Fragments

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

 

Piston Slap

It started with dripping oil,
Dark smudges, smeared by tyres
Pounded into the new-laid tegula
Dusty blurs, like human shadows
Following a nuclear strike

Then gargling, spitting
A mist of greasy invective
Black words, barking
From the tailpipe, exhausted
A hail of mechanical fatigue

So in it went, to an ‘engine shop’ –

Spluttering, gargling to the far side of Needwood –
Trent one-side, power station the other
Flush to the canal, banged up behind
The digger plant and an old signal box;
Bletch-covered sleepers under edge-rusted rails

Yet lo! Empowered by oil
Uplifted by wrenches and spanners
Tar-smeared power tools
Pits, winches and inch-thick chains
I transformed. The engineer. Stephenson. Brunel.

Me.

It’s likely the stem seals”, he said
Or maybe the inlet rings.”
Hopefully not a re-bore
I bluffed, a parry. Nothing more.
Might do”, he rumbled, gruffly

But who was to know?
Emboldened, now I dared to speak
The lost tongue of my father;
And before him, his father, William
Or Frank, his step-father, engineers all.

And the language of George,
Grandad, Mum’s side –
The tinkerer, the fixer, the trucker
Whose thick palms, nimbly dexterous
Were ingrained with oil and engines.

Never me.

So I animatedly spoke to my dad
Of O rings and rod nuts
Of engine shops and re-bores
Of widgets and grommets
Of gaskets and piston slap

His world, his words,
So I thought,
Benignly he listened; gently he shook his head
Amused and bemused
By my fluent influency.

Quarter Mile Bridge

As the curtain of ice swept back
Leaving only a blanket of drift and till
The rivers emerged from their ice-coat
Throwing off old shackles
New courses cut, new ways found
Vital, young again, challenging –
They swept forth through these soft lands
Breathing deep in the warming air
Of a new Spring-epoch;
And for endless years
Men used that course
Thinking it ancient;
For trade, for war, for lookout,
Until a new water-path was broached
No flow there, no bore;
No ebb, no flood, no fetch…
Yet it is here, below the Needwood
The two life-bloods entwine,
One, the course of nature
The other, the cut of man
Side by side they co-exist
At the weir, a gentle embrace
A deft kiss – before they part once more.
Above their meeting,
Above their parting,
Runs the Quarter Mile Bridge;
Floating; a hover-fly above the washlands,
Oftentimes, the morning mist
Breathes so lightly on the ground
That the bridge dances on cloud
Perspectives diminishing,
Vistas opening
A chance, perhaps, to pause:
To think, to touch gentle waters;
To bridge the water worlds
Of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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.

Swáre-burn

10 miles it flows
From Forest source
To reed-bound mouth
Needwood’s life-blood;
Cloaked in a medieval patina
Of beech, of oak, of ash
Neck-clasped by the lustrous bricks
Of its arch-back bridges.
Yet there is no stealth here, no subterfuge
No lazy meanders
Its fair valley is straight-cut
Rare glimpses, treasured:
A distant spire; brooding Pines.
Swar bourn – swáre burn
Our Saxon fathers dubbed it – slow brook
In flow, perhaps

But not in flood.

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Fifty Two Oaks

Up in the wood, I counted them,
I counted fifty two oaks
One oak for every week
One oak for each furlong between here
And the edge of the Needwood
One oak for the rhythmic patter of time
As the year has seeped like grains through my fingers
One for each lot of weekly earth-rotations
One for each acorn, greedily snaffled and stuffed
Into the saggy pouch cheeks of the cheeky squirrel

One of them stands alone though
On a field boundary long gone, long rent
And each week I steal a photograph
When it’s not looking
In Winter, it is architectural, formly, strong
In Spring, a sappy burst of life, leaves like measles
In Summer, it wears a sculptural overcoat of green
Before Autumn’s striptease
The oak has it the wrong way round
When the sap rises, surely it should strip, ready for action?
But no, this oak goes bare in Winter
Like a hardy, shirtless football fan
Or a naked sprint to a snowbound sauna