Firework phobia


His body shakes so hard
I can feel it in the floor.

A cartoon dog –
Scooby-Doo confronted
By the old man in the monster mask.

But this panting, whining
Circling like a colicky horse
Are real enough:

The wolf’s fear, untouched by evolution,
In the face of fire
Or at the slightest scent of man.

How to tell him
That those distant detonations
Are benign:

How to calm a terror
Of the unknown
And incomprehensible.

Counter to my intuition
The books and experts tell me:
Don’t stroke him, offer comfort.
Every soft word and caress
Will only make things worse.
Let him work it out himself.

So I keep my distance,
Carry on. And in my pretending,
Fool neither myself nor him.

At this moment
The bridges between the species
Are all blown.

And in his reproachful, staring eyes
I see myself accused
Of siding with the enemy.

Mappa mundi

Land lines

In Witches Lane the spell is cast,
And suddenly it’s clear to me:
In all the signposts I have passed
There is an ancient poetry.
Sheepwash, Slugwash, Snatts and Scallows
Soften with their euphony
The unquiet echoes of the gallows
On Hanging Birch and Deadmantree.
Lost village life in Pump and Pound,
Gun and Thunders wreathed in smoke:
How blessed was the peace once found
By travellers on Resting Oak.
My bicycle and I now follow
The tracks of long-dead industry
Down Tanyard, Scrapers, Pit and Hollow,
Up Powdermill and Nursery.
Shepherds, Sharlands, long and steep,
Markstakes winding through the trees
Rocks and Sandy, driven deep
By feet and wheels and centuries.
Ragged Dog, Darp and Dern,
Through Langtye’s sweeping bends I fly,
Take in Potato, Ham, then turn
Down Robin Post to Bird-in-Eye.
A thousand years of history
Enshrined in Hill and Road and Lane.
They share their tales and mystery
And lead me safely home again.

I’ve accumulated 13 years and literally tens of thousands of miles cycling the lanes around my home, but it was only the other day that I really started thinking about their names. They’re historic, quaint, comical and vivid by turns: I can’t quite believe it’s taken me so long to realise this, and then string some of the choicest together to make a poem.

A new arrival

Catherine’s piano

Something’s up.
We can tell
As soon as we walk in.

In breathless reverence
We follow you, like visitors
Here to greet a sleeping newborn.

The old upright,
Mourned but unmissed,
Is gone. Now all we see

Is this half-dozen cubic yards
Of softly-gleaming, midnight-lacquered magic
Parked here like a limousine.

But no mere car
Could make my eyes pop
And mouth drop open

Like this boudoir grand
Black as a conductor’s tail-coat
Shiny as a pair of patent shoes.

Half a lifetime’s working, saving,
Dreaming and imagining,
Irresistible to eyes and hands.

Your joy rings out in every note
Of my little one’s halting scales
And almost-there arpeggios,

The roll of sound voluptuous
As the piano’s planes and curves:
To think it might have been condemned

To drawing-room adornment,
A fancy piece of furniture
Touched only to be dusted.

Inspired by the magnificent new (to her) instrument our daughter’s piano teacher surprised us with when we arrived at her house on Friday. Most folks, having saved up for 25 years, would blow the money on a car or a holiday. So God bless Catherine for choosing a second-hand grand piano – and, what’s more, using it for teaching, not just her own amusement. I’d never encountered a ‘boudoir grand’ before: apparently it’s the next size up from a ‘baby’. And although it’s quite petite compared to a full-size concert grand, it’s still an imposing instrument, and makes even my 10-year-old’s Grade 3 pieces sound like a Rachmaninov recital. Wonderful.

Star attraction

The Hunter’s Return

Long months he was gone,
Whole horizons away.

All summer unseen,
He appeared in the east,

With his belt and his sword,
Winter slung on his back.

He has struck down the sun,
Chased the warmth from the earth,

Now the night will be his,
Ruled with iron and ice,

Till the roll of the world
Sends him roving again.

Out with the whippet last night, I saw that Orion was back after his summer break in the Southern Hemisphere. For me, the return of this magnificent constellation to our northern latitudes is the first sign that winter is truly on its way. But I was born under this sky, and I’m always happy to see those seven stars, like bright nails hammered into heaven, blazing overhead once more. This poem comes from the gonecycling back catalogue; it’s actually one of the first I ever wrote, way back in 2004.