Incoming Tide

Every pattern that’s made by the water

Where tides sculpt the ripples of low-slung sand levels

Is hidden, invisible, but for its traces,

The skeleton ridges and quartz-dancing revels.

 

Across the cold strand the sea is like silver,

Its lobes licking tenderly flattened out swells.

The sand barely rises, except when the water

Displays a true level and every tongue tells.

 

But even those waters are ebbing and rushing

And never the beach or the sea’s edge is smooth,

But climbing, high-rising, then falling, revealing,

It softens the crystals just like lullabies soothe.

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.

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.

Chalk at Broadstairs

When the tide, slow retreating from the beach north of Broadstairs,

Reveals all the liminal acres of shore,

A field of nobbly pinnacles rises

Slathered with purple, green-fingered, white-raw.

The chalk will feel greasy to fingertip gripping,

The seaweed is slippy beneath treading feet,

Yet the softest of stones is defeating the ocean

Absorbing the thunder where seas swell and meet.

The  cliffs, yes they tumble, they fall and they shout,

Collapse in the surf of the tide’s furthest rush,

But ten days in twelve the water drains backward

And the roar of the ocean will turn into hush.

The power of water is soon dissipated,

Rollers and breakers split into rills

And the cliffs, slowly crumbling, must face the ocean

But twice a day water retreats and then stills.

The Garden, Gone and Remaining

It’s dangerous, returning where

You left your living herbs to root.

A trip to re-taste friendship’s fruit

Was bittered by a chilly air.

 

The trees that stood between brick walls

That hid along the alleyway,

Perpendicular and grey

Behind the street thick with footfalls –

 

Those trees that softened up waste ground,

Beloved by none who owned them, no,

Beloved by one who knew them so,

Can no longer there be found.

 

Eight sycamores, wind-strewn and wild,

A faded, fallen apple, broke

Beneath the ivy’s unfair yoke,

And hazel and its hopeful child,

 

The ashes, birches, and tangled low

Odd-limbed gooseberries, all leaf

Their chance to fruit far too brief,

My chance to help them years ago.

 

If anybody knew or cared,

I did – who slept beneath the branch

And dreamt that plot my mind’s wide ranch

And ate the berries birds had shared.

 

Returning down that concrete path

Something airy worried me –

Then bare sky lay, no branch, no tree,

And sorrow mingled up with wrath.

 

For all these deeds and rights to build

What value has the love of soil?

For profit pulled from a rebar broil

Who counts the trees the clearers killed?

 

Small pain, oh yes, for all fall, trees.

What sentimental rot – what pose!

But gloved hands felled and counted those,

That last were climbed and held by these.

 

I know the width of limbs, the give

And sway of outstretched arms that reach,

From letting slower creatures teach

And show me how to be and live.

 

God speaks in rocks and fruits and trees,

So shouldn’t I be sad and cry

That disregarded saplings die

That I regarded, gave me ease?

 

From bed – this bed – beneath this spread

I’d wake and see them greet the day

Or sleeping, hear the wind at play

To test them, twitch them, shoulders spread,

 

Roots wild-set but gripping close,

Joying, fighting with the gale,

Ducking rain and flicking hail,

And then in sun, remain, repose.

 

I left a lot there in that ground,

A sage-bush brought and cropped and strong,

The trunk split-twisted, leaves grey and long,

Potatoes not yet dug or found.

 

Nothing’s lost.  I hope – it must be.

I know that God permits no waste,

And where our minds dash on in haste

He plays a longer game than we.

 

How many times a root re-springs,

How many times a spring re-flows,

Oh, every time you prune a rose

You prove the loveliness of dead things.

Silence

Unwounded by words, the body of quiet swells,

Absorbs my breathed-out thought and inwardly tells

Me to ‘Recall that past promise.’  Distance

From what I once said begets a silence.

 

Now I am stilled by the weight of rest,

My free spirit mentions matters unconfessed

And in clarity born of sore conscience,

See how sorrow always begets a silence.

 

But with no clamour, remedy speaks next,

That offered hand, to give me when perplexed

A release from the curse of self-reliance

And thankfulness too begets a silence.

 

Take me into this quiet, where heart touches heart

And my words and my working all fall apart

And I know the true truth of the Spirit’s alliance

And awe, rediscovered, begets a silence.