There is no right time.
Definitely no good time.
Whenever it comes
We will look back with regret
Wish we had done things differently
And moreover, never had to.
But the moment has always been there –
Buried in the small print
Of the pact we entered into
All those years ago
Never once imagining
We’d ever have to live it.
Having had a heart murmur for a number of years, our beloved whippet is now in congestive heart failure. No longer a case of if but when we will need to make A Decision, and probably sooner rather than later. I know there are many bigger, and far worse things happening in the world now: it’s still hard. Dogs are wonderful, but they do put you through it sometimes.
We do not write poems about dogs –
Not, at least, if we want to be taken
In any way seriously.
Dogs are not sensible, grown-up subjects
For sensible, grown-up writers.
They are not issues or arguments
But the stuff of rhymes we write at school
Like sunsets, springtime and the sea
The root of all doggerel.
No. Instead, we stick to abstractions
Write loftily of love, fidelity, domestic intimacy,
Age, infirmity, and the bitter, plunging agony of leaving
While carefully kidding ourselves
That we’re not really writing
About dogs at all.
Let me walk out of this dream
Into a field just touched by morning
There to find a fine horse standing
Low gold fire on his dark back.
I would approach him, hand held out
In truce. Gifts given, he would deign
To have me stroke his arching neck,
Speak softly in his all-hearing ear.
He would understand; we would be friends.
In his bulk and warmth and strength
I would lose my fears, my smallness,
Forget all other things.
He waits for me, quiet and patient
Just beyond the edge of thought.
But still the fence broods, high and solid
And I cannot find the gate.
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.
Easier to count
The days I don’t see your lesser kin;
Familiar, worthy of a look, a nod
Like neighbours passed in the street.
But you. What wild wind
Blew you out here;
A foreign shadow falling on the field,
The crows in uproar, the air alive;
All things made smaller
By your breadth and heft;
The flash of copper on your wings
The glint of a drawn sword.
A wanderer from beyond our bounds,
Rarely seen and half forgotten.
But you are surely welcome, stranger.
The great world turns. Not all is lost.
Buzzards are common as sparrows rouhnd here these days, but their larger cousins, red kites, are still pretty rare. I saw one today, though, for the first time in ages, set against a bright spring sky. Of such true and noble things is happiness made in times like these. N.
On a deep white sheepskin.
The black stove’s heat
Draws him back
To summer days, spread like a blanket
On the sun-warmed sand.
Feet flick in sudden spasm,
Galvanised by phantom rabbits:
In this new universe
He wears cat’s claws
And in the treetops
The squirrels have stopped laughing.
One eye upturned
Haw-hooded, a frozen pool.
Deep in his wordless mysteries
He runs alone, unowned, unmastered
On private paths and secret ways
I cannot know or follow.
Grows weary now,
Decides to call it quits
So draws the clouds across the sun
And shuffles into twilight. Blackbirds call
From treetops but it does not turn;
Just fades away and leaves
A lonely world
Is not against
The clock; no pack or prize
Impels you. All you have to beat
Is deep pain, your own doubt, the wasted days.
Recharge the lightning in your limbs,
Relight your inner fire:
I long to see
Revisiting rictameter. The second poem is for my beloved but somewhat banged-up whippet, who’s three weeks into a month-long convalescence from surgery to secure his left shoulder, which he dislocated in a fall at the beginning of April. He should make a full recovery given rest and time, but it’s going to be a long, slow job. Thank goodness for pet insurance…N.
And one by one
The lights still left to us
Are doused. How long will we await
Have read the signs
In wind and earth and tree.
One day, we will wake up to find
The flowered fields
And through the clean-clothed woods.
But where in all this life may I
Burns low, its light
Too faint to read, the flame
Too weak to warm my back; and soon
Moves slowly west
Into a great unknown
And who can tell us if they will
Today’s prosodic experiment is the cinquain. It’s quite similar to yesterday’s rictameter, in that it’s syllabic; the differences being that it’s five lines, not nine, made up of (respectively) one, two, three, four and one iambic feet. The final cinquain is inspired by the wonderful ‘slow TV’ documentary Reinflytting – minutt for minutt (literally ‘Reindeer migration – minute by minute’) currently showing live on Norwegian channel NRK. I shall try to write some more cheerful cinquains in due course, I promise. Just been one of those weeks. N.
He sings for the land.
Not his by title deed
But by ancient rights
Long denied, hard-won.
And he loves it
With a depth and strength
Of labour, lives and deaths can breed.
The song rises in him
Like sap in springtime;
And he feels every word
Like his own heartbeat.
The land, the man and his strange words
Like the grey fjord and the ocean
The forest and the mountain
The reindeer and the snow.
And as he sings
There is no ownership
During our trip to Norway, we visited a Sami reindeer herder, Johan Isak Oskal, who is one of the most genuine, inspiring and quietly determined people I have ever met. As well as introducing us to his beautiful animals, he told us about the Sami way of life, showed us artefacts, and treated us to a joik – the traditional Sami song whose sounds and origins have much in common with the Native American chants. I can’t share it with you since he (quite rightly) asked us not to record it, explaining that the song belongs to the land; but it was extraordinarily moving and powerfuly atavistic. Do have a look at his website Tromso Arctic Reindeer – the videos have joiks as their soundtracks. N.
Bare ground frowns
A warning; reproach seethes
In the grumbling river that, in its anger,
Has hurled aside cracked slabs of dirty ice
And made its sodden banks
A desecrated graveyard.
Every unburdened birch
Points accusing fingers as we pass;
Reindeer stand like cattle,
Hemmed in by fence and flood;
While the empty roads
Hiss sinister threats
In the grey spray thrown by passing trucks.
And away in the north
The long night’s slow retreat
Brings no hopeful dawn
But a new and different darkness
We may never drive away.
Just returned from our second trip to northern Norway, which has experienced its mildest winter in (depending on who you talk to) 60, 70, perhaps even 100 years. The difference in the landscape compared to this time last year was stark and startling: I have looked climate change straight in the eye, and it is real and scary. N.