Harvest

From the hot road
I watched combines make wide-wale corduroy
Of gasping fields cast in bronze and gold;
Racing balers trailing fine brown dust
Build their fleeting henges and tight-rolled scrolls of straw;
Felt the fat, satisfied summer –
The goodness and greenness of the place –
Wrap itself around me.

I come from here. That can never change.
Its deep rhythms are my heartbeat;
By its moods and seasons, I measure out my own small days.

In these dark times I cannot look upon it as I did:
Forces far beyond these gentle hills conflate
A love of one place with a hatred of The Other.

But this country is deep-grained in my hands, clings fast to my boots:
I am bound to it, and it to me
Until I too am gathered in, and finally ploughed under.

 
 

Events of the last three years have changed the way I look at the UK. But on a long, hot ride yesterday, I came to realise that it’s not my local tract of countryside that’s changed: it remains as lovely as it ever was, and I still feel very deeply about it. That, I guess, is one of the worst aspects of what our politicians are doing: their nationalism taints any innocent expression of love for the place one lives in. Just one more item on the lengthening list of things I’m not sure how we fix, or forgive. N.

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Father and son

They put Dad out to grass when he was only fifty-three;
Looks like the world is getting set to do the same to me.
Different situations, generations and times;
But it wasn’t his fault then; and sure as hell it won’t be mine.

He wasn’t digging coal or building cars or welding steel;
Don’t matter that your collar’s white: the pain’s the same, and real.
Another blameless victim of the corporate machine
When some new broom blows through the door and sweeps the whole place clean.

I kept my independence, fought to follow my own track;
No status, no security; no one ever had my back.
I sweated through the hard times, found the means to make it pay;
Now our so-called leaders seem hellbent on taking it away.

Our country’s on the edge; and when it goes down, so will I.
All I’ve built reduced to ashes in the blinking of an eye.
With you beside me, maybe I can find a different fate.
But I’m scared, my heart is heavy. And the hour grows late.

When we have escaped

The all-encircling fear
And jeopardy of haunted years

I want to stand here
On this smiling shore
Hand-in-hand with you, my love;

Gaze out on the rugged islands
And listen to the rising tide
Wash gently on the sand;

Knowing that, at last,
It is all over
And just about to start.

 
 

Ah, Brittany. Those bastards in Westminster might strip us of our freedom of movement, but they’ll never take our dream. No pasarán. N.

Write me a poem

She said.
Just like that.
A stone thrown into a mirroring lake.
A conversational grenade.

So I explained –
Patiently, precisely,
But firmly –
That’s really not how it works.
I told her

Poems don’t come in boxes
Like IKEA bookshelves
Just waiting to be bolted together;
There’s no off-the-peg package, no microwave meal
And, thank God, no app for them yet.

You don’t find them lying
Like pennies on pavements
Hanging from trees, hooked up on barbed wire;
They don’t drift around like falling leaves, butterflies,
Snowflakes or dandelion seeds.

You have to reach in
With a sharp, searching blade
Open a vein and let it flood out
Hot, red and dangerous
As long as you dare;

You work and it hurts
And you rage at the day
You were cruelly bestowed with this gift
And you wonder with every new word you set down
Just what in the hell are you doing

And the long hours pass
And the torn pages pile
And the crossings-out scream
And the universe mocks
And the heart and soul plead

And on
And on
And then
If you’re lucky
You can laugh through the tears when it’s done.

She looked at me.
Oh.
So is that a yes
Or a no?

Hometown blues

This is the town where nothing happens;
You’re safe to stroll the streets at night.
The town that never makes the papers;
Where nothing’s wrong and not a damned thing’s right.

This is the town you’ve never heard of;
Nobody ever Came From Here;
A place to hide in unseen silence
Where dreams can quietly disappear.

This is the town that took my best years;
The place I never meant to stay,
Swore I’d leave soon as I was able
But put down roots in anyway.

This is the town that keeps on growing
Outwards while its old heart dies;
With each new car and new home sowing
Another seed of its own demise.

This is the town I ended up in
For want of any better plan.
I’ve paid my way and raised a family,
Done what’s expected of a man.

This is the town that’s closing in now;
No wide horizon, open sky.
A place you’d never lose your heart to.
Somewhere to live. But not to die.

 
 

Went to see Blinded by the Light yesterday; a great movie full of familiar images and resonances for anyone who, like me, grew up in a nondescript town in the 1980s (and still lives in one, albeit elsewhere, 30 years later) and listened to Born in the USA on repeat. Sat up half the night scribbling afterwards: proof (if it were needed) that for some of us, Bruce Springsteen is still very much The Boss. N.

When is enough

Enough?
How much of this
Do we have to take
Before the gloves come off
The game-face slips
And we rip away the last veneer
Of careful self-restraint;

When can I
Roar out, full-throated
That I am done;
Gone so far beyond
Sick and tired
Of the endless, senseless madness;
That I am good and ready
To set the streets aflame;

When will we
Cease watching, waiting;
See, finally, there is no hope
Outside ourselves
And rise, break down
The gates they hold against us –
Or have we now allowed too much
And left it far too late?

Not belonging

Here, there
Or anywhere;
An exile in my own land
Squatter in my own skin.

Looked for myself
In all the right and usual places;
No recognition
No settling of the stirred-up water
Only walls to bounce off.

So I wander.
The road and hills
Forests, fields, sky
Draw me
Wrap me in themselves.

Unconstrained
Unlabelled, unidentified.
Free of numbers, name or country.
At home when I am nowhere
Defined by what I’m not.

 
 

Remembering Peter Fonda, 1940-2019