Wish I could declare
A republic of myself;
A polity of one
With humane statutes,
And no bronze statues.
I’d open up my borders
Live in lasting union with the world
And in my sovereignty
Extend the hand of amity
To all. But here I am
An enclave in a hostile land
Overlooked and overruled
A subject of a tarnished crown
Beneath a ragged, bloody flag,
Gazing out across the water
At the wretched state I’m in.
To my left-brained
Eye and mind
These fields should now
Be an abomination;
No discipline by plough
Or corrective cultivation.
A shameful parade
Of gleeful weeds appears;
Led by a brigade
Of over-eager volunteers.
But as I look around
All that I can see
Is my native ground
As it’s meant to be.
The fields close to our home have been left uncultivated this year and the weeds – and we – are making the most of it. As well as wheat plants seeded from the previous crop (known as volunteers) there’s an amazing profusion and diversity of wild plants that would normally be sprayed out of existence. We’ve followed the rewilding process right through the lockdown period (we’ve been allowed to go out for exercise) and it’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch. Sadly, all the plants, and their attendant birds and insects, are doomed, but not for reasons of husbandry: the entire farm is a development site and is slowly disappearing under what will eventually be 1,000 new houses. I studied agriculture at university years ago, and I still like to follow the rhythms and workings of the farming calendar. But this spring, I’ve learned I’m even happier seeing what Nature can do when left to her own devices. N.
We know what’s coming
From the pictographs and hammered posts;
Spray-painted warrants of execution;
Whole acres marked for death.
But who will tell the trees
Inform the flowers, tip off the birds and animals?
If I could, I’d pick them up
In my two hands, spirit them away
But I’m condemned to stand and watch
The steel blades bite, the heavy wheels shake the earth
See all I’ve know and come to love
Torn up, despoiled and thrown aside
Entirely unconsoled by knowing
There was nothing I could have said or done.
There’s really no need
In large mocking letters
On this thirteen-percenter:
I’m not about
To flout the speed limit here;
It’s all I can do
To keep this small gear
Just going over
And my two wheels turning.
With legs and lungs burning
Approaching the top:
Can’t stop. Kicks up again:
Piled on. Now. Just one
More push and it’s done.
Lets go of me
And I’m no longer quietly dying
My bicycle has brought me
Through country lanes, quiet woods
And up a short, steep hill
To this almost-forgotten church
Where the old dead dream deep
Beneath tumbled, lichened stones
Lost in drifts of summer flowers.
And I could be content
Were it not for knowing
Even this sublime machine
Will never bear me where I truly wish:
Back through years to times when we
Had seen and lived through none of this;
All things lay up ahead, yet to be.
So I must choose: inter all hope
To moulder like these ancient worthies;
Vainly seek a road that runs
Against the flow of Time;
Or climb on, breathe deep, look ahead
And take the onward way again
To all I fear, and cannot know.
Now the breeze brushes the barley
Sweeping through the crop like a cavalry charge;
Darkening the bright awns
Like velvet rubbed against the nap;
Then switches, swings, retreats in waves of pale gold;
All the field in motion, shaken by a hidden hand.
A power – all-present, fierce, unseen –
Swirling, sleepless, through the land.
A faint breeze wafts the feathery tops
Of the grasses in the hayfield;
Soft, tawny with sun, downy with pollen.
Shut up safe all spring,
No hungry mouths to tear and chew,
No hard hooves to spoil and trample.
But soon the end will come
In the whine and slash of spinning steel
And thus laid low, all will be withered, gathered up,
Neatly compressed, and then consumed.
The sward close-cropped, shocked
Pale and scarred as a convict’s scalp.
The careful husbanding of months
Undone; stripped and carted, buried deep
Beneath black plastic. Overhead
The buzzard circles, patient, watchful.
While in the shattered stems
The urge to grow anew gains strength
And, irresistible, prepares a second crop
To be cut down in its time.
No torment so sweet
As a brand-new bicycle
Confined to the house
As the rain falls.
The spotless silver chain,
Those glossy black tyres
That smooth, gleaming paint:
I cannot do it –
Something within me rebels
At the very thought
Of knowingly exposing her
To what’s out there:
Bleak roads all awash
Seeded with needle-tipped flints
Slathered with churned filth
Potholes like bomb craters.
Fear not, my lovely.
The moment will come
When, under blue skies,
We finally get acquainted.
The calendar says it’s spring. The daffodils, primroses, snowdrops, celandines, windflowers and assorted amorous birdlife all concur. The weather, however, is refusing to get with the programme. Profoundly bored of the endless wind and rain now; longing for dry roads and warm, sunny days. N.
Tight in three-hinged beauty;
Built for daily duty
On the greasy, gritty
Streets of some great city
But destined for quieter days
And trips to the sea
And as I stare
At it, sitting there,
In those modest dimensions
I see grand intentions,
And wondrous tales waiting to be told
As its possibilities unfold.
Marked 29 February by buying a Brompton. Been considering it for a while but it’s not a cheap bike and I couldn’t quite muster the courage. Now the deed is done and it’s sitting in my workroom, taking up as much (or as little) space as, say, a bedside table. It really is a thing of beauty and wonderfully engineered; every time I look at it, I notice another exquisite detail that just makes me smile. Can’t wait for some more clement weather now. N.