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 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.
A long road and a hard road lies ahead:
A Paris-Roubaix of the mind, a Ronde
Van Vlaanderen of the soul; all cobbles, mud,
Flat tyres and fractured frames; an Arenberg
To test the strongest limbs and stoutest heart.
A new Enfer du Nord that we must ride
For mile on bruising mile through choking dust
And bitter headwinds, with no victory lap
Or trophies waiting for us at its end.
I fear I do not have the legs for this;
Long miles and years have left me unprepared
In mind and body for this coming hell;
The broom-wagon is waiting on my wheel.
But tell me, then, what else I could have done:
I’ve ridden hard and clean and held my line
According to the code. I could not know
The commissaires themselves would shred the rules.
And so we wait now for the flag to drop;
Not knowing where to go, or when we’ll stop.
There are no tools or instruments,
No workbench, no materials.
No ringing hammers, rasping saws,
No hard blue flame, no rain of sparks;
No brick or plank, stone or cement,
No rivet, bolt or sheet of steel,
No whirling lathe, no shrieking drill,
No oil or smoke, no soil or dust.
But still, tonight we will depart
Contented with the work we’ve done;
No sign of how we spent the day
Or what it was we went to build.
Give me an enemy
I can see;
A foe to go
My day in court
Or ten rounds in the ring;
An honest contest
Where one walks out
And the other’s dragged away.
Not these endless ranks
Of faceless fears, amorphous terrors
I cannot pin or throw.
Then I could make my stand
See my opponent broken on the ground
And find my peace in overcoming
Instead of this unending warring
With my own rebel, unquiet mind
Beating my fists on empty space
And raging at the wind.
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.
Do not talk
Or even think
Of what you will do
In the years that lie beyond.
That will come
Quietly, at its own choosing
Unlooked-for, like a bright coin
Picked up in the street.
It rests in the gift of
Forces unmeasured, equations unwritten,
The alignment of stars far out of your reach
The collision of worlds unseen.
Tell us instead
Of what you will be:
What light you will blaze
Into these shadowed times
What warmth you will bring
When the days are grown cold
What joy you will spark
When night falls on the soul.
What strength you will give
To those whose own has failed.
And more than all this
What love you will share
With all who find your true heart.
And for now, leave all else
To take care of itself.
My daughter and her friends, now in their final year at school, are starting to receive offers from their chosen universities. Understandably, given the immense financial commitment, they’re already thinking/worrying/obsessing about their futures. As someone who’s never had a conventional career, I’m in no position to advise, really; all I can offer from my own experience is that jobs come and go, and even the most meticulous plans rarely survive their first contact with real life. And in the end, I believe how you’re living matters more than what you do for a living.