When my father was alive

Sixty years on, the trains
still run at the bottom of my garden.

I return, expecting to see
uprooted rails, something for walkers,
a crazed cycle path,
but I hear the train, and I see
the track, though the meadows it ran through
have been shaved and smartened
into a blazered sports field, and a fence
blocks my old path to the dark woods.

I search for signs of my childhood,
marks I might have made.

Someone has thrown away the broken tooth
and the bicycle,
and the moon my father chased up the street
got away – as did the boy
who pulled his toy from underneath a moving car
while I stood transfixed.

But the numbers remain:
the pavements, the houses,
the steps towards school.

The scene of my first major crime
(grand theft marble)
has been wiped clean
like my sins.

No more lovely young girls,
no more shotguns,
no more holes in the ground.

Everything is neat now, 
except the forces’ club and its
car park in no-man’s-land,
leaking on to the street, as it always did.

Swinging on some railings by the iron road,
I dropped a magical red magnet
and could never find it.

Perhaps that is what draws me back
to this unremarkable street,
this shadowed and temperamental sky
under which strange things happened
to someone I almost knew.

Yesnaby

Travelling back through the centuries
past standing stones
and hollow hungry mounds,
we arrive at Yesnaby, 
where cliffs and castles
fall into the sea, 

waves crash recklessly in
eating away at what is unseen,
giving us no warning
that soon we will be crashing too
struck down by a mystery,
inches from all those Viking footprints,
broken bones and bruising on the horizon
and all over the island

But that unpredictable beauty lingers
as my eyes close 
just for a second
until the real world breaks through 

And still I remember Yesnaby
where as usual I did not go far enough
and so missed the glory of it all
not once but twice

The glory is still there, though,
a thousand miles and a few yards away,
waiting for me

This is not home

Sun peppers the sea as we step like ghosts
down from the dark galleries
where the blood-red line between beauty and terror
is sometimes visible
behind the writing on the wall

Disintegrating tree-stumps
mark the ancient quay
long sucked away

We, lost children sent
on a forgotten errand,
look for the lingering paths,
watching the tides,
following old footprints
that fade away

We carry faint maps
between our shoulder-blades,
the mystical beginning
and the end

This is not home, nor looks like it
though there is something in the trees
and mirage hills
that hovers shining out of reach

No signposts here,
no memories: just
ripples of grace around our feet
and a muddy gate
that might be pushed open

Boathouse stones

Those stones you used to dance on
by the boathouse at the head of the loch
are under water today

When the sun shines between showers
I see their shape
suspended like gold,
floating

We shelter behind rough stone walls
from the intermittent wind:
earlier we balanced
like marionettes strung from the sky
tiptoeing on slippery logs
to cross a tumbling, unexpected stream

Now as we climb painfully home
we tread the edge of creation:
all that is here today
may be gone tomorrow,
or a shadow of what it was, 
just under the surface

We balance again – 
shadows trying not to fall

Early evening fen

An antique blanket
the colour and shape of lapwing
is flung over a ragged hedge

or so it seems
hanging down, knitting a background
for the winter sun

Further back the impatient reeds shift
from foot to foot
and we look for the marsh harrier
in vain: he has better things to do
and secret places to be

As the shadows blacken
a chinese water deer
strolls across an accidental clearing

forgetting for a moment
the harshness of reality

We stay hidden, and a barn owl pays us
an unexpected visit
white against the scintillating sky

Old wood, Thornham

Promising nothing
our path slides at first among
manicured money, well guarded,
then runs toward the sea
risking everything

Butterflies dark and light
mark the way
like laughing children:
they play in the dust, 
and so do we

This is a manifestation
of the Kingdom:
the coal barn like a temple
hard against the river,
the tide going out

Old wood is the magic – 
ancient pillars and 
abandoned boats:
we run our fingers across the surface,
feeling the universe beneath

Giant

With empty eyes
I reach out and touch the future,
scatter seed
in the sand

Captured 
by the siren song of the moment
my skin glistens
under a silken sky

Restrained
by unseen pictures –
figures in strange landscapes –
I journey
but never arrive

Held in this chattering dream
I become part of the past,
a giant under the snow

And now I cannot sleep:
I shift back and forwards,
changing the shape of the air

Waves spill into another world:
freed by the sea, flowers
wash up on the shore

  • Written ten years ago, when I was recovering from an operation

Regardless

Where the road turns and heads for the quay
music leaks out of the church, 
through the ruined arches

Noah and the dove watch it 
flood and fall back,
cellos marching past the waterfall
of the flute,
one orchestra against another

The mystery of the music spans centuries
and the castle, off to one side,
hears it too

Notes and scales drift out into the wrecks of buildings
that punctuate the Ness, 
abandoned after the war,
waiting for artists to roll the stones away
and resurrect some kind of beauty

Eventually the magic fades:
small boats jog lightly in the harbour
regardless

  • Written after a visit to Orford, in Suffolk

Blackbird at the door

Up on the hill
a blackbird pecks at parchment leaves
around the sill of an unknown grave

and I remember how you fed raisins
to your private blackbird, which
came to your door and knocked,
unlocking your smile

Further away two jays
play, skipping from tombstone to tombstone
like angels
and I am alone
in their blue world
tiptoeing nearer and nearer

They see me coming, and
I see them going:
they do not ask for raisins, and
I do not smile: I hear no knocking
at the door

Not yet