Battlestead

Battlestead walk warrior_FotorForested bluffs, these valley sides
Trent, Dove, Swarbourn, Blythe
Buttressed walls
Defending Needwood’s home
The forest plateau
Riven by scars, slashed deep –
The erosive ferocity
Of river, brook and stream
Yet lying low, discrete yet blunt
The rounded tops of Battlestead
On whose slopes, forgotten blood
Has seeped and soaked
Steep battlements cut
Deep ditches, high walls –
Wanderers repelled
All lost now under tilled earth
And swaddling pine;
This lookout, this belvedere
This sentinel point –
Eerily still, for now
It is the calm before the storm
Millennia have passed
Ice advanced, then receded
Meanders slipped back and forth
And churned and cut
Battlestead was born then –
Battlestead has watched since –
Yet now, a maelstrom of progress
Concrete, brick, glass and steel
The tree-skirt gone
The legacy lost
New towers are built
Her battle lost too –
And in her stead?
A brutal lesson.

Brock

BrockDigger, builder,
Badger, Brock,
The grey man of the fields
Scuttling gait, shoulders rolling
A shepherd lolloping after sheep;
Pausing, snout up, paw cocked
Like the keeper’s gun,
Trunnion-hinged,
Ready to snap-shut
And kill;
Brock waits
Maps the land through scent
Worms, or grubs, or nesting chicks;
In the far field, home
Root-roofed, earth walled; the sett
A safe haven – until the men come
With their shovels and picks
Holler and thrum
Dogs and gas –
Brock runs
Low now, head down, urgent
Through the long grass
Into the ditch
Beneath the hedge
Under the wheels.
Brock lies
Gutter-ways
As if asleep
Dreaming…
Digger, builder,
Badger, Brock.

 

Lost Mini

Sprinting across the shingle;
That’s what we did; sprinting
And flirting up a wake of pebbles
Grit too, like a rally car
Power sliding through an unpaved bend
In deepest Wales or Kielder or Galloway
Barely in control
The shingle gave way below our feet
Until we threw ourselves down
Next to the towels, spades and wind-breaks
The beach was the racetrack,
Banked bends, long straights
A Mulsanne and Eau Rouge in one,
With my Mini; unblinking eyes on the front
Throwing out death rays of light
Twin exhausts out back
Two fingers to the Planet
Spewing out the bile of internal combustion;
But it didn’t count on the assault course
Of being thrown from paw to paw
Or accelerated through the sound barrier
Or worse, being buried one foot down
By infants.
That’s where it ended.
I buried the car, like I buried the Scirocco
in later years; buried it deep
Not into the side of a truck
But in a pit; a grave of beach shingle.
I went to dig it up – but the car had vanished
Clawing, I dug a hole four foot wide
Roped my Dad in too; no avail.
Where is it now? That’s the recurring thought
I have whenever I walk on a shingle beach –
From Chesil to Slapton Ley
Where is my Mini?
In flights of fancy and whimsical thought
I imagine it now, somewhere near
The Mid Atlantic Ridge By-pass
Or whizzing through the Grand Banks
Pursued by Whales and Cod
More likely, it’s like that tank they found.
Fell off a boat it did
When practicing for Omaha and Juno
Came up years later; pock marked
Armoured by limpets
And camouflaged by kelp

The rivet

I tramped like a hobo
Across the rock-littered moor
Outcrops of stippled, lined rock
Stacked layer upon layer
The folds of the long-gone puthering lava, still evident
Blancmange blobs of plaster on the builder’s hawk;
By myself, alone on the lonely moor
Except for the litter of life all around,
Heather alive with sound,
Tufted grasses, antennae twitching in the air waves
To catch a water droplet
Or a Russian broadcast;
Glossy gorse needles set to stun,
And Cotton Grass nodding its disapproval
As my careless feet print their way
Through the sucking sphagnum.
A mere glint, a visual tripwire, made me look
A winking jewel, eyeing me suspiciously
A coin of sorts, misshapen by years, curved
Like a claw or talon,
Old? Perhaps a Ducat or Sheqel – priceless?
I briefly dreamed that I had the knack
For spotting Dollars, Dòngs and Dinar
But, no
It turns out I was Talentless;
It was a rivet, misshapen, deformed by age,
The friction between bridle or stirrup maybe
Or the broken connecting-rod
Of some Knight’s plate-mail,
Snapped by the pleasure-less frottage
Of iron upon iron, year upon year.
Like Bilbo’s ring, the rivet has a new home now,
Nestled amongst the broken crumbs
Of low-fat taste-free rice cakes
Old Kleenex, shiny with the dried slug
Smears of weeks old snot
And the rustling chrysalis of unused poo bags;
When the pocket of my old coat
Finally gives up, the rivet will fall
To a new place; amongst the leaf litter
In a lime-lined park; or on the floor of a charity shop
Sold as seen
Or maybe in that strange circularity of life,
On a rock-littered moor, hidden amongst
Outcrops of stippled, lined rock,
The folds of the long-gone puthering lava, still evident.

The last draw

There she stands
Feather footed in her Fit Flops
Auto-exercising on-the-go,
Slim framed and lithe
In a slim-fit pink overcoat, belted
And swaddled tightly round
To ward off the chance
Of a cold, or the ‘flu, or the merest sniff;
Held lightly,
From her eco-friendly brown paper bag
She scoffs a super smoothie for inner strength
And a super salad, seed-packed with chia
The pink teeth of pomegranate
All manner of nature’s wonders;
No excesses here: matt black glasses
Adorn a neutral palette;
Made up not to be made up, so to speak
Self-evidently, a paragon of health
Radiating vigour and well-being
A role model for our modern times.
She waits,
Deeply breathing in the fresh air
Outside, on the office steps
And raspily draws
On a desperate fag
Before arranging
The evening slot
At the gym

The train from the North

My dad still tells of
The great steam trains of his youth
Vast hammer clouds of dirty smoke
Erupting from the chimneys,
Not just ejected from the engine, but up, up,
Up, Into the upper reaches of the stratosphere
Hanging above the cuttings
At the bottom of Oak Street
Or Marsh Green Road;
But the majesty – no other word
Will do to describe, to eulogise
The crowning glories of the Victorian Engineers;
The ingenuity to create movement
From cracked stone, fire and iron-clad inertia
From what is, in truth, whisper it…
A teapot on wheels.
And such is the way in those parts,
Where I grew up, near Railway Town,
There was a fascination, a worship
Of engines, of tracks,
The mobile machinations
Of pumping pistons and spinning gears –
Of water, of rock, of gas, of light.
Maybe then, it’s why, when I jump on
The train from the north midway along
A carriage of Scousers and Mancs
And the posher sort, from Wilmslow or Hale,
There remains all around still
That childlike fascination of travel on train
To distant places,
Through nameless middle lands
But then, on the edges of the Smoke,
The train, now smoke free
Yaws on the tracks and the necks strain
Rotate, pivot, swivel and spin
At dreamed-of panoramas;
The looping arch of Wembley;
The first glimpse of curving Tube tracks,
A peep through buddleia riddled track side
Towards the Post Office Tower or Centre Point,
Before the descent into the gloom –
Stephenson’s vast cutting –
And All Change, All Change
For reality.

Transitions

At the edge of this island; it seems
So permanent; a full stop, but no
It is a transition, that is all
Of cliff and sand, of tussock and scree
To sea, to waves and another world.

At the edge of the moor; the stone circle
Napped by flintsmen, it seems so ancient, inexplicable,
It is a transition, that is all
A launching pad to another plane
A liminal zone between here and where?

At the edge of waking, the dreams
Are vivid, intense, so real I can touch them
It is a transition, that is all
To my waking rituals; a stretch, a flex
Facial scrub, ear-wax cleansed.

At the edge of my tether, it seems
As if all I am told is true
It is a transition, that is all
To a new chapter; a future
In my hands, shimmering.

I am me

Who are you, behind your veil?
Your façade, your carapace, your pretense of being
Who they say you should be
Of being somebody, anybody… nobody
“Feedback” they said, will help you find
Your “authentic self”
But it’s a game, don’t you see?
They are no more authentic, no more true
Than a Georgian front on a Medieval truss
Or a beautiful face, hidden behind the slap
No, theirs is a shifting form, a phantom,
Bending with the wind, morphing to resemble
Who they believe they need to be
But it’s never themselves; the truth there
Lies hidden under deep strata, truth told
They may no longer know the truth
Resist: resist the beguiling vortex
Of lies, quarter-truths, the ‘game’
Walk forward securely through life
Let your reflection be of you
And your soul remain intact

Five Pubs

In our village there still survive
Five pubs; one’s gone ‘gastro’, tantamount
To selling out, with ‘sharing dishes’ and ‘mezze plates’
So you must conclude, it doesn’t count
Another, popular in waves
Has changed its décor, a last-ditch attempt
To go up-market, gentrify
But now’s regarded with sheer contempt
The third, you need to be committed
It’s a good way hence, a half-mile yomp
All right going out, but after Three
It seems like Five, a wearisome, beer-fuelled klomp
The fourth is currently the most favoured
One side, low-beamed cozy locals’ den
The other, smartly daubed in ‘Linen White’
Reclaimed oak and wood-fired hen
But the fifth, well, it’s a drinkers’ pub
Worn old flooring, knotty pine
Scratchings, pints, pies and muzzie,
And a chillingly creaky old pub sign

Shadows in time

On the Museumplein, Dutch Masters look down
On beech leaves dancing, drifting in brushstrokes.
Early Autumn sun bathers soak up rays
In jeans, scarves and thick jumpers.
Here, next to memories of sunflowers,
Yellow Houses and starry nights,
There is a shadow of the past
Here, with the city reflected in watery veins,
The broad-minded live on narrow plots
There are shadows in time
Of the little girl, her family, the old man
Friends betrayed, decamped
Exterminated, lost and thousands more
Besides, with no Secret Annexe
No story to tell, other than a whisper
Of twisted crosses fluttering above stepped gables
And a sadness, faintly audible, distantly felt
That washes out to sea