Cathedral Jackdaws

‘The name comes from ‘chair’, he said
‘A comfy, lounging, chair, come to that… for ladies’
All very majestic, the cathedral ‘chair’,
Red, blocky sandstone,
Probably here for yonks,
Despite a rock-hard rock actually being soft –
Like, how does that work?
Before the Normans he reckons
Maybe, it was them Angled Saxons that built it first;
But it would have just been a church then;
Small and angled. Saxon, even.
And no chair for chicks neither.

Anyway, tell all that to the jackdaws,
‘cos they couldn’t give one for it
The buggers;
Romping round in sworls
Looping the gargoyles gleefully
Shitting on their heads
As the water pisses from their gobs;
Screaming up the tower
Daring one another not to pull out
From butting the flying buttresses.

God knows what it’s like
Behind the tower louvre boards
They scream from there –
Like lads leaving school,
Packing their bags, secretly
10 minutes before the end of lesson;
Scream out, like streamers –
Chaotically all-directioned,
Squabbling, chattering, shouting
At anyone who cares to listen,
But especially to the old man
Who, same time every day,
Feeds them titbits,
From his cathedra outside the gates.


The Swan’s head stood proud
From the merchantman’s stern;
Lead painted, sharp eyes,
Sternly surveying their paths of trade:
The ship advanced
Up the swampy shoreline
Looking for the fort on the hill
With goods and provender
For people far from home

Deva Vitrix
Alea iactus est

Today, the bow in the river
Masks where the shore once stood;
Where the hooves of thoroughbreds pound,
Is once where avocets and oystercatchers
Pierced salty mudflats;
Ripairian acres, now reigned by swirling crows
Looping in vast arcs over the Circus below –
The cries of the crowd
Echoing through the ages
Like ripples in the river.

A full enceinte
Commands the heights;
Where once it ringed the Forum
And forts,
Bivouacs and bathhouses –
Where once a wooden stockade stood,
Today, a vertical stone horizon
Tells the stories of ages since,
Digging up through years;
Once, where many were worshipped,
Today it rings the home of heretics –
Broken only by engineers;
And eroded,
Only by the marching soles
Of latter-day invaders,
Capturing nothing more
Than images for remembrance.


What was it made them
Clamber up the mountain;
Risk their existence;
Mine the greensand?

How did they know
To search the summit,
Hunt the highest
Reaches of the sky?

Where was the value
Of axes chipped and polished;
Roughed out with granite
Knapped to a knife edge?

Who could imagine
Their travels from home,
In curragh or logboat
Fur boot or mule?

How did we discover
This hoard beyond value –
Amongst scree and rockfall
On the edge of the void?

On the Langdale hand axe site


Shaggy-coated, draped
Like a shabby student throw
Used as wall art; feather
Duster-ends to streaked wings
Folded in, double-backed,
Used but for balance.

Long-fringed; twitching eyes;
Articulate toes, grip the river-edge,
High-kneed, deliberate strides,
Avoid the trip wires; trigger alarms;
His reflection, his shadow;
Exist only in another plane.

Below, winding fish shoals
Edge closer to the bank,
Attracted by the briny aeration
Of a stream crackling down rocks;
They are observed,
With detached focus.

The spear-point head retracts;
The neck, curved yet taught;
The prey… oblivious.


Dust devil

Igneous dust and grit,
Whorled and whipped into shape
By offshore breeze
And this scrubby patch
Of unbuilt pre-development –

The roads laid out;
Kerbs positioned;
Lines painted on
Chin-smooth asphalt
Waiting for the money.

Shoppers carry on as normal.
One in a shawl-cum-kaftan
Thing, with cork-soled mules, wheels
A misbehaving trolley;
Revels through an air-con curtain:

Relief. Sun drums incessantly,
Whitewashed walls reflect,
Azure plunge pools refract,
As these dust Gods dance and snake
Below the temple of the volcano

Ignored, as we flow
Towards oblivion.


The whipping wind gathered strength,
Armed itself with razor blades,
Sheared off jags of ice and rock
Flaying in the wind,
A cat o’ nine tails, of ruthless erosion.

Buried deep in the snout of this duvet of ice –
Boulders the size of buildings;
Mountain sides snatched from source,
Children from the crib –
The weapons of war; to grind and scrape.

As the ice fled,
Its rearguard wax and wane,
Back to its Corrie-home
Left the boulder-litter
Strewn across the plain –

Coddled in ice,
Smothered by dirt
Waiting to breathe the air again.

With time – collapse;
Warmth returned;
Ice passed;
Rock fell;
Chasms opened –

The land, strewn with pot holes
And pits; craters and fractures;
Water filled; trees rose
A pock-marked land of lakes
A plain of a thousand meres.


High banked, single tracked
Ways cut deep by aeons of steps,
Rutted by planked wheels
Or the constancy of hooves
Crossing the ridge-lines
To market or fair.

Winding, uphill, overtopped
By beech and oak,
Maple and hawthorn,
Rough slabs of dirty, bedded chalk
And mossy stalactites
Where water scarpers…
Leaving a shadowed bed
Of leaves and tilth.

Dappled paths, millennia old,
Connect today with yesterday –
The drover with the rambler,
The herdsman with the hiker,
Tracing or retracing
Paths through time.


Tight rows of course-laid bricks
Marl made, black-blue, batter in,
Empire-line, high waisted.
Stays & anchor plates, rings of iron
Fortified by ferns and creeping jenny
Holding the old thing up.

The slip house next door
Is empty of late; the windows
Flaking and blown; walls bowed,
Echoes of work-time chatter…
Today only the slates slip
From the legacy of memories.

Alleyways of setts connect
The lodge to the engine house,
Mould maker’s to the bottle kiln;
Wind down, past a full skip and rotting cable reels;
The memory of a thousand footsteps
Whispers onward.

Looking out, across the cut,
Small shoots of enterprise push into the light;
Girdered skeletons arise; life anew?
Sheds and warehouses,
The stage for new conversations?
Transit and transitions for goods

Made far away; shipped far away.

Where are today’s makers?
Our chance to turn the veins of carbon & clay
Of lead, salt and sand into wares…
Into the wares of today, is here.
Our time to build on the foundations
Of those who strived before us.


In some distant tropical cloud forest
Where fragile wisps of mist
Fuelled by altitude,
Spread like gloved fingers
With malicious intent,
Hummingbird feed;
Flecks of iridescence –
Their beaks probing,
Searching for the next meal.
Three thousand miles away,
Where clouds are thick
But the forest is no more,
A family of sparrows
Bouncing balls of inquisitiveness
And hope,
Have learnt, over a season,
To hover,
To feed and
To live.
Elegant they are not.
But each is beautiful
In its own way.

Measly Acres

The water is up;
Thundering under the old bridge,
Leaving nothing of the arch
That hides a hundred trolls
Of sleep-deprived nightmares;
Bath time for them.
A boiling soup, rich like rich gravy
All clay and silt and sole-trod leaves,
Left over from headier days,
Rips through, all-a-commotion.
This little brook is apologetic
Most days; hardly there –
Whispering along, behind the row
Of ’60s bungalows, protected
By decorative breeze-block garden walls
And shadowed, sloping lawns
Down to overhanging trees –
Beech front properties no less –
Here, miles from the shore.
The water is up,
Bank-topping, eddies round the oak base,
The dogs’ Convenience inconveniently
Lost, for a while at least;
Pummels through the scruffy shrubbery
Grown long on being out of site
From unquestioning Council mowers.
But where’s it from
All this; all this torment and chaos
And pent up free-flowing anger?
How can it rise
From these measly acres –
From these woods and fields
This thin scrape of topsoil
This pebble bound sod?
Yet it rises, it rises.