Verses 25-32

I am laid low in the dust

Preserve my life according to your word.

This section of the great poem is written in a deeply emotional state – a state of mind which cannot see any way out and a place of the dry spirit.  In such time, our prayer should be for God to preserve our life, so that we continue to live, because if we persist, we are guaranteed to enjoy gladness again.  His word will bring us life if we are patient.  God’s promises are and always have been to extend our life, both in time and in depth – to give more to us and to multiply us by his miraculous power.  In this he will never fail us.

I recounted my ways and you answered me;

teach me your decrees.

Confession underpins this sincere and repeated request: teach me!

Let me understand the teaching of your precepts

then I will meditate on your wonders. 

Because God holds understanding and at the moment they are mysteries to me, we should ask to understand why he has said what he has, and this will bring us to worship when we can read between the lines!

My soul is weary with sorrow,

strengthen me according to your word.

A weak soul is indecisive and takes no pleasure in anything – only God’s Spirit – his Word – speaking to us in our secret place can stir us up again.

Keep me from deceitful ways,

be gracious to me according to your law.

If we pray like this God will show us what to do, but also he will intervene.  We do not believe, as some think, that God simply gives us morality to live by, but that he himself wants to share our life, and that means expecting to see him work, get involved, and roll up his sleeves.  His law of love, his law of obedience, is the way of showing and acting out grace to us.

I have chosen the way of truth;

I have set my heart on your laws.

Other things must come second.  As the old chorus goes, I have decided to follow Jesus.  This is an exclusive statement – we choose truth and God’s law and Jesus’ example over every other way and path in the world.  Other things will have to happen later, or perhaps we won’t bother with them at all.  If we walk the way of truth we will have no time for deceit and untruth – either self-deceit or dishonesty towards others.

I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord,

do not let me be put to shame.

This holding fast will be a tight grip – the grip of Psalm 63, ‘My soul clings to you, your right hand upholds me’.

I run in the path of your commands,

for you have set my heart free!

When I was walking the Pennine way over Ickornshaw Moor I prayed for strength to walk a bit further, when I needed to make camp and there was nowhere good to camp.  But instead of a little strength, I felt the joy of the Lord come upon me, as in Isaiah 40:31, and I felt the eagle’s wings and with the bag that was as heavy as it had been for the previous eleven miles, I began to run!

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.

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.

Snow Convicts Me of Selfishness

The air plays fair with floating flakes

Today, not landing, touching, cold

And sure to make all memories old

As they’re immediate, as now wakes.

 

The moment of our living life

Which we have called the present, well,

Impermanent as snow that fell,

As dreams of future home or wife.

 

To touch is just to melt, to slip

Into the water of my tears

And reaching back through eight long years

I catch a stalagmatic drip.

 

Each thought or act, designed to build

A structure, gently, life’s smooth plan,

Is now dissolved.  What I began

The changing of the air has killed,

 

Wind from across the sea or land

From far-off cities, far-off fields

Each birthing wind, which in turn yields

The emptiness of empty hands.

 

But all of this is out of place –

To let the snow be first a sore

Is to ignore the beauty – more –

To see the mirror but ignore your face.

 

My hurt is not the only one,

I am no axis for the world.

Forget the anger that you hurled

And let the tears drip, then be gone.

 

Unsettled snow and bitter wind –

The metaphors of my unease.

The weathers, like the seasons, tease

And when I pitied me I sinned.

Valentine

The first of many days of Lent,

A walk of indecisive hopes

That fall and flutter, telescopes

Can pick out figures where time went.

 

One moment I have heart to dream,

Then crush it, sentencing my step

To be man’s mark on barren steppe,

And lose my sight of what I seem.

 

The promise of another task,

The light of distant island shore,

A flock of child-like bird adore

And ask the questions children ask;

 

Why does the sea lap up the rock?

The shapes the cliffs make, do they change?

If I walk west, where will I range,

And when return?  Who times the clock?

 

The desperate, half-mocked chance to care –

I didn’t really let the card

Imprinted with a kiss regard

My face’s puzzlement – just there –

 

I stood it on a shelf as if

I understood its sending, sent,

I understood all that she meant

Because I’ve fathomed motive’s glyph.

 

All characters are now to me

Like people populaced in books,

Their eyes give wary or vacant looks,

They seek to conquer, or to be free.

 

Reducing all my colleagues, friends,

And new acquaintances to parts

I vastly undervalue hearts

And so my hope in people ends.

 

Up jumps a hope, and then it drops,

And day by day or eve by eve

I wipe my tears on my sleeve

And harvest sadness with these crops.

 

I know too much, yes that I know

And would be glad, surrendering

The rush of teaching’s rendering

Of people, for the chance to go

 

And live for nothing else but this,

Grass and sand and seagulls’ cries,

Peatsmoke stinging bleary eyes,

Words that heal with their kiss.

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.

Cufflink Villanelle

Now I can wear her gift upon my wrists,

The reassembled clock-pieces to link

Our lives, half out-of-time with what persists.

 

These first pair, shared and bought, began the lists

Of contracts of giving, presents for ink,

Now I can wear her gift upon my wrists.

 

The next two are stiff, worn in Cambridge mists,

And I lost one of our favourites – flat stones sink

Our lives, half out-of-time with what persists.

 

I hung rings in her hair – this sight persists

When I wish memory’s eye would wink.

No eye can wear her gift upon my wrists…

 

They only hold together with sharp twists,

Straining but secure, I thought, but now think

Our lives half out-of-time with what persists.

 

But hands that held are impotent, blank fists,

And the last dregs of gladness, those I drink

Now.  Can I wear her gift upon my wrists,

Our lives half out-of-time with what persists?

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.