Drove Road

Paths walked for long years,
Long legs, shoe-shod
Or cloven, a short hop
From field to fair
Along these ridges
Fringed with trees;
Viewing points guarded
Only by skylarks
And hovering jackdaws
Whooping on thermals


Years on, these same paths
Cut across the high hills still;
Close-cropped chalk lands
Skylarks still chattering
Their nattering call;
Sentinels too 
The mossy finger posts
And picnickers parking bays 
Offering tarmacked vistas
Onto overgrown drove roads –

Roads no more:
Bamboozled by brambles’
Blood-bringing barbs,
Nipped by nettles’
Venomous vitriol,
Even the boxy pupils
Of the Wiltshire Horns
Study no longer 
These routes of traverse 
That wane like whispers –

Memory lines lost –
To plants, to ploughs
To the past.

Ridge and Furrow Retraced

Afar, a thin lichen blotched steeple
Knapsack brown
And badged with green
Like a lanky Boy Scout.
Ahead, a blackthorn hedge
Cleaved near the root 
By billhook and determination;
Muscled over, sloping branches,
Silhouetted like nature’s tally-marks.
Up close, the ridge and furrow:
Broad ridges, a yard across;
Furrows, a yard wide, and half that deep – 
Fixed in earth, these fossilised waves,
Collecting the winter sun,
Refracting light, vivid outlines.
They do not crash or break 
They billow only over a lifetime’s course 
There is no wash or rip 
Every seventh is the same not higher.
The pull of the moon does not mould
These ripples of turned and re-turned earth.  

The sound of the oxen still echoes here
And the Medieval plough casts ancient shadows.

Sly Old Sun

Glazed eyes with tiredness
Another morning, up before
Any right-thinking folk should be;
Slowly rising,
Like the sly old sun
Nefariously peeking
Over the distant hedge
Pulling aside net curtains
Spying, shiftily –
Like that Mrs Scofield
Our dinner lady, crotchety
And her husband who
Really,
We hoped was dead –
Now its piercing stare
Advances
Like the salty swash over
Lustrous shingle –
She had that, did Scofield
Always scratching –
Accentuating forms
Under its low gaze
Crystalline puddles, froze,
The veins of leaves,  protrude,
Like her temples
When she barked at us
Most mornings.

Sudis

At mop fairs, men would come
To sell their labour for a fare price;
Days measured by the swinging arc
Of bill hook or adze, sickle or scythe
Or miles of trudging, scuffed leather
Behind the plough, stooking the sheaves
Labourers, lengthsmen – 
Badging, tending, tilling.

Clean cuts to beech knuckles, bent and pinned;
Clean cuts through rich earth, sharp mouldboards
Clean cutting the leaf mould-fuelled loam;
Clean cuts to the crop base, harvest and heap;
Clean cut the oak frame, for barn or byre.

Now, hedges are flailed and thrashed
Fallow and fruitless, gaunt and grubbed;
Now, dispassionate blades, blunt with motion,
Rip and rend, leaving only siege works;
Now, rived caltrops, a vicious barbed sudis
Deter intruders with thrusts and jabs.
Now, the stook of the wheatsheaf long gone;
Days measured by the swinging arc
Of muscle and might and man,
Lost to the clamour of money and motion and time.




Petrichor

Now, it is easy to forget.
Now, it is hard to remember,
Life before the burn –
These endless days of sun
Hexagonal cracks
In dust-parched soil;
In earth once tilled.

Now it is easy to forget
Yet yearn to recall –
The smell of Summer rain
Warm rain, drenching
That dust-parched soil –
Craters on the Moon
Or volcanoes, calmly waiting.

But the smell;
The smell of Summer rain
On thirsty ground
Lingers in me;
That fresh, uplifting memory –
Grass, springing back to life
The earth, breathing out…

Petrichor… flaring nostrils
Deep gulps of air,
Firing in my brain –
New life, new beginnings.

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 inverted 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.

We already know.

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!

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.

 

Uprooted

When the storm cut through, it cut;
Not a samurai-sharp, clean, incisive cut –
But blunt, deep, savage – butcher’s cuts
Cleaving and sawing, to and fro
Until the job was done.
It raced, the wind. It raced and grabbed.
Laughing, it grappled the trees –
Like a fatigued father, numb through insolence
Shaking a child; but no remorse – just brutish joy.
It took without mercy; pitilessly and persistently;
Saplings, vibrant with the life of warming days, slapped down.
Adolescents, lippy with age, put in their place;
And the wise old ones, their wisdom scattered.
Uprooted, lost.
And we pick up the pieces now.
The old wall, tumbled, can be repaired.
The car, rippled with dents, ironed out.
The windbreak of youthful poplars, replanted.
But the lament of the wild runs deeper –
Baleful calls; grey-eyed mournfulness
Families destroyed,
And lives
Uprooted.

Uprooted