Skelwith Force

The torn polygonal scraps of slate that line

Brathay’s bed above the force

Are dull when plucked, laid out and dry, but shine

Under the crag-stream’s course.

The whole broad dale at Elter Water’s strewn

With spring’s flood-leavings

And the upturned ash and birch-tree ruin

Tell of unseen heavings.

Out of the hill came the water, stripping the stone,

And lushing up the dale,

Around the ice-old mounds, the under-bone

Of the sleeper of a forgotten tale.

The soft and hard are side by side and felt

By every walker strolling down to see

The water turn to steam,

The clear become opaque,

The straight begin to bend,

The sure become unsure,

At Skelwith Force, where glaciations melt

And obstacles sudden slip free.

City Lights

A mile away the city lights –

The ancient, banking city, lit

With red and white and sure to fit

All today’s money – those clear sights


Which stand on towers stood to the South

One half the distance to my school,

They blink and glimmer like the pool

Reflecting stars from night’s broad mouth.


From here I see them every dusk

And every morning, if I rise,

They shine beneath plane-brightened sies,

They flood the morning like rich musk,


A smell of money?  Or of time?

Perhaps of youth?  But none I know,

The choices I took long ago

Forewent this wealth, undid this crime


To eat while others starved and cried,

I chose to eat the children’s bread

And rest upon a narrow bed

That barely rests me on my side.


But then it was no choice for me –

There never was an enchantment

About the interests money lent

So how can I claim virtue’s fee?


Our hearts each lead us where our minds

Can tell us that our calling dwells

And all the lies that rumour tells

Are as the rusted swords time finds.


As years pass, they seem less and less,

All worn by soil, by water, salt,

And distant tongues grow hard and halt

While living words grow and possess.


The slipper hits the flagstones hard

Shatters, glass skids in a star of shards,

A gleam alights one greed-glazed eye

Another winks, and then is dry.

He stutters, sadness, sorry, worry,

Blames himself for hopeful hurry.

But from the dark beneath the stair

She lifts the other of the pair.

The crystal shoe fits on her foot

With apron, drabs and kitchen soot.

In Memoriam CRNM

I went alone by old canals

And saw the gardens grown from waste

Coal-heap compost, newspaper paste

And smelt the raindrops’ funerals.


Around a reedy, autumn pond

A wary grasp of sycamores

And mortal ash trees marked with flaws

Where wire fences scarred their bond.


Upon the puddles ripples ring;

The sky begins to decorate

The garden with a water-weight

And smack the mud, and patterns bring.


It is a partial sanctuary;

Aided and abetted, rich,

Leafmould rotting in a ditch,

A very sullen place to be.


The lonely walk I’ve taken here

Has led past corners where we laughed

And where we drank a loving draught

And where we shared a pint of beer.


How could it not, when every street

Has been a place we’ve known and shared?

When every roadsign once declared

The city was our place to meet?


I cannot walk past cranes or trees,

Follow paths or railway lines

Without seeing speaking signs

Of what you sometime meant to me.


I had to go to somewhere new –

A place I never shared, and still

As up the tower I found my thrill

I wanted so to be with you.


The train fled through a concrete scar

Half across the garden fields,

Through the chalk your bone-land yields

Not long away – and yet too far.


I felt my trespass in a place

Reserved for our shared wanderings.

I cried to think of happy things –

Cold on the downs, your true embrace.


The beach is shingle and I read

That half the land is shingle too,

Five centuries worth of land born new

Where once the sea lay in its bed.


Each stone a flint plucked from the chalk

And rounded by the waves’ rough play

Until it found a place to stay

Where rustles are the stonefalls’ talk.


There is a castle on the marsh

Built by a famous, frantic King,

Now a ruin, crumbling

And eaten – rotten – broken – harsh.


Built there to stand upon the shore

But stranded by the passing tides

Each bringing stones, and wrack besides.

The sea is not there anymore.


Two miles inland – what a plain sign

For all those things we deem most firm.

The world will change, so ends the term

Of all possession – but chiefly mine.


I loved you till it creased my soul;

I changed my mind to want your shape

And feel the lack when you’d escape:

You did.  I let the pebbles roll.


So starts an avalanche again –

The smallest stones move rocks.

The freest hearts are bound with locks

That rust like links in anchor-chain.

Now Send Flesh

That coat of gentle, ginger suede,

Real warm, perhaps the sleeves too long,

No inside pockets, can’t belong

To this me, since such fabric’s frayed.


The leather’s bright as bought, except

A collar-line; the buttons tied,

All rethreaded, worn with pride;

I’ve thrown out others – this I’ve kept.


For weeks I’ve followed round my ghost

Counting when I wore that first,

When she gave that, bit lip, cursed,

To find her hand was still on most.


But this I purchased long ago

When I was first at leisure, rich,

And chose to rise to pleasure’s pitch

And wear the mirror’s happy glow.


I bought it yet before I knew

The name that now distends my fears.

I’m tied to something through the years

That has no will to say or do


Yet speaks, forgiving, soft and smooth,

The skin like skin I miss to touch.

Ask, ‘Do I miss her?’ ‘No, not much,

Except when breath my lungs would soothe.’


On every surface, every door,

Fingerprints and darkling hairs.

I find her when I walk upstairs,

She rests in blankets even more.


The pencil pot, the chopping board,

The tent, the grout for fixing tiles,

The dreams of treading sunny aisles,

And every single guitar chord.


I haven’t yet resolved this rage –

Am I to amputate my past

And lose the years I clung to, fast,

And blanken all my diary’s page?


Don’t give advice – don’t share your grief –

I know already that time heals,

That when a nerve is cut it feels

But later leaves its torture brief.


Can you imagine I want that?

A heart which soon will cease to care?

A place to hide?  Oh, how unfair

To know distraction or combat.


So either suffer every jab

And let no-body lift a share

Or betray, regret, then forswear

The once-bright future, paint it drab.


That jacket though is still as fresh,

And I still like it as I did,

And while I hated, cried and hid,

I petrified.  But now send flesh.

The Painter’s Eye

It’s late December – day-long dusks and clouds

And lovely open structures of the dying trees,

And railside wastelands earn another grey,

The brambles purple, old-man’s beard delights

With feather baubles long uneven swathes

Of drear embankment.  All the puddles full,

All the ditches dark, reflective, cold,

The lives of poplars stark, the pointed pales

Of fences cold as printed tractor marks

Now filled with scraps of sky and dainty crows.

We pass a field of horses, straw strewn out,

And dirty stable-coats upon their backs.

What entertainment can December bring

A horse?  What festive cheer a hungry bird –

Related in a theoretic way

To robins on a watercolour card.

But can I say it?  These are all my paint –

The pigments that I choose when I return

To dreams, to hopes, to quiet peaceful dreams.

The subtlety of every tree which owns

A unique pattern, never copied twice,

The varied textures of the water’s flat –

Despite the stillness of the air, the grey –

By reading printed painted books, a child,

By walking on the paths of lonely tracks,

I’ve won a little of the painter’s eye,

And with it surety of English truths.

So – I want you now to now my purposing –

The motivation I cannot express

As policy, or aim, or goal.  I guess –

I love to try, to leap, to run the course –

Another soul desires to comprehend –

I only want to know.

The Birds and the Boats

The ship is launched upon the lake,

Its sails set, now out of reach,

I ask, will it touch the beach,

Or twist, tumble, capsize and break?


The pond for model boats is dry,

The leaves of hurried sycamores

Clog the drains and dirty the floor.

This is no season to trust the sky.


No boys, no girls, no granddad’s knees,

No uncles, ice-creams, Labradors,

Just lonely dreamers seeking cause

To still believe their fantasies.


Somewhere between this keyboard and

A desk eight thousand miles away

Someone might be moved to say

‘I know his hopes, I understand.’


Then shall I have a call to trace?

If I’m appointed, will I be

Enthusiastic, wonderingly

In awe of purpose, torn through space?


The balsawood and cotton ships

That people loose in summertime

Are sent off, voiceless, bare, to mime

The exploration of long trips.


They bumped against the concrete rim,

A stranger sailing his own craft,

Gently lifted it out, laughed,

And walked, carried it back to him.


Perhaps he watched it, hunkered low,

Imagining himself shrunk small

Astride the deck’s slow rise and fall

Sailing where the sailors go.


But still in fact ashore – well still

A toy boat bears a beating heart.

I don’t know how to say this part,

But where mine’s gone, perhaps I will.


To hope seems too much certainty,

And simply to forget and do

The jobs today has found anew

Does not distract or settle me.


My heart is out upon the sea,

I sent it there, I bade it fly,

When back in distant evenings I

Would stand and watch the gulls wing free.

These Things

These things still catch me in my throat:

Nail varnish, certain sea creatures,

The tickets my desk still features

For films seen last year, my green coat.


For several minutes I can live

Just answering the moment’s call

And fill my head with duty, all

The tasks my choice to teach can give


But sooner, later, never long

A moment’s hush descends and dwells –

A hush that echoes thought, which tells

Of who I was, what songs we sung.


It seemed much better to become

Another soul in the same flesh

And leave the previous self to mesh

And then dissolve – to turn quite numb.


And yes, it’s numb, where it did burn,

Just like the numbness of a knock,

The numbness of loss, hurt and shock

That disappears when you turn.


So simply look another way –

A busy life is quick to find

And teaching, writing, fills a mind

And worry quickly fills a day.


Because a tidy room, a space,

A sunny morning, open page,

Will catch my throat and then engage

A memory to inhabit space.


She rests, or toys, or fixes things

And fills the room with noise and play

And crams life into the whole day

And hears the words the singer sings.


She’s heard most of my words before

And tested, tasted, all their sense

And I can’t read them blankly, hence

Would rather not read any more.

View from a Train Window in Autumn

A litter of yellow apples lie by

An access trackway, unregarded and

Ignored, for all the hundred pounds yet spent

On fruit from other garden fields, these fall

And tumble, bruise, sleep rotten by a path

That once in several months a gang tramp down

To mend, rewire, or tense the straightening cords

That rig steel pylons down the western line.

If only I had time and way to climb that fence

Or scale that wall and gather them – or you

Could ever give that hopeful seedling, now

A giving, breathing creature in our world

Appreciation’s gratitude of use,

To taste the fruit just once before it falls!

See all along the callous iron line –

Permanent way – the rails have taken part,

Assumed autumnal motley, blood and brown,

And ballast beds a thousand dry-stemmed weeds,

But heaps of darling brambles, glowing brass

Gloss-tip bold hips are all by-passed.

The jungles of sloes, elder, buddleia,

Are thick and scrawny, generous and gay.

Each waiting on a season – while the train

Diesels past, cold or wet or damp or dry –

And never can we tap those running rivers,

Wine-fountains.  Realm of black cat and magpie,

Occasionally trespassed by working gangs

Of hi-vis lads with flasks and sandwiches

And itineraries by which time those briars

Must be cut back – until next year again

They show their open palms in generous glee,

Unregarding the sudden slash and hack,

Intrusive but impermanent and weak.

The oak still juts out limbs, regardless, hard,

The rowans stretch and slip down th’ embankment.

The brambles claw and catch, proliferate,

And everywhere in autumn you saw hips

In spring is but a net of green thorned twigs

And early summer, clouds of fragrant scent

Unrivalled by the essences, in glass,

Sold in a full room by the door of a

Large department store.  Clear out such memory!

Rather see those nebulous banquets

Ubiquitous and unique, that colour

Our paths and commutes when we least expect.

View from a Train Window in May

The cream-white, soda-flush of hawthorn bloom

Extends in streaks and still-shot eruptions

To bring the hedgerows more than definition.

Punctuation, regular as breath,

In gasps, in pants, in drinking draughts of sky,

Until the rows we watch from the window

Of the chuckle-wheeled carriages, are made

New-coloured, like the newly-weds’ hallway,

Redecorated with a paint that seemed

Unexciting on the shelf, but cover

A whole wall and gloss it over green

And spring green, the new and living colour

Of an awakening land, and you will see

How white is more than simply white again.

Some of those hedges hold their purple clouds

Where lilacs pour their thick, re-shaping shock

Into the composition of our eyes

And unframed, unstructured pictures, unhung

And unlikely to be collected.

But this is Spring – this vision from the train –

This helpless rush at life and flowered trees

And never while you ride ignore the may.