Back to life


So now the dream is passing once again
Into the shadows, and my soul is still.
I dodged the bullet: no rash moves, no pain
Or harm done – this time – by my fickle will.
I guess I’m grateful all is now serene
And ordered, as it was a week ago
Before thoughts of what-if and might-have-been
Burst through, disrupting life’s safe, simple flow.
It may be weeks, months – years – till they return
But I must be prepared in heart and mind:
Count blessings, look around me, breathe, and learn
To live the here-and-now, not look behind.
For all is well, and I have many ways
Of finding space and daring in my days.


Dream state

Dreams. Boy, they’re trouble we can do without:
They shake our certainties, disturb the day
And introduce an element of doubt
That makes us wonder where we lost our way.
And so we tell ourselves we must get real –
Abandon thoughts of living lives unknown
But somehow stirring us inside – and feel
We’ve saved ourselves from things best left alone.
But there are people in this world whose dreams
Refuse to do the decent thing and die.
They are called Men. I’m one of them, it seems:
I cannot let mine go; Lord knows I try.
This vision has sustained me through long years.
It comes and goes. But never disappears.


This sonnet was inspired by (and incorporates much of) a very uplifting comment I received on my previous post from David. Thank you, my friend, as always.

Fenced in

I have no endless prairie, no great plain;
No mesas rising from a sagebrush sea
Or mountains walling up my western sky.
No buckskin horse, a partner on the trail
With cutting witchcraft bred in blood and bone
And courage that comes out in mad glissades
Of canyon sides, a fall of flesh and stone.
No hide-warmed leather’s creak, no old rimfire
Or saddle-horn to take my dallies round.
No riding drag with only dust to eat;
No rock-ringed fire, no coffee brewed so strong
A horseshoe floats upon it. No corral
Red barn or pick-up truck, no gravel road
To some snug cabin hidden in the pines.
The open range I thought I had is fenced
Subdued and settled, parcelled up and sold
To strangers. There’s no room to spread a loop
Without a fencepost catching it. And so
Afoot in all these acres I once rode
I watch the clouds, and listen to the wind
That hisses, mocking, in the gleaming wire.

Hill fire

A curtain drawn across the Sunday sky
North of the town; a storm that brings no rain
As after weeks of cloudless, breathless dry
The Forest flares in fire once again.
A winter’s-worth of fuel stacked up there:
The brittle sticks of heather, long-dead grass.
A cigarette flipped from a car somewhere;
The sun caught in a shard of shattered glass
And hell breaks loose. As wind-whipped flames take hold
And cursing crews watch fifty acres burn
The hills sleep, sure that to tomorrow’s cold
And blackened aftermath, life will return.
Now I must set my tinder heart ablaze –
To clear the ground for shoots of better days.


Inspired by real events on our walk yesterday afternoon.


Time was you never saw them here. These days
They’re everywhere. They haunt the trees; with eyes
That glitter cold and pitiless, they’ll gaze
At me a moment, trying me for size,
Then seem to shrug and insolently drift
Into the air on wide, dark-fingered wings.
On sunny afternoons, the thermals lift
Them, lordly, over we poor earthbound things.
And from those circling specks a keening cry
Resounds; an echo of the age before
Our persecutions swept them from the sky.
Defiant, they have claimed these lands once more.
A whisper from the wildwood; and I yearn
For more than just the buzzards to return.

Big game

For two long years he hunted them
All through the watching wood;
Two years of coming oh-so-close
But not quite coming good.
His searing speed and sighthound’s gaze
Frustrated at the last
By the quarry taking to the trees
Like topmen up the mast.
A hunting-dog deprived, denied
His dream; the primal thrill
Of satisfying ancient lusts:
The chase. The catch. The kill.
Until, one dull grey afternoon
He passed us, in full cry,
A dozen feet to every stride –
We saw the dead leaves fly
As, suddenly, he jinked and swerved
And darted to the right,
And by a stand of silver birch
He made the lethal bite.
Oh, that he’d slain the noble hart,
Run Reynard to defeat!
A rabbit, even – that at least
We could have cooked to eat.
But no. He turned and, head held high
Accepted our applause,
With triumph blazing in his eyes –

And a squirrel in his jaws.


A silly ballad about our stupid dog – a little metrical therapy to end a weary day. N.



The ever-delightful and enormously talented Ina has done me the great honour of nominating me for this award. To receive such an accolade from someone I respect so much as a poet and person is truly humbling. Thank you, Ina – and everyone else who has been so supportive and generous with their comments. I really, really appreciate it. N.



They’re here, at last. I’ve missed them. As the days
Grow longer, so, like migrants, back they come
To bare, long-empty fields; the heavy hum
Of diesels drifting with the dust they raise.

The clay will not endure them with the rain
Of winter in it; dried by wind and sun
It welcomes them. Now there’s work to be done;
With share and tine they wake the land again.

The skylarks’ song, birds nesting in the wood
The lambs and daffodils, the flush of green
As buds appear – conventionally seen
As certain signs that Winter’s gone for good.

Me? In the rumble of a big John Deere,
The sudden stink of hot hydraulic oil
And sweet, sharp scent of rippling, fresh-ploughed soil
I feel the first deep stirrings of the year.

The teams of Shires and Clydesdales are long gone
And I lament their passing; but these new
And great beasts of the field complete my view
As underneath their wheels, the world rolls on.

Back to the land


Four horses browse the field beside the brook.
Not so remarkable, you’d think. Except
When I was young and this was Warren’s land
No hoof was suffered here. And as I look
Around this farm, whose features once seemed set
Like sun-baked Sussex clay, I see the hand
Of Time at work, reshaping subtly
The world I knew, and thought would ever be.

I learned the fields and footpaths, secret ways
Through woods, the course of streams, each gate and stile,
And where the first wild daffodils were seen.
I carted straw, hauled grain in holidays
And made this land my office. All the while
I wrapped myself within its folds of green
As camouflage against the life that stood
Awaiting me beyond, in adulthood.

They’ve sold the farm. No dairy herd here now:
Those horses all the livestock left. The grass
We cut and clamped for silage every spring
And hay in summer, gone and under plough.
And I left too; to study, then to pass
Long years in misplaced toil and wondering
What should I do and where did I belong
When my heart knew the answers all along.

So. Now a quarter-century has flown
And here I am, in boots, with dog at heel;
No prospects, plan or penny to my name,
Still wandering these familiar fields alone,
My head still full of songs and rhymes – my real
Life’s work, it seems: that much has stayed the same.
The horses glance, then drop their heads to graze
And I walk on, my mind on distant days.

Sonnet: Us and them

They’ve given all our money to the banks
Who take the bonuses but not the blame;
They’ve added tens of thousands to the ranks
Of unemployed without a hint of shame.
They’ve dragged us into one unwanted war
After another, claiming every time
To be the bringers of the rule of law,
As if expenses fraud is not a crime.
And now they want to slap me with a fine
If I am caught with my dog off his lead.
There’s precious little left I can call mine;
My wants are few; this much alone I need.
We’re all in this together, so they say;
From where I stand, it doesn’t look that way.


Our town council is proposing new bye-laws that would force dogs to be on leads at ALL times on ALL council-owned land, including the woods I’ve frequently written about here. As a responsible owner, I absolutely agree that fouling is a public nuisance and utterly unacceptable: that’s why we ALWAYS pick up after The Hunting Dog. I also believe it’s a problem caused (as is so often the case) by a small, thoughtless minority, and that these rules won’t change their behaviour. The council clearly isn’t enforcing its existing anti-fouling laws, so quite how it’ll enforce these new ones – and at what cost – is anyone’s guess. I know this is an unusual choice of form for a protest, but what’s a sonnet if not the expresion of life’s great emotions and passions? Rant over. N.