Written jointly in a 15 minute exercise in Iona on Angela Locke’s May 2019 Writers Retreat. Denis is named after David’s childhood cricket hero, Denis Compton (Middlesex and England) and Len after Charles’, Len Hutton (Yorkshire and England)
Selection Committee, Haltwhistle
Denis knocks on Len’s door
Denis: Morning, Len.
Len: Morning, Denis. I have put the kettle on.
Denis sits at kitchen table. Len makes pot of tea.
Len: We’ve got a real problem here, Denis. Saturday approaches and we still don’t have a team.
Denis: That’s right, Len, and Haydon Bridge are top of league.
Men ponder and drink more tea.
Len: You don’t think they’d lend us a couple of players?
Denis splutters and nearly spills tea.
Denis: Haydon Bridge! Them beggars wouldn’t give you time of day even if stood by church clock.
Len: Aye, you’re right. So what are we going to do?
Men ponder and drink more tea.
Denis: Haltwhistle isn’t just up to much this season. But we could reach out a bit. What about asking help up at Alston and then over at Brampton?
Len: It’s a bit of a stretch but why not? I’ll ring Steve in the Post Office at Alston.
Denis: And I’ll ring Bert at the grocers at Brampton. Then we’ll see what we can do.
Denis and Len sit back and enjoy rest of tea.
Denis: You know, Len, Haydon Bridge won’t know what’s hit ‘em. They’ll be stuffed.
Solid stone steps lead down to fields and flower beds,
Before this ancient house, a green lawn spreads.
But turn your head, look back towards the door
An anguished couple stand, as sun drops lower.
And what of the lad who’s saying good-bye?
His gaze looking past Shepherds Crag,
Is he riding away with a sword at his side?
Or wearing a khaki cap?
Is he trying to smile, and promise his mum
That one day, very soon, he’ll be back.
Can he see how the bees make the petals expand?
Hear the fountain that plays in the pond?
Will he care if the trees are cut down when he’s gone?
Does he feel any sort of a bond?
The house must have known many similar scenes
It’s stood on this brink for so long.
But the strength of the love when your boy takes the place
Of failed politicians, in war,
Is something beyond what we know of as love,
It’s not better than love,
It’s just more.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and strategically separates Europe from Africa. Here on the southern edge of Europe King Minos once ruled; the legendary Minotaur roamed deep in the labyrinth of Knossos and Zeus is claimed to have been born in a cave in the Lefka Ori mountains which form the backbone of the island. To walk along sections of the south west coast of Crete is to travel back in time. In places, where the limestone cliffs fall vertically into the sea, the old sea level is clearly visible. Seismic activity has violently tilted the land upwards until it is three metres higher than in ages past. As well as a journey through geological timescales there are also events which occurred in more recent times. Shortly after leaving Chora Sfakion, where over 20,000 British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were evacuated when the Germans occupied Crete during World War II, a walker travelling west comes to the steep descent down the cliff face to the long sweep of Sweetwater Beach. So named for the freshwater springs which emerge here after percolating from high in the limestone mountains. St. Paul landed here as the ship he was travelling on collected fresh water. Two kilometres further west from Sweetwater one comes across the tiny church of Aghios Stavros perched above a semi-circular bay. On a hot day a swim here in the silky waters of the Libyan Sea is refreshing before continuing the walk along the oleander fringed path to Loutro, five kilometres further on. Half way round Loutro Bay is the Blue House restaurant and their fish soup makes a perfect first course followed by tender artichoke hearts in lemon sauce. Take your time at the Blue House if you are waiting for the 5.00pm ferry back to Sfakia but be warned, as Loutro may work its magic on you and you decide to find a room here for a night or two.
Oh, the disappointment that comes upon a happy wanderer when awoken from a dream! She was there, so vividly, where house martins had added mud nests and their carefree joy to the aged splendour of coffee coloured stucco, beneath the solemn tolling of the Euphrasian Basilica’s bells, and the notes of choir practice spilling over the polished cobbled paving beneath the Sacristy window.
She saw and heard the returning of the colourful fishing boats and the ancient, creaking shutters bleached silver, dishevelled on rusty hinges, rendering their seeming-permanence miraculous.
And – just as it had been since 1951 – the battered blue bicycle leant against the wall, no longer going places, basket now bright with garden flowers, energetic pedalling having given way years ago to sunlit evenings making embroidered shawls on the doorstep, geraniums glowing as buttercups might at her chin, beneath a deeply wrinkled concentration.
Clear too in this reverie was the small glass of something or other beside a basket of chocolate brown bread and olive oil on the little outdoor table, and needles in the orange pin cushion. Yes: in tonight’s gentle evening breeze this quiet, embroidering, sometime cyclist was recognised again as mistress of her universe.
But the heat? 32 degrees, perhaps. One didn’t feel heat like this in dreams. Heavens – and she meant ‘thank heavens’ – this was no dream! Wide awake, our chief travel writer Becky Buckley was actually, here and now, standing right in front of her old Croatian friend – who, in familiar broken-English, looked up from her craft-work and called to Becky – as she may to you – ‘welcome back to Poreč.’
Every year, when the air becomes sweet and warm with Spring’s green promise, and trees burden themselves with blossom and birdsong, my mother would take us on the pilgrimage. Sandwiches packed, the youngest crammed into the pushchair, we’d set off on the 5 mile round journey.
Stopping only once along the way we entered the municipal cemetery, and my mother would begin to unravel Time. Pointing to this or that headstone we learned our lineage and paid homage to ancestral bones.
Leaving the Joshuas, Jeremiahs and Sarah Annes to enjoy their eternal rest we headed west, through the council estate. And every year my mother pursed her lips and grumbled at the litter and told us in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t like this in her day, when fields stretched as far as the eye can see.
So it was with a sense of relief when we finally reached the track to the Hall and the green pasture of the farm. Surrounded by the familiar She would settle into the tale. This was where she had spent her childhood, an arm waved vaguely in the direction of the Hall giving us a false sense of ownership. Passing by the wall that separated the Hall from the farm, she pointed to the ivy covering virually every brick.
“I remember that being planted,” she’d say.
Awed by our mother’s great age we barely took in the row of cottages opposite where my mother and her sister spent the first years of their lives. And then, at last, the woods green and beautiful and effervescent in a bluebell haze.
Sitting by the beck she kicked off her shoes to rest weary feet on a flowery cushion and the stories would begin.
“Look, over there, that’s where Grandad found us the day we ran away because we’d lost half a crown on the way to the shop.”
Two little girls dabble sticks in the brown water, wrapped in a dream. And again we see them scooped up into their father’s arms, hugged close and carried home, their arms curled around his neck.
Passing Snotty Hill where She and her sister go shrieking down on a home made sledge we stop by the ruins of two tumbledown buildings. And another story, this time of the Victorian skirted grandmother who lived in one of the once-upon-a-time cottages. I gape as Little Red Riding Hood comes to life.
When, at last, we reach the path which runs through the centre of the wood, there is one final story. She and my father join other couples to walk out, arm in arm on a Sunday evening. Once more we see the girls in their Sunday best arm in arm with their uniformed beaus – for this is war time – heads close in happy conspiracy.
The last time my mother came here she was in her eighties. But as soon as she stood under the trees a younger self emerged. Spinning round on her heel, arms spread out she smiled up at the trees.
If she haunts any place, it is here in Judy Woods where on a windy day the trees sigh her name: She-Shee-She-lagh.
A thousand million years. The Torridonian sandstones are almost the oldest rocks in the world and they were, in effect, an American import. Scotland itself was born and bred in the North, hitching itself to England who had made a long journey, from South of the equator, to seal the match. In Torridon you don’t need to imagine these elemental, earthly forces – you can sense them. And it was only the blink of an eye since there were bears and mammoths. Their bones are still here. This is not the land that time forgot but rather the land where time still lives.
Travelling down the gradually narrowing single track road, West from Kinlochewe, you will also notice a narrowing of the gap – between you and earth. You may arrive in the diamond-studded freeze of February or in June’s everlasting light. You may come for a daring climb on Ben Eighe’s Triple Buttress, a stout day’s walk over Ben Alligin and its horns, or a stroll by the Loch or a bracing dip. Whatever your mission I would recommend the T Room, open from Wednesday to Saturday. Black pudding butties, with an egg too if you’ve earned it, worth a Michelin star at least.
But it’s the presence of the place, the mountains, the sea and the way they breathe together. Their conversation will pull you in and it’s easy to forget who you were the other side of Kinlochewe. All the things which make you separate – money, job, the things you own, the names you are called by, the story you tell about who you are. Looking down the Loch from the shore or up on the Liatach ridge,you might as well be a red deer or an eagle. It’s easy to forget to take photographs when you are no longer an observer.
Slow your pace to a meander
that I may spread my waters
like a sheet upon your bed
here upon my mossy lap take root
and reflect as do I
on the shifting sky
while my babel tongues
hush to still
trickles through your fingers
and moves on –
a journey ended
when only just begun
I with my spate and flow
gather the rubble from a thousand dreams
pour over rock
seep into cracks
It’s only a big hole in the ground, man-altered over the span
Of two centuries while all distant history carried on around.
Until, one day in the fifties, the men left and the pumps stilled.
Let us again go down the steep, well trodden path to where
The pool filled slowly and is now deep and black as shadow,
Edging the smooth slate cliffs, reflecting what light there is.
This created space, as through a lens of glass, affirms, fixes and
Enhances our time, place and space in this world.
The overarching rock frames the secretive pool and surely
Here, if the muse exists, and is at large, she will whisper and
Quietly invite us to come again, even as we head up and out
Onto the old flat ground where the white birches grow.
There are places we visit and pass through, while others
Make us linger and return. They exist quietly and being quiet
May become notable and significant, allowing acquaintance.
They become resonant with occurrence and memory which
Even when far away and distracted by ordinary concerns
Awakens a response, urging us to strive to go where the light is.
It doesn’t look much from the outside, but inside there is everything! Behind this heavy metal door, which once slammed across her fingers … eek! Up came her shoulders as she winced at the memory. On entering, it occurred to Katie that no matter what the temperature outside – hot as it was on this summer’s day- the temperature in her Dad’s workshop was always the same. She delighted in visiting with the workshop when it was empty. No angry circular saw, threatening to take fingers, good job her Dad was steady. No welding sparks, sizzling and glowing with a drifting stench that hits your nose. She felt pleased her dad cared for himself. No clashing hammer and whirl of wood- chewing drill. He has learnt how to use his tools well, she mused. Feeling full in today’s stillness, this silence had a back drop of a gentle hum from the cylindrical light and the beat and breath of herself. Katie began tinkering. Ruffling in the sawdust rug, to find discarded wood and opening oily dust clad boxes filled with treasure. Her eyes cast about in awe of myriad things, waiting to be useful and myriad tools, waiting to make use of things. With hammer and nails Katie turned her piece of wood into a work of art, leaving it in pride of place on the workbench.
I look at my feet on the floor – the sawdust rug is still there. My Dad’s workshop has changed location, how it feels has not changed at all. Every nook and cranny filled up and it’s all him. My Dad’s steadiness, his care, his strength and ability to make and mend, his big heart emanates from this place. I don’t come in here much now, although when I do it still fills me, Katie spent many an hour breathing it in and tinkering. Leaving her work behind, wanting to know and be known. I believe Katie achieved her goal, I do know and I am known. I don’t need to know anything else. I don’t look much from the outside, but like my Dad and his workshop – inside there is everything!
Sitting above you, my feet on rock,
My bottom on a thoughtfully placed bench.
I ask you…
And you wash over me.
The sound of your cells colliding,
It is the buzz of connection.
The voice of the world,
All its cells moving together,
You flow over and through me,
We are one.
All at once – bonded together.
Free of separation,
I am one with the world,
As are you.
This tingling dance of life,
Swiftly and easily,
Through my flesh
And hard bones!
How I delight in flowing like you do.
Ever changing – as you are,
With the wind,
The Cumbrian skies.
Different, but in truth the same.
With every visit,
We share contemplation.
You show me with mastery,
The way life is when true essence prevails.
That strengthens my ground.
I am rich,
I am abundant,
I tear myself away.
Letting others sit with your wisdom,
My heart is open,
‘Stay with me?’
I know I’ll be complacent,
Allowing my true essence to fade,
I ‘will’ need your teaching again!
A new car clutch,
We leave the 2CV,
the sun shining.
Through the iron swing gate
we follow the footpath on the map.
A different world from behind,
green dew drenched grass, a winding stream.
A startled heron spreads its wings
lifts in heavy beats.
Bushes filled with blue-black berries
we pick and eat.
A boggy patch, an awkward wooden stile.
We find the place to sit.
The stream flows in both directions.
Why the whirlpools?
Water oozes from the edge of the bank.
Grass and vegetation, a land-drain surely.
Have sandwiches and a drink.
Willow warblers – they’re late
left Stainmore a week ago.
Haverick Pool, Seaweed!
Rising tide from the sea?
Or a fresh water stream.
Time to go
Awkward wooden stile,
blackberries in a sandwich box,
winding stream, sun dried grass,
through the iron swing gate.
She trudged along the well-worn path her boots sinking in the freshly fallen snow. In the distance, a muffled hum of motorway traffic was the only sound to disturb the hush that accompanies snow, on this foggy January morning.
In the field on her right, Blackface sheep huddled around a feeding trough. They stopped chewing as one, staring at her passing, with defiant challenge, or ovine innocence? She wasn’t sure which. To her left, a small herd of roe deer emerged from the trees.stepping gracefully in single file along the edge of the field. A charm of chaffinches and one lone robin, red breast flashing crimson against the winter white background, darted in and out of hedgerows searching for food amongst the tight, thorny branches.
As she approached the railway bridge her pace quickened, she’d heard the rumble of an approaching train. Just in time, the London to Edinburgh Pendolino express thundered down the trade passing beneath her on its way to the next stop.
Turning to retrace her footsteps, the wind in her face, she halted to take in the view that always took her breath away. Spread out before her lay the bustling market town of Penrith, nestling in the lee of Beacon Hill, the tops of the mighty Pennines a magnificent backdrop. And this is where I now call home, she thought with a smile, before continuing on her way.
It’s in the space between my words
In the junk in my DNA
In the pause between the lub and dub
The losing of concentration.
It’s in the daydreams
The unheard echo of silent screams
The data that cannot be set
The Doppelganger unmet.
It’s in the breeze, in the sunshine
In the taste
Not the food, not the wine.
It’s in the inner outer space
Where I am.
In gratitude to the wobbly footbridge over the Middle Derwent in Portinscale, where I live
Run River Run Below my feet
Under the wobbly bridge
Over my troubled waters.
I was only just a wobbly teenager
When I first wobbled across.
Sat for the first time in a kayak
Did capsize drill in an eddy near the edge,
In the Middle Derwent.
Skiddaw was unmoved.
I learned how
Not to drown.
I stop in the middle sometimes
Notice where the water flows back on itself
Like an afterthought,
Something needs a second look.
Now I cross this bridge almost every day
Walking, running, on my bike,
It’s only just wide enough for that.
I’m going somewhere I’m coming home.
The bridge always wobbles.
I’ve got used to it.
Hartside in the Eden Valley was one of the first places our daughter took my wife and I to view when visiting her in the the Lakes a few years ago. She was disappointed that although the views were wonderful, they would be better seen on a clearer day. A second visit has, since then, been on my list of must do’s.
I decided that before age dictated my means of transport, I would follow the example normally set by my daughter and make the arduous journey from Stainton by BIKE.
After resurrecting, cleaning and oiling the bike, which was thought by some to be a family heirloom, the journey began. I quickly left the busy streets and roads of Penrith and hit the country roads. Head down, sweating profusely, I forged onwards and upwards. Without warning a fox darted across my path, I swerved, lost control, left the tarmac and ended up bloody and wounded in a deep ditch at the side of the lane.
I managed to climb back to the road, staggering dizzily, but staying on my feet. Time wasn’t resonating and as if in a mirage, a red BMW drop head coupe pulled up alongside me. The driver was a very attractive woman with a dark flow of hair, wearing a half-buttoned blouse. She asked what had happened and if she could help.
Having explained about the fox and the ditch, she shouted ‘get in the car, I live not far from here, I can bathe and dress your forehead and get you some help.’ ‘Oh, no!’ I replied, staring at the half-buttoned blouse, ‘I don’t think my wife would approve.’ ‘Don’t be silly,’ she replied, ‘surely your wife would want you to get help’ – after which I climbed into the front passenger seat.
Her home was at the end of about a five mile journey, during which I noticed she undid more buttons on her blouse, exposing more of the soft skin of her breasts and arousing a long subdued feeling in my loins.
Half an hour and three cold lagers later, my forehead cleaned and treated, she suggested I take off my shirt and even perhaps my trousers to see if there were any other injuries requiring attention. ‘Oh, no,’ I retorted, ‘my wife certainly would not approve of that.’ ‘Why ever not,’ she replied, ‘and in any case, you don’t have to tell her, do you? And by the way, where is your wife?’
‘Still in the ditch with the tandem, I suppose,’ I replied.
There’s a café in the town
that’s not to miss
with a poster saying 50 cents a kiss!
There’s an old piano
anyone can play
and people come and
brighten up the day
The coffee’s good, the soup as well
and cakes too numerous to tell
There are sofas and individual chairs
and dogs are always welcome
no-one minds the hairs
And if you are a one
who likes to knit
there is a shelf of wool
and you can sit
and do a stitch or two
or take away
and bring the knitting
back another day
The candles round the room
all help to give
a welcome atmosphere
So come to Mrs F’s
and rest awhile
You will be greeted
by a cheery smile
Stepping down from the last train I walk home beneath a summer’s velvet, midnight sky. Myriad stars twinkle around a corn coloured moon lighting my way. I catch the scent of her perfume, sweet and soft as a whisper, before I see my mother come to meet me. The evocative fragrance of sweet peas permeates my garden today. Amongst the cabbage and potatoes, riots of multi-hued flowers climb crazily over the canes. Each precious petal as soft as a kitten’s ears.
I am in a dark cell
my book is on my lap
a ray of light falls on it –
suddenly it springs open
and beauty flies on wings
of butterflies and birds
sunlight floods the cramped room
and where there once were walls
there are trees
I am on the edge of a forest
I part some saplings and
enter a world of light and
blue sky, and the perfume
of unseen flowers fills my being and
in the distance I see Michael –
he is walking towards me. I
run to him and we embrace
He can see well again. We
run and run and laugh, until
exhausted we fall on to the
forest floor and listen to the
music of the trees –
my book has no name
it is the book of all things
all possibilities, all joys
and I never want to close it
I reach to take my jacket from the peg
and my eyes again are drawn
to the next peg just along
where hangs a collar and a well-worn leather leash
and once again my eyes begin to mist
Then I wander back in time to when my old pal Fly and I
would go to gather sheep from off the fell
I didn’t need to speak much or tell Fly where to go
for there were no hiding places – not from Fly
She knew each nook and place of shelter
where sheep huddled in bad weather
and turned their backs against the wind and rain
eyes half closed as though in contemplation
deep in thought and cheering on the cud
I did not have long to wait as I stood there by the gate
until faint bleating I would hear above the crags
below the mists that swept and swirled
up in their rocky rooftop world
then single filed they showed upon the trod.
An odd one would make a dash but Fly would turn her in a flash
snapping at her heels in reprimand –
there was no doubting who was in command
Then all were down ‘in bye’
where for winter they would lie
until Spring when they would lamb beside the farm
more sheltered in the valley
from the elements and foxes on the prowl
Then we too would go ‘in bye’
and again I’d welcome Fly to my abode –
no kennel, not tonight
for she had earned herself the right
to dine in and lie beside the kitchen fire
And never will I part with her collar or her leash
or from the friend that in memory I fondly still admire
as now lonesome and in solitude
with misted eyes and heavy heart
I sit alone beside the kitchen fire
Knock knock who’s there? he said long before anyone else and it became a foregone conclusion that he really didn’t believe that brevity is the soul of wit. But even with a heart of gold it left him in something of a pickle and one could see that he had not slept one wink when normally he was as merry as the day is long. However to give the devil his due there was method to his madness when he asserted the world’s mine oyster and I’ll not be a laughing stock for it’s neither here nor there nor the be all and the end all when I wear my heart upon my sleeve in this brave new world although that is cold comfort when we gave that devil incarnateLord Chancellor a chance to speak. The relationship was not helped when he heard him mutter by the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes. There was, however, method to his madness when he said he’d be glad to see the Lord Chancellor as dead as a doornail for forgetting that all that glitters is not gold. He then went on to remind us that we will all vanish into thin air and need to look at all our yesterdays as being forever and a day but advised us that with mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come but never to forget that our little life is rounded with a sleep.
I opened a British Medical Journal yesterday and the obituaries were there; earnest distinguished looking doctors, predominantly men, Roger Bannister foremost amongst them. The world reveres him for his four minute mile, yet he researched and practiced in Neurology and had a list of qualifications as long as my arm.
Our revels now are ended. Shakespeare is famous for the beauty and pleasure and truths in his works. Will I be remembered for anything? Does it matter?
When I die, I don’t expect an obituary in the BMJ, or one in the local paper. I don’t even know I know if I lengthened, or shortened, anyone’s life. If I’m lucky, some people may remember I was kind when their loved one died.
What will survive me? I like to hope a wood full of birds.
Last spring, we were faithful at topping up some birdfeeders, and a pair of woodpeckers started coming down from the wood behind us, eventually raising two young, which they often fed on our balcony rail. This summer there are another two, bouncing and teetering on the rail as their mother brings them food. On Sunday we went for a walk in the next valley and three woodpeckers flew through the trees above us, in a place we’d not seen woodpeckers before. Have we helped populate a wood with woodpeckers? I want that to be true. It’s a little thing, one that maybe only lasts a year beyond my death, until a severe winter decimates their population, but that’s enough.
Zephyr, Samiel, Williwaw,
my names are many
Yet my shapes are more
A westerly wind I’ll come and go
A will-o-the wisp with wings of snow.
I’ll whisper sweet nothings,
Caress your cheek
Then slap your face and start to shriek.
I’ll rock your boat in a lullaby
Or puff the waves to seasick high.
I’ll marshal the clouds in a fleeting flock
And tell the hours
By a dandelion’s clock.
My playground is this magic isle
a wizard’s daughter to beguile.
And now to taunt the witch’s son.
My song is ended – the story,
Oh my delightful babes
Your revels are at their beginning
Made from the fabric of the earth
Be spirited – love is your way
Wear this worldly illusion loosely
Grace is substantial, the rest will fade
Leave forgiveness in your wake
You are such stuff as love is made of
May your lives be rounded with peace
I remember a conversation with a colleague some years ago. “I don’t think we are really here,” he said. “WE are just part of a soap opera.” I laughed in reply but there are times when everything feels unreal as if I am not really here. I am sure that Shakespeare was right. Our lives are like a pageant in which we are all actors playing out various scenes. Our parts are unscripted and must be written by ourselves. Those around us frame our lives as well as accompanying us on our journey … Some of our contacts stay with us for a long time, others move on quickly to other places or other worlds. Some make an impression, which leaves a lasting mark. Others are soon forgotten. But few are on stage at the same time as we are. In the end we all melt away into thin air, spirits, forgotten forever. Do we make a good or bad impression? If we are the stuff that dreams are made of do we cause nightmares or sweet dreams?
Our spirits disappear. Only the memories are left unless someone decides to dig up our bones to do a DNA test to look at our heritage and investigate our ancestry. Sometimes past memories float in and out of our minds as if they have never gone away. Putting all our lives together is a complicated jigsaw.
Our lives are short interludes in the history of time.
There are places I can go, without trying,
They present themselves to me.
The perilous journey on a ship
With masts, and sails that curve into the wind,
As it navigates an iceberg sea.
Or the familiar white house I know so well
With lavish grounds, and swimming pools full of sunshine.
In one dream I was in a room,
Only to find myself in it, years later.
The sink was in a corner, and the windows
Opened with a pole. I turned and saw it,
It was there.
My soul recognises before my eyes have grown accustomed.
So that when I met you, I knew,
Before a word had passed between us.
The cynics mine for proof of truth,
Before they can accept it.
Cloud reality with clever words,
But remembered dreams are not of that order,
They are more real
They are explored.
The impermanence of this, our mortal coil.
Tempts us to view this life as everything, the be all and end all.
We regard these great achievements of mankind,
Scientific, architectural, artistic or literary,
As the pinnacle of human potential.
But what of the mind of our Creator?
What truly limitless capacity lies here?
The butterflies’ iridescent wing, stars flung precisely into space, the intricate human brain.
The light of day, the darkness of night, and all that lies between.
Is the work of one mind, one heart.
What then of this mortal coil,
If it is but a gateway to greater things beyond?
How now brown cow newly
before me on the brow of
For a moment your great
sandy head was that of a
watchful lioness and awed
at forty-five miles an hour
I was suddenly driving red
dust tracks in Africa
Until snapped back to the
morning’s reality on the road
Aye. Red dust gave way
to grey tarmac. Cumberland
bloomed. This was not tundra
For a moment my own great
sandy head is mildly
embarrassed by the watchful
vividness of my colourful
imagination and I concentrate
brake, slow, park, going
And then I find myself again
in a wondrous seat of art and heart
shared creativity and growing
Marvellous. Graced. Extra-ordinary –
a pride of lions and lionesses in a
little village hall. We write
meditate, laugh, cry, articulate
enumerate – watchful eyes and ears
on the brow of many a glorious hill
and – exactly where we’re
meant to be – thee and me
quiet and still
(where no one draws breath, and you’ll have heard it all before)
Guess what Norah? there’s going to be
meringue! – ‘a nest of strawberries and
blueberries, raspberries, and rhubarb
coulis.’ Aw thump! Grandpa’s ratted and
Mam’s anxious and Granny’s weather-worn.
God, it’s hot isn’t it? Our Paula’s
nice fascinator’s wilting. Not my
choice of flowers! Who is going to
sweep up all that confetti? Verger
prefers white rice for a white wedding
‘e says. Confetti’s as daft as top
hat and tails when us lot are out in
us t-shirts and jeans, normal. Like them
bridesmaids on the hen night full of beans
and planning a dead rude speech to make
all them others screech. And now the Best
Man’s sweating. He’ll faint in a mo’ what’s
the betting? But his partner’s brought him
posh mineral water and the guy
with the camera says ‘stand in t’ shade’
which won’t make for good photos here or
at the Reception. Got any coins
for the collection? No, love. I’m broke
Hope it’ll be the old vows. We was
at the Methodist’s last weekend and
their vicar can’t half shift the trifle
Aaaaah ha ha! You know, like, worra mean?
You mean ‘obey’ and all that in them
old vows? Well, you know what? You can get
stuffed! Ey up, ‘ere come the eyelashes
A miniature acrobat
Plays in summer sun
The moors are sweet this day, with the warm sun of early summer bathing everything in light. The yellow gorse and purpling heather stand vivid against the grey-green grass and black-jutting rocks. And above this sea of undulation curlew call cascades from blue sky. Such a day as this belies the moor’s true face: windswept, rain-filled; a place where hardy folk dare only go and then with care.
You peer from behind the sharp-jutting rock with the innocent face of a naughty schoolboy, bright eyes watchful, curious. I know your name though we have never met. First uttered with dark undertones in children’s books it embodies the sly elusiveness of the playground sneak. But here, on this hillside, you are a thing of beauty and wonder. Your lithe body, brown-coated, shades against the hill, slips and slides with lightning speed over rock, stone and grassy tussock to curl into the homes of rabbits and mice. A master acrobat, your leap-curl dance transfixes and beguiles until – a pounce, and sharp teeth close in for the kill.
A moment of communion – and then your tiny body twists you out of sight.
It was a dry sunny day when I first saw him. As I walked along the beck, the trees over hanging it swayed and rustled in the breeze and sent dappled light to dance on the water. Amongst the patterns was a patch that remained steady. After a while I realised it was a head of straw coloured hair, and I glimpsed moving branches that were, perhaps, brown arms and legs. A tune sang through the bubble and tumble of the stream.
The sun dazzled me briefly as I approached. When I entered shadow again and my eyes could see, there was no sign of that figure.
A little dipper bird watched me from a mossy boulder. Just before I reached his part of the beck he flew upstream a few yards and perched again, bobbing his head a few times. He continued ahead of me, skimming the stream, and dipping in and out of the flowing water as he went. The swooshing of water played beside me, with a faint tune fading in and out. Time seemed endless. Now was yesterday, and tomorrow, and last year, and maybe even last millennium. The beck unchanged and timeless. But when I reached the end of the trees and shadows, I realised the bird and music had gone; I was alone, and it was now once more.
Ashes to ashes,
Can I bear to let them go?
I know that I must
Horace, my loving canine friend,
They say all good things must come to an end.
Wherever you went, it was always the same,
With people drawn to you like moths to a flame.
Now your spirit flies free,
But your bones I can’t yet let go;
Ground down to white dust in a container by the door,
Lie cherished fragments that wait beside me as I sleep,
Until I feel ready to cast you into the wind
Like a cloud of cherry blossom,
Settling on the foreshore,
Washed away by the tide,
Imbibed into the saline bloodstream of Mother Earth,
Nurturing her as you nurtured me,
As you nurtured those you touched.
The wind in the trees makes me want to leap and run she is my own breath
I wake before first light, to the rustle of insects inside the hollow tree, where I have slept. I have been warm and safe. Dawn comes silver through the trees, lighting the drops of dew to diamonds. Silver turns gold. In the dappled shade I lick jewels from tall grasses. We sit together, the tree and I, in the glowing morning, listening to the music of the birds, like golden rain. Quietly we listen to the language of the wind, as she sways the branches and flutters the leaves. We sit together in a patch of sunlight and watch the moon disappear.
In Colorado mountains
Bull elk gate crashes
Dancing in full swing
Enjoyment and fun
Sudden dash to the window
Bull elk wants to join us
Who can get the best picture?
We all knew there was danger
But he stayed where he was
He did not move
Posed for photos
Stayed for entertainment
A summer day dawns Mist lifts from the mountain top I polish my boots
Missing Parts of Speech
Poetry and prose without adverbs and adjectives is like a summer without sun and strawberries. Their lack creates a drought for our ears and ideas which those missing parts of speech can help to take wing and fly, lifting our minds above chatter and chaff, nurturing insights into mundanity. The discipline of the sadhu on a ledge suits such a being but the potential in language for rhythm, scansion and rhyme are tools to be honed and cherished like a burning glass igniting fires in our hearts and minds that can then take us beyond the shadows in the cave.
A shape, etched
For future fingers yet to trace
Hunched and wall eyed
I meet your gaze
A flickering moment
and then –
A turncoat self
I march along
to any song that please my ear.
A frozen statue in a forest glade –
Or assassin lurking in the shade?
Houdini-like I come and go,
A cameo part I play.
But always, still, unseen
My razor tongue, held in,
Catches, flicks around your words
And pulls them deep within.
I taste your thoughts upon my tongue:
A self dissolved
I don’t know why I do this,
But something inside me needs to be expressed.
I don’t talk much.
I just feel, and see, and hear, and touch and smell.
So I make marks on the wall.
Marks that look like the things around me,
And express the things I feel inside.
Marks made from the juice of the berries I crushed,
Mixed with my blood.
I place my hand against the cold dry wall.
I fill my mouth with the warm, bitter tasting fluid,
And spit it at the back of my hand,
Until my hand and the wall are coated deep red.
Then I take my hand away,
And reveal the print of where it was.
This is me.
This is my mark.
And I was here, do you see?
I was here.
I was here.
This, the new book my children gave me,
its pages empty, except for lines.
Lines I do not want, they proscribe me, hold me in.
They wouldn’t know, when they chose it for its cover –
pink, with flowers, how mothers ought to be,
that each new book I have to buy has empty pages,
unlined. Hard to find. Now, in a world
where everyone should write and stand
in line, straight side to side, not up and down,
not in the circle, nor ragged, no dots nor clumps of words,
no untidiness. I secretly long for order,
yet helplessly, my life spills out beyond the lines,
an effulgence, colour, books, words unread,
poems written on scraps, lost and found,
half-empty cups of words, littering my days.
Until I drown in things, duty, worries, memory –
the unlined pages of my life. I reject the book with lines,
yet long for tidiness. Perhaps after all, they chose wisely,
my children, seeking to help me make sense of my unlined,
Genes, genomes, DNA in a lovely spiral,
And inside a soul stands proud,
Creates meaning as, like the prongs of a tuning fork,
I quiver into existence,
Excite the air around me at
My own frequency.
I try to bring you closer
To my wavelength, by scratching
Symbols on a page, a piece of bark, a cave wall,
I put a foot through the ice on the top of a puddle
Just to show you that I’m here.
There is a garden behind a wall, where hollyhocks stand straight and tall
Lavender roams wild and free, ivy wraps round every tree
Maiden fern and meadow sweet weave a carpet at your feet
Flower heads embrace, entwine, Harlequin and Columbine
There is no bird song in the air, bees and butterflies take care
If you should ever stray near there, take the time to have a look
And see the babble in the brook
One thing you will never see, is my friend Mallory and me