Ditch Diggers

They dug the ditches deep back then;
They had to –
Beating back the boundaries
Of nature’s millennia
Never had an adze or briar hook been seen
Until then.

Narrow blades; course hammered,
Drain spades and trench shovels
Lugged and bent
Where the shaft hooked the housing;
Sure footing for the sure-footed boot
To stand on, force, rend, cut.

The Navvy’s forebears,
Local stock, not travelled,
Except by foot or ox cart
Descended like bloody midges, swarming
To the Mop Fairs, hiring out blistered hands,
For work, for women, for wealth.

And they broke –
Broke the turf-sods and clod-soil,
Broke the rootstock and tap shoots,
Broke, with badging tools and sickle-scythes;
Broke, with froes and beet hooks;
Broke their backs for coppered toil.

These days, we dig and cover –
The shovel-scoop of the iron ox forces, rends and cuts
The drains, grey tubes, flushing, free –
But look close,
Where the litter lies in the old hedge line
Where the soft mud gathers, draped in half-mulched leaves –

There, lie the shallow trenches
There, the mark of the old ditch diggers
Cruddy trickles;
Chip wrappers, rusting beer cans
Their memoriam;
Their last will, their testament.

Baying at the Moon

A muggy September day
Close and clammy like a secret uncovered
Yet broken with a shock, a jolt
As all the heaven’s pent-up frustration,
It’s potent fury, clashes and bangs
Together, squeezed into a release
Of swingeing torrents of elemental vengeance 

That night, an hour no more
After this Armageddon
The sun swatted below the horizon
By our racing rock’s twitching flight path
Clouds drift lazily,
atching their breath, collecting their wounded
Our moon beams through, brighter than ever
As if it’s just been buffed, polished
By whoever keeps shop up there

A hazy light, refracted, split, soft
Is the light that falls on me
Like moon dust – I can feel it
Raising my hackles
Twitching follicles
That imperceptible shudder
Of walking over a grave

I look up; I sense it’s calling
And in my mind’s eye
Pulsing through my lunar veins
I dream, of throwing back my head
And baying to the Moon
A primal howl – proof, if needs be
That I am no wolf
But a mere servant, an unwitting slave
Of these dancing rocks
That spin through space and time


needwoodReclaimed from the plough
The soil, still cloddy, cratered
By last night’s heavy squall;
Cobbles, palm-sized, glossy
As the promised talons
Of the high street nail shops
Turned over, dredged from the deep
By hundreds of years of harrow and furrow,
Sparkle, aglow.
Climbing, through the brambled hooks
Of thistles and leggy hawthorn
Up to the kissing gate –
There the world transformed:
Dappling glades
Like those you imagine
In your sweetest dreams;
Old trees, broken, suggestive,
Illuminated by shafts of forest light
Here a cackling witch,
Huddled, bent, cloaked in mystery
There a shepherd, braced to the wind
His sheep, the undercover,
Wizened  hollies, starved of light,
Fumbling for opportunity.
Beyond, like mystic isles,
Floating in a forgotten sea –
Fragments –
Fragments of the Needwood
The ancient wood that
Grew hereabouts; pioneering
As the ice withdrew
But slain by man and his piteous greed.
Fragments, though, remain,
Living memories, old, misshapen
Beacons of aged hope
A hope for those, like me
Who stare down on them
Like Atlantis, re-emerging.

September, 2016,  Brankley



Far out, across the choppy billows
Pushed up by the shallows of the Dogger Bank
Probing lights sweep the wave tops
Blinking spots on a radar screen
Focus down, target the shoal
Unbeknown, the flicking shards below
Silver-backed, iridescent, pearly-oil slicks
Of the herring-hive, dart and flare
Their fate ominously stalking

Weighted nets plunge and drag
As the coughing diesel bucks and pulls
The mighty haul plunges too
Into the inner depths
Of that greasy tub,
Tomorrow’s fodder, soon dispatched, soon packed

Back on the slippery quay
A catch of a different kind
Is left in wonderment
No pennies here for the grizzled fisherman
No exotic flatfish for Billingsgate or La Boqueria

Bones, bones…
Stripped of flesh, polished
By the gentle swash and wash
On the sand armed sea floor
Bones, bones…
Thigh bones like the Flintstones
Antlers of mega deer
Ivory, pocked with cavities, long-term decay
Bones, bones…
Clues of a different land
Remnants of grasslands and river banks
Memories of once great plains
That swept from Pacific to Atlantic
Scarified by bitter winds
Sun baked and buzzing with life

The last remnants –
The reminders of the past –
Our past, of Doggerland,
And maybe, of our tomorrow