Equinox

A radiant rising
In readiness for a gilded mourning.

For a fraction of a fraction of a second
Night and day will stand

Precisely aligned
Perfectly opposed;

The season a bright gold penny
Balanced on its edge.

And in the fraction of a fraction that follows
We start the long drop into dark

From which we wonder
If we will ever emerge

And if we do
What kind of world we’ll find.

So I let our falling star
Copperplate my limbs and face

Breathe the newly sharpened air
Allow myself one more glance back;

The last day of a summer
That never truly was.

Sonnet Cycle: The Field – Part 4

building site

 

AUTUMN

The hips and haws hang heavy on the thorn;
Dew-silvered cobwebs glitter in the grass
Along my headlands. Fox and badger pass
Like footpads, hastened by a scarlet dawn.
My fleeting furlough ends: a settled spell
Marks me for autumn sowing, and I feel
The tractor’s weight, the thrust of polished steel
From landside, tine and drill I know so well.
Then strangers come, survey with greedy eyes
My empty acres. It’s not whispering wheat
They see: a tightly-packed and tidy street
Of huge five-bedroomed houses is their prize.
They’ll break my ground their way; and in a year
There’ll be no sign that I was ever here.

Forecast

Spells of rain

The Met Office –
With all their talk
Of satellites
Doppler radar
And models crunched on mainframes –
Don’t fool me:
 
In her den
Beneath the building
The weather-witch
Is in control.
 
Firing up her cauldron
She conjures clouds
From the rising steam.
More cackled incantations
Fill them, chill them
Then spill them over southern England.
 
And on the screen
Her familiar
In the form of a smiling, suntanned man
Foretells her next week’s wicked work:
 
To put us under
Spells of rain
And turn fair Summer
Into a crabbed and wrinkled Autumn.

November's here…

COLD FRONT

There’s weather coming in;
Riding a wind
Out of the north
Its teeth
Sharpened on icebergs
It bit off the edge of the Arctic.

Shredded by the jet-stream
A tired cloud trails a thin rain
That dots the pavement
Freckles cars
Chills the air
Like crushed ice in a glass.

The heavy stuff
Is stacked behind
In a sickened sky
That brings a fevered flush
To house-bricks and staring windows,
Jaundices the page.

A day
To stay inside,
Leave the bike
Snug under cover
And wait
Till it’s all blown over.

Doing the groundwork

SENSE OF URGENCY

On the headland
Two red Masseys stand
With engines stopped;
A moment’s silence
For a snatched tea-break;
Then, drill refilled,
And ring-roller singing,
Get another fifty acres of winter wheat seed
Snug and spaced precisely in the still-warm tilth.

Three fields away
A blue New Holland stays
Hard at it, disc harrows
Raising the dust.
No time to be lost
While the clay lies dry;
Just a single day of rain and they’ll all be struggling,
With bogged-down implements and clogged-up tyres.

Under the shaw
A green John Deere roars
As the heavy cultivator
Rips the tawny maize stubble
Into brown corduroy,
Releasing the scent
That rose up to greet us
When we first hitched our oxen and scratched at the soil:
The earth’s exhalation; the quick tang of life.

Deep roots

Rain makes autumn cultivations a tricky, stop-start affair on our clay soils, but in the current dry, unseasonably warm spell, they’re progressing at a furious pace. This is one of my favourite times of the farming year: I’ve always been fascinated by the heavy implements that turn ragged stubbles into smooth, drilled seedbeds, and watching their steady passes up and down the fields. On a ride with The Guv’nor yesterday, I found myself pulling off the road to observe a big rig at work; a childhood habit I’ve realised I’m in no hurry to shake off. So, apologies for another tractor poem; normal service will resume shortly.

CULTIVATING HABITS

A deep diesel drone
And the thin, brittle ring
Of steel on stone.
That sound
Half-heard
Has me
Diving for the verge
Like blue lights and sirens:
Searching
For a gap in the hedge
To peer, wary as a poacher,
At a big New Holland
With a till-and-drill machine
Beyond Jethro’s wildest fancy.
Still the lad
Who’d haunt the lanes
Then, bike forgotten,
Wait patiently on gate or stile
And watch the land at work;
An eager boy who shrugs
At the grown man’s shame.

Harrowing times

FIELD WORK

In the straight-six diesel’s steady grumble
And the dark scents stirred
From the crumbled clay rippling round the harrow tines
Summer softly leaves the land.
There is work to do before winter:
The gulls that crowd the stubble
And the birds in the fruit-bright hedge
Know it; I would no longer stand and watch
But put my hand to the plough
Turn this tired soil under
And await a kinder season.