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

Mating calls

The shrill penetrating attack of a Greenfinch
Insistent, urgent, agitated – calls for a lost love up above.
In the hedgerow, the calmer, bass, wooing
Chitter-chat of a love-struck Great Tit.
Away, under a straggly drooping laurel,
The guttural, dirty laughter of flirting pheasants;
And in the distance, the boorish, drone
Of a chainsaw; tediously barking the mating call
Of extinction.

Takeaways

Them damn magpies.
When they’re not nicking diamonds
Or pearls or some such trinkets,
They’re squabbling over scraps.
Gabbling with their angular voices.
Chock-a-lock; arrk-chak-chak.

Wrangling, over styrofoam chips,
Or batter and bits soaked in gravy.
Bickering, over seed pod cereal bars,
Or platinum-edged gum wrappers.
Nit-picking over feast-details;
Feuding over takeaways.

Abandoned

It’s said that Lyonesse lies submerged,
Like a shallow dream,
Covered in crab pots, ruptured buoys, starfish
And mythical swords
Abandoned, until we need them most.

Yet, north of there,
As the stream flows
As the clouds skitter
Lie the gnarled rock clutter
The last bastion – or the advance guard
Depending how you face –

Of St Kilda

Where the people called for help
Sung for boats and sailed away
Hearth and home left, lost;
A hole in the heart
Punctured deep, thrust through
All choices gone; hope gone too.

Yet, peering down on our aqua globe
Through the magnified penetrating eye
Of sordid satellite spying
Those homes and hearths remain
Solid walls, thick-set,
Sheelings, like stone circles
Misaligned, unless you
See the world like a box-eyed Soay;
Field walls, crinkled up hill sides;
Wind breaks, braced sou’westerly
Ragged into the wind.

Why then, in this hustle bustle time
With this ‘shrinking’ globe
Cluttered by business,
Does hope not remain?
A long line under the sea;
Or imagined lines through the air;
Or just a deep keeled boat, cutting the waves;
Is surely all it needs?

Unless you come from Lyonesse.