Droighneach: Back on track

You have not changed: it’s me. I’ve been distracted
By events, become estranged from you: unlearning
All I knew and understood, my view refracted
Through dark prisms; all good things lost. But I’m returning.

I let myself be taken. Dumb and dutiful
I joined the fight. Chain yanked, cage shaken, I ignited;
Burned hot and strong awhile, but nothing beautiful
Formed in that flame; no song beguiled, no line delighted.

Please: show me all I’ve missed; the slow revolving
Of the seasons; days kissed by early snow, descending
Into winter’s night, rising to summer, dissolving
In fire and bright gold as the great wheel turns, unending.

By long ways round I stand back where my road divided.
A wrong turn? Perhaps: yet it showed my true endeavour
Is to be your voice, speak your truth. I have decided,
Made my choice. And so to work; today, and forever.

 
 

Continuing from yesterday’s post, I’m making a conscious return to the forms and themes I was exploring – and enjoying – before the events of 2016 and afterwards knocked me off course. I thought my duty as a writer was to join the war effort; but there are many, many others far better qualified who can make bigger and more meaningful contributions to those debates than I ever could. And it turns out I’m not a fighter anyway; it just makes me miserable.
One could argue (and I have told myself for years) that writing about the beauties of the world is pointless, frivolous and self-indulgent, when there is so much hard, real, dangerous stuff to deal with. But I’ve found that road, for me at least, leads nowhere good. It’s time to accept my purpose lies elsewhere and believe it has a value; somewhere, somehow.
Anyway. I felt the need to stretch my writing muscles again – and nothing stretches ’em like the droighneach. (Apart from the sestina, but that’s for another day.) I haven’t attempted this fiendish form for about five years, and now I know why: it is a refined and exquisite torment, made up of four-line stanzas (as many as you can stand) of nine to 13 syllables, with at least one cross-rhyme between the first and second line (eg long/wrong, road/showed) and third and fourth line (voice/choice) in each. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the ABAB rhyme scheme; AND that every line has to end on a three-syllable word. It was quite the tussle, and I’m still not sure who came out on top, but I feel SO much better for it! N.

Turning the tide

Big yellow machines
Crawl over the shingle
Like an armoured division
On a seaside day out;
A Tonka Toy D-Day
Securing the beachhead
Advancing westwards
Ten tonnes at a time.

Shifting and shaping
Loading and levelling
Leaving their track-treads
Ribbed in the stones;
Taking dominion
Imposing order
Shoving the longshore drift
Into reverse.

Yet as they labour
Grey-green waves gather
Freighted with foam
And the weight of the world;
Undertow churning
Breaking in thunder
Laughing at diesel
Hydraulics and steel.

Haul down the standard
Hand in our weapons
Know when we’re beaten
Withdraw from the field.
Or dig in deeper
Shore up our defences
Think of our loved ones
And fight to the end?

 
 

A couple of weeks ago, I took a ride to Seaford on the Sussex coast, where the local authorities are engaged in one of their periodic attempts to redistribute the beach shingle, which the sea relentlessly transports from west to east in a process known as longshore drift. Even as the phalanx of heavy machinery toiled, a powerful westerly drove huge waves against the beach, underscoring the ultimate futility of the endeavour. I was a boy once, so I enjoyed watching it all and wanted to write about it: it took me until yesterday to make the election connection. N.

Waiting

Rough plough
The furrows’ edges like ancient walls
Awaiting their final ruin.

Rooks swirl
Like tattered umbrellas blown aloft
Caught between soil and sky.

Bare trees
Beech, ash and oak in hedgerows, by headlands,
Twist in the wind’s busy fingers.

Brown stream
Bides its time, brooding, building its strength
Slyly testing its banks.

Dark clouds
Raise ramparts and towers beyond the far hills
Ready to settle everything.

 
 
Little nature poem on the day the [third in four years] general election campaign gets fully under way. It all feels hopeless, pointless and ultimately doomed; nothing will be properly ‘settled’ by this farrago, but events beyond our control will finally seal our benighted country’s fate. Trying to be optimistic, but it’s hard. N.

Flight of fancy

The gulls are everywhere
Filling the bright air
With their wheeling mystery.

Where do they go at night
Make nests, lay eggs
Rear their tea-stained young?

Does their quarrelsome clamour
Every bird for himself
Hide a fiercer loyalty?

And could an untempered appetite
Disguise a finer feeling
In matters of the heart?

I do not doubt
Some wise, observant soul
Could lay their whole life bare.

But out here, in their world
Of sand, wind and saltwater,
I am the stranger, and happy not to know.

If I could

I would

Pen some pleasant paean
To the fire-tinted fall
The heavy apples hanging
By the garden wall
The splash of geese arriving
On the silver pond
The view across the ploughland
To the hills beyond.
The buzzard slowly circling
In the endless blue
Or even of the weather;
Anything would do.

But when the world is burning
And danger is at hand
With enmity and violence
Poisoning our land;
When all we knew is ending
And everything’s in doubt
The darkness is encroaching
And the lights are going out

What is the poet’s duty?
Who am I working for?
Do I serve truth and beauty
Or rise and march to war?

All I could see

from my small window
was the changeless street
unaltered neighbours
static cars
a strip of sky
no horizon.

All I could see
on looking inwards
was the shapeless fear
unbending logic
stalling dreams
a growing dark
all doors bolted.

So I rose and rode
to the windy top
of a high green hill
where sheep grazed, larks sang
ancients slept, old ways ran
and let myself be lost in
all I could see.

What are you, writer?

I am the owl / who asks questions in the dark

I am the wolf / who runs alone

I am the road / that takes you nowhere

I am the axe / whose edge is dulled

I am the lightning / that briefly reveals

I am the tree / that senses autumn

I am the stone / time wears away

I am the soil / in need of rain

 

Thank you to Monica Carroll for the prompt! N.

Kite

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.

…and an old heaven

Image0341

And yet, I know there is another way:

A tangled net of narrow country lanes
And backroads I know better than myself
And could ride blindfold; every hill
And hedge, each field and farmhouse, every curve
And corner as familiar as my face;
A constant heaven I can call my own
Where seasons roll yet decades leave no mark
My past and present blurring as I pass.

This road is in my head and heart and legs;
Its every inch is graven in my skin.
I’ve sweated through its summers, felt its chill
Chew through my clothing, biting at my bones.

And as all other things are lost, this place
Might be all that remains to me; a road
That I can always take on trust, forget
That hellish other beaten out for me.

Where I may live and wander as I choose.
A paradise that I can never lose.

Fledgling

A small bird
On a narrow branch
Where pale new leaves are springing.

Will her soft feathers
Withstand the winter wind;
Does her timid, unpractised eye
Spy the fat, fallen grain
And is her grip secure
When the bough bends beneath her?

Would that I
Could cradle her
Forever in my hand,
Shield her from foul weather
And the wickedness I see.

But more than that
I would watch those hard-won wings –
As yet untried, hesitant, uncertain in their strength –
Unfurl and catch the breeze
So that her song and colours
May brighten all the world.