All this poetry

All this poetry
lies scattered across our lives:

thrown from the high places,
cast into the sea, like bread,

or thrown from the window
of a moving car

And all this time I have fooled myself,
thinking I was carving something out
of the distance,
making an impact

All those autumn evenings
I tried to wrap something up for you –
a gift in pale paper – but
it was just words, stuck together hurriedly
with tape

All those years
I tried to divert your attention,
and you kept laughing:
you were there,
under the apple trees

All this poetry
that makes up our lives
is you, after all,
reaching out for me,
redefining the extent of beauty
by using your eyes, and the parts
no-one can reach

I will stop writing now:
none of this needs to be said

It is quite clear:
everyone knows

Before and after

Charcoal mist eats away
the sweet, sweet sky
that warmed our skin

Fierce fire consumes the past
and the future,
leaving ashes and driftwood,
scattered beaches, strange signals

We return to where we were before
guided by touch and free wine,
leaving the bread behind

There is nothing to see here,
as memories fade into
dusty tunnels where we wait
for something to happen

And someone sits in a bedroom
not knowing why he is weeping
or where he is going to

A man with metal legs limps past:
his father destroyed the house
and disappeared

Death and decay loiter in the shadows:
the poet has a broken heart
and forgets
to speak in tongues

But there is joy in the mountains
and a pathway in the wilderness:
women are filmed dancing
in empty rooms

loving the rhythm, hoping
for the doors
to be flung open

From a distance

Seen from the dunes – the Long Hills –
seen, that is to say, from a distance –
the wet sand folds like silk towards the sea

Close to me now, your body,
still like silk after all these years,
ripples under my fingers

The tide is low: the figures at the water’s edge
silhouetted in the glow
beneath a darkening sky
seem fragile, at the mercy of foreign forces
yet to be unleashed

The blue building where we danced
is lost in the maze of paths behind us:
where sand meets shingle
small birds swoop
too fast to follow

So hard to find the right person,
the sweet spot
the undeserved ecstasy

Miles behind us, our footprints
sink into the shore
and the murmur on the beach
fades into another realm

We head into a cloud of unknowing –
not willingly, not sure of the paths
that kiss the marshes

Not sure where it all ends,
if it does end –
if there is a conclusion –
if there is firm ground

But my skin and your fingers
are like a well-oiled machine
with their own language and rituals
here and now –
seen, that is to say, from a distance

Gardener’s Cottage

A narrow path snakes between two young trees
like a finger of incoming tide,
then stops

The house sits calmly, almost out of sight –
white, green and glass:
a high flint wall marks the border,
and pale pink petals, delicate as this summer afternoon,
spread out towards the lawn,
negotiating terms of assimilation

I wake, not quite part of this silent drama,
my tea chilled by the breeze from the north
that swirls like a search party
looking for a way through –
looking for me

Even streaks of unexpected sun
leave me cold, dragged out from the hidden warmth of a dream –
from the arms of some legendary woman,
a little too familiar
but welcome just the same

And now of course I cannot go back:
the wind becomes colder
and I need to advance
from one reality into another,
read some fantasy or listen to
a far-fetched story
about the watch house and the sea

I stir, stand to attention and find a new path back to the house,
which stands ready as always, open
to anyone,
full of myths and histories,
out of the limelight

 

 

Blakeney, not far from the beach

 

Last train down

The last train from Snowdon’s summit
ran into clear weather
about 50 metres down

The summit is the summit
by whatever means, and we stood naked in the clouds
apart from our clothes

and alone
apart from the others

The view was the same as usual:
ghostly, half-familiar shapes flitting through the mist,
people with elbows and cameras
and an occasional frustrating glimpse
of what we all knew was there:
Crib Goch, the Horseshoe, the Pyg track,
the Miners’ Path, the Isle of Man –
or so they said

This time, though, in clear weather and without even trying,
I noticed the sheep
as unconcerned by their fashionably purple identifying marks
as by their proximity to the rail track
edging into and out of danger
complacent, seen-it-all-before,
high and dry

The café workers took the last train down:
they chatted about religion
and listened to silent music
but the sheep were not interested,
turning each one to its own way

The ginger-haired lad
and the foreign girl
made so little contact that
it could have been deliberate

But the sheep saw it all,
as sheep do; they just pretend
not to be looking

The ghost

A ghost enters the room
but no one notices

The grey, impenetrable swell of human conversation
rises, falls and rises,
and the faint smell of something supernatural
dissipates

In the mirror it is as if nothing happened
except smoke:
no collateral damage

Out on the marsh
the tide turns in an instant
like the flicker of a switch

And everything changes:
the dead creek fills with life
springing inwards
lifting spirits

Flooding empty space:
the ghost, exhausted by the atmosphere,
crawls into a disconnected pool
and waits

 

>Written on holiday at Blakeney

 

 

Trees

No respite for the trees:
like soldiers they stand, attending
to every kind of weather

It rushes roughly against their innocent bark
or touches their limbs seductively
in the deceptive dark

No hiding under tiles or blankets:
arms out, they are open to everything, even
the surprising blackness of the stars
and the winters of discontent

Down by the graveyard
the sky-cold water murmurs
against such injustice

but the sentry trees have no complaint:
they do not retreat
from the slashing heat of sudden summer
or the introspective moon

They do not jump for joy
or scream with pain, or
faint at the anger of lightning

Faithful in love, they continue to stand
hand in hand,
naked before the beggar, the killer and
Christ the King

This poem was written after observing the trees on Thetford Heath and a canal at Warwick.

Linn of Quoich

While you sleep, and the sun
creeps between branches,
shooting inquiring glances
into the deep, aching pool below the ravine,
a woman walks into the wilderness.

As thrown wood circles,
rejected by the snow-cold flood,
your blood drifts uncertain in the heat,
your bare feet, unknowing, touch
the ashes of a long-dead fire.

Greyness leaves its mark, but the rock
carries no sign of a body. When you move,
it is to open a door
behind which a devil lurks:
you examine the door closely
and decide on something cheaper.

A woman walks into the wilderness:
you do not see her go.
I watch the flow of the stream past abandoned doors,
and the way the sun makes shapes in the water
that could be fish
and the way the wood circles
and the woman walks.

There is a pain in my gut: I may die
under this helicopter sky.
The woman who walks into the wilderness
smiles at me.
I do not see how things could be
much better.

Drummer girl

The way the drummer girl moves her wrists
– those flashes of blue –
and the way she smiles,
thinking of something else,
remind me of you

She has a flair and a rhythm
that defies the sudden rain
but it is no big thing for her:
it is in her Scottish blood,
like a passion once felt,
never given away

She is frowning now
as she keeps the beat:
there are pictures in her head
of broken roads
and flooded houses

She hangs on the precipice
as you hang,
and I know there is a risk:
I may get trapped again
beneath those magic fingers
as the music ends

 

>> Written after being greeted by a pipe band in Ballater, a town recovering after being devastated by floods

Some small secret

Bleach and black water patch the hillside –
burnt heather beside the path,
which winds aimlessly away from the soldiers’ bridge
beneath which we sheltered

There are no fences here:
the real country keeps hold,
hiding its destinations

In a fold of the ridge
rare trees cluster like a mother’s arms
around some small secret,
and the breeze picks up

We come like curlews from a graveyard full of words,
but these moors have little to say:
though they have taken memories into their mouths,
they simply listen

We used to ford this stream easily:
now we drop a stone into the water but decide to wait,
catching our breath before
the steep climb back to the road

 

– a poem of the Highlands, specifically the wild country near Corgarff