Anthropocene

We live, we’re told
In a new age, a new epoch –
No blankets of ice receding;
No migratory influx
Of elephants, or deer
Hippo or mastodon;
We live, we’re told
In a new age, an age of apes;

Tell that to the sparrows
Struggling for food, for shelter
Where the grubbed-up hedge once was

Tell that to the herring
Their darting silver shoals
More precious than our silver trinkets

Tell that to the cows
Force injected for profit
Fattened for cheap cuts

They already know.

Climbing up Beattock,
That steady climb,
The marvel of man
Tilts, glides, leans –
Yet outside,
The ever-morphing panorama
Reveals the patina of ages seen –
Everywhere,
Everywhere,

The upsy-downy shadows
Of ancient farmers’ furrowed fields

The sinuous blocky grace
Of a dry stone wall, clambering, crossing

The spoil heaps, lost in paradise
Of shovel-clawed quarries,

Mile on mile on mile
Of paving; inked lines, snaking onwards

We already know.

Despite our ascendency, we descend
Unable, unwilling, denying –
Irrationally debating the rational
Arguing the inarguable

Despite our ascendency, we descend
Still we lift the trees
Pave the earth
Grasp, hunt, steal

Despite our ascendency, we descend
Incapable of acting
Incapable of stewarding
Incapable of preventing

Our descent, from our ascendency –

This too,
We already know.

Outsourced Eyes

At this hour,
Beneath the stony rictus gaze
Of Mr. Stephenson, the founder here,
This station approach –
Euston’s grand lobby –
Is laid bare with concrete carpet tiles,
Gauzy vanes and barbs
Of jettisoned pigeon feathers
Trod in chuddy,
Fuchsia pink fag butts –
Is all a furore; the hurly-burly
Of bodily momentum –
A haphazard helter skelter
Randomly rushing to toil;
Skittering, zag-ziggingness
Thither, hither, hubbub
Close-calls, near misses
Auto-pilot adjustments
Avoiding gazes, muttered pardons
Wide-loads, pushed out elbows
Dropped shoulders, in mock attack
Shibuya Crossing;
Times Square;
Oxford Circus;
Purposed busyness.

One set of eyes is blind to it all;
Feeling only, the light brushing
Of arm against coat;
Feeling only, the soft nudge
Of meaningless apologies;
Feeling only, the paper cut edges
Of leaves in the wind on dry skin –
Arm outstretched,
Outsourced eyes steer him
Surely, truly, forward –
A bollard missed;
A tourist’s brolly, evaded;
Unfalteringly forward –
With calm, with trust,
Doggedly forward –
Towards the bright light
Of the rising sun over the city,
And a thousand scents, ignored.

Location, Location.

Down in the cutting,
The 7 o’clock fug of fumes lies
Duvet soft, a drifting blanket;
Up the sides,
Birches and hornbeams –
Cheap trees of the Council –
Rise scrubbily; bark-smeered
With oily, bletchy fingers
Seemingly, scratty yet proud,
Tall and whippy too –
Shooting up, drunk on
Drugs of digger-turned earth
And airborne vits –
Sarny crusts; pasty bits,
Bruised bananas, apple pips.

At this hour, tired eyes
Steer tyred wheels;
Eyeing greedily,
Viscerally dazed imaginings
Of half-grabbed croissants,
Or Tommy-Tippy coffee.
Engines, nose to tail, breathe raspily
Diaphragmatically deep on methane
And obnoxiously noxious NOx.

High up though,
Here, in this unprepossessing roost,
Crows and rooks perch precariously
And sway –
Not in isolation
But in metropoli…
Squabbling, bustling, bursting
Nests stacked on nests,
Ribbon development
Along branch, stem and twig;
Three-story town houses,
Bijou flats in the beeches up front
Back to backs at the back –
Twiggily and twittly chattering –
Social clubs; staycations,
Meat raffles, morning fêtes –
Location, location, location.

Below the fumes,
Below the grass,
Below Kit-Kat shards
And asthma canisters –
The grumbling rumbles,
The resonant roars,
The thrumming quakes,
Are a call to arms
Rain! Shout the worms
Rain! Time to move
Rain! Time to breathe
Up! Up! Up!

And down come the birds –
Down in waves –
Through fugs of fumes, rasping motors,
Down like a duvet, deadly drifting –
To guzzle and gobble and gorge –
Among the sarny crusts and pasty bits,
Bruised bananas and apple pips.

The Needwood Wassail

Two sides bordered by Derby-lands
In the west, dark Bagot’s brooding stands
Trent to the south the flowing lifeblood
‘twixt them all, our fair green wood

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

Our ancient forest calls to the heart
Rich soil, gentle valleys, never to part
Stout oak, lithe hazel, the black elder tree
We raise up our glasses and drink unto thee

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

We, the folk of the five parishes
We, the stewards of the wood, cherish’d
Open up! Open up! And let us all in,
Open up! Open up! Or we’ll make a right din

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

Saved from the axe, saved from the fire
The Needwood is rising, rising like spires
The Winter is going, watch it retreat,
Good health, raise cheer, give thanks for the feast

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

Wæs þu hæl!

Double Helix

Crunching onto rime-hatted ground
Crackling underfoot, sound waves
Rippling through me, cold
Reverberating in my ear drums –
Sound waves; a winter susurration
Glancing up –
A thousand whispering wings
Soughing as the wind,
The scything virgule
Of October’s leaf-fall harvest.
A writhing, gyring vortex:
Helix, double helix, helix…
A murmuring murmuration
A living hive of DNA
Spinning, cavorting, whipping
In eddies and counter-currents
Stable yet unstable
Chaotic yet ordered
Tribal yet singular –
Away then, over the ice-tipped field
In a playful, whooping migration
Before dissolving as vapour
Will-o-the-wispish, dreamlike
Ethereal, lost
Into the Needwood
And the tree-spiked horizon.

Pogles’ Wood

Viciously precarious,
The descent from the church.
Sandstone slabs, worn away in whorls
Always sported a 5 o’clock shadow
Of moss, like it’s cool, right
Old gravestones, laid flat
Names scuffed off,
From worker’s clogs and flint hard seggs;
And on the hill, the cobbles –
Most places have grubbed them up
Or covered them over, endless coats
Gravel, tarmac, slabs – not here.
And all it took, a greasy summer shower,
Motor oil’s incessant dirty drips,
Sump leakage from Austin 7s or the fleet
Of Mr Williams’ Peugeot 505s –
Barking and hacking
Gauloises smoking devotees, spitting,
And you’d slide, arse over tit
Down the bank to the brook.
There, the straight route back
Left up the horse-track,
By the old mill pool, even then,
Well past its good days.
You knew you were there,
When the gable of the Haunted Manor
Poked above the brambles.
Pogles’ Wood: a fearful scrub
Of skin rubbing, flesh scoring madness,
Your deepest dreads
Lived out there.
Heading round,
Past the graffiti (‘Mod Wankers!’)
Pushing through bright shards of angelica
Stinking garlic, brush-laurel
You’d soon be lost…
Enfolded, shrouded, swallowed whole –
Natural senses, compass, gone.
As the magnetic chaos, the veil of darkness
Pulled you deeper.
Flailing, whirling arms, gaunt-mouthed
Panicked running; the only hope –
Uphill! Uphill!
Minding the mire, the bog,
High ground!
Until hope was restored
A distant bugle call…

It’s gone now, the wood.
The scrub and fen no match
For bawling chainsaw and wheezing diggers.
Drive there though
Up the Old Mill Road
And I still hear it, that reveille
Son! Get home! Tea’s up.

The Shed on the Heath

They built the Church high,
It’s spire, vertiginous, topped out
By a copper cross, a weather vane
And a lightning rod
To bring to these people
Of the Heath – these Heath’ens
Illumination;
Salvation – of sorts.
But they did not need the divine.
These people brought all they had –
Years of back-break
Arm ache; straining graft,
Salt-smeared perspiration;
Smith-beaten tools, rough, forceful;
Pig-smelt ploughs, dimpled and course
Folding and turning,
Folding and turning,
This poor earth;
God’s acre – only if God valued
Weed-ridden, sand leached
Harrowed land.

My grandfather dug this till,
Enriching it with more than horse muck,
His, a quiet humour –
A gentle laugh –
Quizzical fingers, making,
Doing, mending, meddling.
His plot, L shaped, rising,
Had four sheds –
Now, years later, three have gone –
Lost to the wreckers, land-pirates;
The blackthorn, taller now than he was,
Enveloped them, like the tentacles
Of some gothic beast
In a Lovecraft horror – devoured.

Up the top though
Remains the ‘engine’ shed
Brim full of mowers, and shredders
A hand-plough, scythe,
An adse, beat from a pane hammer
Two vices – made before Miami
Was conceived –
Bags of fertiliser – before bomb makers
Threatened us –
Oil drums, beer crates,
Sieves and drills,
Ladders and mattocks;
Car parts saved, ‘Just in case’
Old window frames, cut to shape,
Might be useful’;

And there, in the back, hidden
Behind half a flymo,
An old handbag
Full of spanners,
A small sideboard,
Good to go,
And bits of an engine
From a Suffolk Punch,
Is a crumbling sack –
Treasure – faded, dusty, sure,
But priceless all the same –
Crumbling now, as the years erode –
Memories, memories.

Where the wildings are

On the scrubland, up by the pool
Is a hedge, bird-planted,
Irregular, gnarled, bowing –
Part-clipped by passing walkers,
Rubbing shoulders with dangling limbs
Of dappled haw and speared blackthorn;
And just where the path forks,
Where the blackbirds forage,
Is a runt of a tree –
Contorted twigs,
Rucked-up bark,
Leaves, blotched and marked –
Feral street kids
Searching for favour
Amongst the big lads.
Yet the fruit shines as it falls now,
Some glossy where it’s smiled at the sun,
More, lime green and bashful
Most, tumbled and fallen,
Littering the path – a cider-mulch
Sweet like Valhalla’s mead –
The only Gods here, the hawk moths
And feasting crows.
No orchard this –
No tending, nor pruning,
No skirting, nor grafting –
Just the illicit love children
Of a discarded Orange Pippin
And – who knows? Perhaps noble lineage
A Foxwhelp or Peasgood’s Nonsuch?
For now though, these bastard children,
These wildings, rule the republic
Unhampered.

Reynard

Sunday evening
Big lumps of rain, pounding pavements
Like Coppers’ soles, big and flat and constant
Big lumps of rain, pounding fields
Greening up, imperceptibly, persistently.
Now though, an ominous ink grey sky
Held in a stand-off –
An atmospheric arm-wrestle,
Muscling it, with a bright arc of French blue.

Alive, vivid, sharp.

Under my fat-tyred wheels,
The ground sprung back,
Mildly compliant;
Ever-so forgiving as it often is
After rain,
But the bones underneath
Remained, still there, resisting,
Calcium peas under an earthen mattress.

Alive, vivid, sharp.

Beyond the hedge,
Lambs wobbled inquisitively,
Learning life in momentary revolutions
The bones above, growing;
Mothers attentive,
Upended snake eyes,
Warily watching.

Alive, vivid, sharp.

Sharp, for Reynard.
A beacon of brightness moving uphill –
His coat, flame bright,
His brush, darkening to burnt caramel,
His form, iridescent in the evening light
The pre-storm light illuminating him
Blinking bright, under a spot bulb,
Bright teeth, bright smile,
Bright future.

 

The Beer Tribe

He, louchely lounging,
Sweltering heat; sweltering beards
Loose-hanging camo vests,
Close-cut leggings, thigh slashed –
Beany hat, woolily cool,
Arms braided with tatts, Pictish hero…
Or urban warrior?
She, pierced beyond Brosnan,
Flip-flops in winter,
Hair dyed in Nu-Age Violet
Tied back in a tie-dyed sling,
Fresh from slaying Goliath
Yet this bar lives; pulses
To rhythms of the Veldt –
And the beers, their menagerie:
Little Creatures, Queen of the Night,
Raging Bitch, Flying Dog,
Moose Fang, Holy Cowbell,
And the poor, rag-tag Dead Pony
Rule the roost here.
And you’re not welcome:
Sly looks, knowing grins quickly concealed.
You, with your shaved chin and slim cut jeans –
You, with short-sleeved shirt and smart sneakers –
Cost a pretty penny but not a penny well spent
In their eyes.
Their eyes betray condescension
Their eyes are only
For the ‘in’ crowd, the beer crowd –
Their eyes lap up uncrafted craftiness;
A beacon of their anti-individualism.
Their eyes betray them
Sucking up; hoovering up
Their unspoken conformity.