetry anthology, eds Andrew McRae; 2020

Off Seahouses

 

The last thin line of land sinks below the horizon.

The boss cuts the forty-horsepower roar

 

sea-silence surrounds us.

 

Waves lap and splash as the RIB

like a raft with eight survivors
dips and tilts on the slow surge of the swell.

 

 

Awed, we stay quiet.

 

They come

as if from a medieval navigator’s map

slicing the hilly waves,

circling the marine biologist

who back-flips into the sea to tally them.

 

 

We peer over low rubber gunwales,

catching their upward glances

as they side-slip under our boat.

 

 

The scientist flops back on board       pleased with this data point:         white-beaked

 

 

a species of cool waters.

British Mosses and Liverworts

 

i.m E.V.Watson

 

Take a magnifying glass to moss:

 

so many, and small enough

to be named only in Latin   ̶

 

worth learning, when it’s wet

and the tops are out of sight.

 

The cells look Escher-tiled

and only just unseen,

 

a dew-green skin

of water and light

 

rootless on rock. Between

torrents and summer drought,

 

moss makes the most of clouds,

spreads photovoltaics to the misted sun.

 

Some rainy afternoon, walk out. Look down. Enjoy

the treasure hunt: garnet on flooded slabs is Bryum rubrum,

 

bright Philonotis  aprons a spring, and Rhacomitrium

on wind-skimmed summits, dries hoary-grey in summer, like shed wool.

 

Habitat Loss

Screenshot 2019-07-18 at 21.14.44

Was it lost, or never found,
the thousand-flowered tapestry
the public good, the common ground?

The bay where herring queens were crowned
the quiet sky, the fruitful sea
was it lost, or never found?

Small city squares to stroll around,
accidental, open, free
a public good, a common ground.

Translucence of a glass-dark pond
amphibian diversity
was it lost, or just not found?

A wood where chanterelles abound
that’s not some shooter’s property,
a public good, a common ground.

A stranger welcomed to the round
untallied generosity
was it lost, or never found
the public good, the common ground?

 

Set in the Silver Sea

 

Silver sea

Cameron chooses fish on a slab
grey, black, blue
mackerel, halibut, eels or dab?
The rain, the oil, and the sea

The trawlers wait at Peterhead quay
grey, black, blue
freezers burning barrels a day
the rain, the oil, and the sea

Under the earth the power lies
grey, black, blue
Cui bono? A word to the wise
the rain, the oil, and the sea.