Wine and Water

A glass of wine might slake the thirst

But water, sure to rest the soul

Runs freer, less in our control,

The next draught swifter than the first.

 

Yet still we have this drink to share

Through time, across a world made small,

I drink with poets, saints and all

Distracted, dreaming, trying to care.

 

Blood.  It does not mix with oil.

Another source of cleanliness

To sluice the cuts that nonetheless

Are stinging, tinctured with the soil

 

Of all the everyday, and night,

The bringer of our rest or pains,

Should heal us as we sleep, but veins

Of running sorrow bleed us white.

 

So washing off all worry’s marks –

Cold splash of spring-fed water, or

A brassy jug of wine to pour

So rainbows shine in ringing arcs.

Chartreuse and the Computer

Do you remember

sitting on a sofa, rocking your computer with our feet,

to keep the DVD running,

so we could watch

the pilot

of Twin Peaks

wrapped in a blanket,

a shared blanket,

leaning on each other

drinking Chartreuse

in a 14th century attic?

My laptop today

developed the same palsied shakes

and I’ve had to tap it to watch my DVD.

But it’s not a programme I’ve ever shared with you

and I don’t have any Chartreuse

and I can’t feel your hair beneath my hand.

Fallow Fields

Four months already stand these fields fallow

That thickly were sheaved,

That thickly were sheaved.

Cuts the share deeply and lie the stones shallow,

Turned up the treasures we mean time to hallow,

The trees all unleaved,

The trees all unleaved.

 

Coincident footsteps convinced us of meaning –

I saw and believed,

I saw and believed.

Your hand for my holding, my wounds for your cleaning,

Those words for our hopes and your shoulder for leaning

And what we achieved,

O what we achieved.

 

The ground is all spent and now little is growing

For I’ll not plant there,

No I’ll not plant there.

Why cover the ploughings with a new Year’s sowing

Where the bones of the land are still bare and showing

And I know I still care.

I know I still care.

Poignant to me – as it was after expressing this that I felt different: while I still felt affection and gratitude, I was no longer bound in love.

The Track

Go, turn behind the willows leaning down

And cross a broad, unmetalled, concrete bridge

Beside the throbbing relay station’s fence,

Behind the bold-brick houses, built, set, square

Upon the fertile valley’s bottom, where

A tiny talking brook provides the sea

For toddlers’ first wellie-splashes, and then

For boys from school to fall into and soak

And come home scolded, seek again to sneak

To tiny kingdoms of hedgeholes and mud,

And live in, in their dreaming, sleeping minds.

And if you find that stream, that bridge, those trees,

Begin to walk the track and to explore

A microcosm of all England’s lands

Expressed in half a mile, so few acres,

As shells express the whorl of hurricanes

Invisible in shape until an eye

Above the world can picture them all whole,

As rockpools mirror all the ocean’s depth

And as a garden mocks, with love, the wild

And wildernesses live behind a shed,

So know that this small span of well-loved land

Can teach entire the lessons of landscape –

Entire, at least, the principles on which

Every other sight, whether moor or mount

Or shore or fen or cliff or field or wood

Or lawn or park or scrub or shingle down

Or chalk-hill flank or tide-bared mud or sea –

The principles on which these worlds are seen

And loved, and held in balanced wonderment

With awe and joy each sharing parts of thought

That flicker from the buds of hawthorn hedge

To wave-tops, turning, crisping white, a-rush

To burst upon the land with such desire,

Enthusiasm to enact and give

And interact and change and be part of

The world that springs from those first wanderings, young

As a boy might be, so was I right there,

Turned from the street onto the brick-dust track,

The over-written history of space

And growing things that taught me how to grow –

Ah, go down beside the willows, then take

The slowly steeping walk up that hill,

Turn about, look around, see the world

That we have, this gift of childish heaven

That in it holds appreciation of

The living, growing land beyond the sky.

Wordsworth never finished the poem we call ‘The Prelude’, but it was meant to be his autobiography in verse, or, as he put it grandly, the story of the ‘creation of a poetic mind’.  I actually think this is a fairly good subject for poetry – if only of interest to other poets – but possibly self-indulgent!  Nonetheless, even without Wordsworth’s age or position, I found it really pleasurable to revisit my childhood places in verse like this.  Does this mean I’ll expand it?  

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.

In the British Museum II

On the third wide floor of the museum

You can travel between treasures gathered

In centuries’ collection of the past –

A past of narrow stories intertwined –

That’s what the glass says, and the little signs

Ruled on white Perspex, all best guesses,

Estimations – archaeological –

Risky historical reputations.

But looking in the glass I can still see

Fingerprints in a stoneware pot, once hid,

Then found, no framed and famous, full of wealth.

The massed carnelian lozenges with birds

And simple beaten snake-head bracelets, rings,

The taciturn quartz, hard and sworn silent,

Collected silver profiles destined soon

To soften, stick, unpiece and glue, adhere,

The swallow in themselves the featured fair,

Becoming blank, upon which expression

Can be new-shaped a decorated face.

All interrupted by a sudden threat

That prompted careful choosing of this vase

And surely careful memory’s searchings

For a place in the crook of an ash tree

By a bed in a brook by the long field

Where a treasure can lie in secrecy.

To try to put a glass between ourselves –

Me and this distant woman or man –

Is no more possible than to part

Two melted coins, two rust-fused swords or rings,

And all the people making all these toys

Are like the massy links in one colossal

Tunic of chainmail, which the earth unites

By giving up its moisture, making rust

That freezes pliable metal and dust.

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 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.

Lines from the British Museum I

The coin, a double-dozen thousand years,

Each year three hundred, sixty-five mornings,

Each morning, someone rising, the owner

Of a silver owl and a goddess’s head,

Unless it slept in soil somewhere.  But this,

The bright and heavy star, lost from its night,

Dropped from the dark, surely wasn’t hidden

Or let go, ever, was it?  So warm

Like just out of the pocket of a man

A double-dozen thousand years ago

And in a dusty land.  So bright, the polish

Of finger-sweat and greed still thick on it.

And even if it lay somewhere, still owned

By someone, or the heir and son, someone

Who didn’t know that this was his bequest

While it was locked in a box or folded

In heavy cloth, wrapped pocket-wise, forgot.

Can we even forget silver?  Are we

So rushed and careless, so full of hurry?

An element unseen, unfelt, like quarks,

Detectable by reflection and effect,

Its signature a half-life of regret…

If he had pride in striking such a picture,

Twice, once on either side, and then the man

Who cast it, glee to see the metal flow,

Then where is your treasuring, O tourist,

O passing tourist in this museum world?

Your stool was well-designed, gave pleasure, pay

To someone still living, his name not unknown!

Your trousers, brooch and boots are all silver.

To honour strangers perhaps we should strip

And put our clothes on slowly, prayerfully,

Again, instead of hurriedly dressing

In the morning’s mist of barely-slept sleep.

The prayerful life is a life well-lived,

The worshipful life one of peace and thanks,

The good news life looks with Jesus’ eyes

On the world that we make with our hands.