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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Northbound train

A long, slow groundswell
Torn, cut, worked over
And the steel road slicing through.

Raisin rooks
Cookie-dough cows
Low sheds full of secrets
Silos packed with wealth and mystery.

Flat as a skillet.
Only the trees
Muscular pylons shouldering powerlines
And the racing streak of the train
Break the line.

A sudden tunnel
Through a surprise hill
Coming out of nowhere.
The odd comedy of a deadpan country
And a suggestion of what’s ahead.

Farmyard junk, mouldering straw
The carcases of nameless machines;
The tell-tale symmetry of old spoil heaps
Now grassed over; the burial mounds of industries long dead
But still remembered
And never far below the surface.

Turbines and church spires
Jostle for airspace
Each tapping into and transmitting
Their own unseen sources of power.
In this unpeopled place.

The empty heart of England.

 

Random thoughts from the East Coast Main Line, somewhere between King’s Cross and Peterborough, earlier this week. N.

Shadorma: A wet Monday

Rain returns
Drowning a week’s dust.
The woods weep
Roads glisten
The down-pipes chuckle, pleased to
Be busy again.

Sit and gaze,
Glad I’m not going
Hauling hay
To dumb sheep
Fixing fence, chasing loose cows,
Forking steaming muck,

Or dragging
Some reluctant nag
From a warm
Dry stable
To plod fetlock-deep, and return
Stiff with mud and cold.

Done all that:
In no real hurry
To go back.
But a bit
Of me still thinks of it as
Real work. Not like this:

Stuck inside
In front of a screen,
Making words
Stand in line,
And only sweating when the
Internet goes down.

Just as well
I have a dog here
Looking up
Eagerly.
Grab coat, hat and boots, head out
To find my old self.

Droighneach II: Harvest

High summer heat. Out here, the pressure’s palpable.
Sun-shimmer on the wheat, and yet we’re worrying
About the weather, praying it’s possible,
To keep running hell-for-leather with harvesting.

The tractors creep beside combines crawling ceaselessly.
Night brings no sleep for now; we’re hauling heavyweight
Trailers gorged with golden grain, and checking constantly
For news of rain; the threat we don’t care to contemplate.

Days drag, dredged in dust and diesel fumes. We’re wondering
If we’ve edged ahead. The work consumes us utterly.
From dawn to dew the big rigs roll through, thundering
Scorn at forecasts and fatigue. The heat builds brutally.

One last load. Black battlements brood high overhead.
On the road, racing back beneath a sky suspended
Like an executioner’s axe; throbbing thunderheads
Prepare to strike. The first cracks come. Dark, distended

Clouds tear open; an electric ecstasy
Ignites the bristling air too late: the storm’s defeated –
The fields stand silent; tyre-tracks the only legacy
We’ve left. The land exhales. Another crop completed.

 
 

I’m not going to let the droighneach beat me. Still tricky as all hell, but at least I managed five stanzas this time! My admiration for Tom and Ina, who’ve got this thing well and truly nailed, knows no bounds. Wishing you all a splendid weekend. N.

Italian sonnet: A Lover and His Lass

He parks the truck, then takes her by the hand.
They walk together round the field. The bright
March sun strikes silver from the sward; his white
Lambs, soft as new-baked loaves, awake the land
And hope within them. He shares all his grand
Schemes for the flock: she leans on him, the light
Of love strong in her eyes, and holds him tight,
Mind filled with home and children she’s got planned.
Does it occur to them that they may see
Their cloudless heaven ripped by sudden storm
Their high ideals hurled down and smashed like glass?
No thought of this. Not here, not now. They’re free
To dream. The sky is clear, the sun is warm
And smiling on the lover and his lass.

 
 

Tom Davis challenged me to write an Italian sonnet, so I have! This is a very ancient form, ‘invented’ by the Italian poet Petrarch: indeed, it’s often called the Petrarchan sonnet in his honour. I’ve never written one before, and now I know why. The rhyme scheme is complex: the first eight lines (the octave) are a non-negotiable ABBAABBA; the last six lines (the sestet) can be one of several patterns (I’ve gone with a traditional CDECDE) the only proviso being that (unlike the more familiar Shakespearian and Spenserian forms) it mustn’t end with a rhyming couplet. Sheesh.
Even here, though, I can’t let Shakespeare go entirely, having stolen my title from Much Ado About Nothing. I spotted the lover and lass in question while out on my bike this morning: I couldn’t actually hear what they were talking about, but that’s what artistic licence is for. N.

Foraging

Catch their sound:
A long-drawn snarl
From beyond the woods.

I track them
Across glistening fields
Bouldered with cows;

Through a gate
Kinked by years of heavy carelessness,
Over a stile in the wayward hedge,

A hundred yards up a concrete road;
Another gate, bent like an old coat-hanger,
And over the brow.

There: the big machines
Peeling dark swaths from the shocked hillside;
Gaudy jewels on pale skin.

As another turncoat June
Hurls wind and rain like insults
The breathless work goes on:

The famished clamps gape like fledglings
And so the trailers fly
To feed them

While I stand here,
Powerless to help,
Taking a first cut of my own.

 

Silage-making is under way at last in our corner of Sussex. Better late than never. N.

The road taken

If I’d only gone straight on after Tanyard Green
I’d have made it home much sooner
But I never would have seen

That John Deere and silage trailer running flat-out on the road
To the hungry forage harvester for one more load.

If I’d turned to the left when I chose to go right
I’d have dodged that one-in-seven
But I would have missed the sight

Of a big New Holland crawling with the throttle thrown wide
As it hauled a power harrow up a steep hillside.

If I’d thought to take the shortcut, not the long way round,
I’d have saved myself some miles
But instead I caught the sound

Of three magpies’ loud alarums in an oak, while down below
The dog-fox paused, then vanished in the deep hedgerow.

Yes, it’s easy to regret the many roads I never took –
All those straighter, smoother highways –
But I must not overlook

All the unexpected magic that’s waylaid me on this track;
I’ll forsake the map and compass, ride my road – and not look back.