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



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



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.



Winter morning, the uneven flags
Crisp with rime
Champ beneath my feet
Crinkle-edged blades of verge-grass,
Like knives before the whetstone
Shatter beneath my tread
My passing marked, as if through snow
Or low tide mud in the creek
I crest the humpback hill
Away, on the short horizon a foreglow
Uplights, like on some historic Pile
Illuminate the trees root-up
A dusky radiance, the early morning
Dust alight, sparking like shards
Of blackened wick flaring upon the match
The trees, like phantoms, or ghosts
Black forms with flickering sharp edges
I walk towards their back lit forms
And as the sun’s warm fingers
De-ices the fields
I become one with them

I was here

That room in the bar evolves like the twisted beech outside its door; every year a silent alteration, change so gradual to be imperceptible. Foot high, the door’s stone threshold is whitewashed each Spring, only for studded boot soles to scuff it back by June. The flagged floor is hard grey, it’s natural round fractures rubbed clean by the sopping mop and the queuing feet of muddied, sweaty bodies above, scuffling, swapping aching foot to aching foot, the first pint and bag of scampi fries impatiently sought.

The bar, estate-painted and three quarters of a person high is topped by hand pumps hand polished by palms of valley men since before the war; the same brass, the same oak, but spruced up with the dainty neckerchiefs of local breweries’ beers, their trousers the sud-soaked bar towels, their coats a shield wielding their coat-of-arms. The fire though, wears its work clothes; an old cooker, blackened and cracked; a grate, made up with crisp packets and mossy logs.

IMG_3863In the corner, a collage of memories from my under-canvas nights across the way. A bearded man, a sea dog far from the shores, playing a mandola, calling eyes closed to the Blackwater where his love was lost. Climbers, bejeweled with carabiners and pitons, sashes of lashed rope, eyes sparkling, talk jabbering, the fear of the overhang fading fast. Fell runners, salt crusted but laughing, mud and crud cementing their impossibly lithe limbs. All rest their pints on the old table, still here. Too small for plates but wide enough for two rounds. Planked, not true, legs as immobile as ever and the crack a touch wider now; but the marks are still there, scratched deep. Tattoos to time made with a knife tip not a needle: Tom; Mamut; Southman; Shaz and Bart. I drink my pint and leave no trace this time.

Back home there’s an old tree with characterful roots erupting through the pavement in twists and overlapping knots. Despite its age, it abounds with living vitality; the roots pushing up and out not down and across. Perhaps in a gust it will fall, a victim of its own vanity. Those roots have become a natural seat; school kids waiting to meet friends; an old timer resting his back; even those waiting in the queue for the Monday fish van. The bark, higher up gruff and rough is down here, polished and glossy. And the marks, scratched and scraped: Peter; MadJack; Fi; Marksman.

Maybe this is what it all boils down to. An old table in a valley pub; the bole of a tree poking above ground; petty vandalism or art; a sign to say “I was here”. A legacy of sorts.

Trees, gawping

Earlier this week, a tree surgeon took whirring blades to some cheekily overhanging branches over our road. Shame really: I like it when the leaves are box-clipped as buses and lorries trim them from below.  At the moment though, the branches are naked and forlorn, unable to hunker down under their coat against the perishing icy blasts of the easterlies. Their cheek was exposed; the blades inevitable.

Unless, like me,  you are boreally disposed, trees typically disappear into the shadows; a key-line or highlight of dark matter around our expected views of the world; a penumbra. We notice them when they are gone, starkness revealed, but rarely celebrate them in life.  Strange then that as the day-glo clad forester did his work, there was a constant drip drip drip of an audience. Standing opposite, calling out, asking a question, or quietly noticing and enjoying the cropping and bobbing of the tree’s new styling. This tree softens the view down the road, the perspective teetering away round a bend in the distance. It’s gone now, but the main trunk remains, proud, strong, tall, ready to burst into new life with focused vitality in the Spring. A new vista will emerge.


Red sky

This morning, the warning, from he that tends the sheep
A watery sun, but the flames are not dowsed
It burns and scorches and chars
Yet all around ice, underfoot cracks
And lines the ‘rows with trident barbs, the frost king
Trees stand sentinel, their branches a candlelit silhouette
Root like, upturned against the bands of orange cloud