Shadorma: On the washing of bears

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Take one bear
(Of the small, soft sort.)
Fill a sink
(Not too deep.)
Add detergent. Make bubbles.
Roll up sleeves. And breathe.

Distract Bear
(‘Oh look – a hiker!’)
Then grab him
Chuck him in
And scrub. Paws, ears, tail and snoot
Need most attention.

Haul Bear out
Check for vital signs.
Ready? Go!
Straight back in.
(As a rule, two goes round are
The bare minimum).

Grime all gone?
Good. Time to rinse him.
(Be aware:
Even small
Specimens can weigh as much
As the real thing now.)

Let Bear lie
Sink-side for a spell;
Limp, half-drowned,
Matted, cold.
(A sight best kept from the more
Sensitive owner.)

Squeeze him dry
(Size and stuffing type
Will have some
Bearing on
How long this takes.) In a towel
Give a big bear hug.

Finally
Peg out, by the ears.
Not as cruel
As it sounds:
The wind fluffs up the fur – and
Bears love line dancing.

Now he’s clean.
But won’t stay that way:
He’s ready
To be stained
With tears, battered, crushed, held tight
Whenever you are.

Culture shock

 

She can’t abide my music: ‘It’s so sad,”
She groans, “embarrassing, old stuff.”
I start a disc, she stops her ears: “NO, Dad!”
A single bar of some tracks is enough
To send her running from the room. So now
I guess it will be years before we see
Things quite the same way, and I wonder how
And where we’ll differ (not just musically)
These songs sit at the heart of who I am:
I won’t forsake my country, rock or folk.
There’s nothing in the charts now worth a damn:
Those ‘talent contest’ winners – what a joke.
But give it time: I know that she’ll come round
And recognise my tastes as truly sound.

 

I wanted to end the week on a bit of a lighter note, and my beloved daughter gave me all the material I needed en route to her piano lesson this afternoon.

Ruba’i: Kite-flying

Rain’s coming. Soon the day will die:
Before the weather hits, we’re high
On this steep slope, to catch a sight
Of kites against the scowling sky.

One pink-and-purple-quartered, bright
And tugging playfully, held tight
By my small girl on wind-taut string.
The other at a watchful height –

A russet silhouette – the king
Of these green hills. With copper wing
And deep-notched tail he tames the breeze;
His hunter’s eye sees everything.

One kite knows only certainties
Control, restraint and boundaries:
One has the freedom of the air
And all its possibilities.

I watch my daughter standing there,
Her laughing face upturned, aware
The moment will soon come when she
Will wish to fly, and I must dare

To let the string run long. Now, we
Are here together – happy, free.
And that means most of all to me
For she means most of all to me.

 

Back to the land

 

Four horses browse the field beside the brook.
Not so remarkable, you’d think. Except
When I was young and this was Warren’s land
No hoof was suffered here. And as I look
Around this farm, whose features once seemed set
Like sun-baked Sussex clay, I see the hand
Of Time at work, reshaping subtly
The world I knew, and thought would ever be.

I learned the fields and footpaths, secret ways
Through woods, the course of streams, each gate and stile,
And where the first wild daffodils were seen.
I carted straw, hauled grain in holidays
And made this land my office. All the while
I wrapped myself within its folds of green
As camouflage against the life that stood
Awaiting me beyond, in adulthood.

They’ve sold the farm. No dairy herd here now:
Those horses all the livestock left. The grass
We cut and clamped for silage every spring
And hay in summer, gone and under plough.
And I left too; to study, then to pass
Long years in misplaced toil and wondering
What should I do and where did I belong
When my heart knew the answers all along.

So. Now a quarter-century has flown
And here I am, in boots, with dog at heel;
No prospects, plan or penny to my name,
Still wandering these familiar fields alone,
My head still full of songs and rhymes – my real
Life’s work, it seems: that much has stayed the same.
The horses glance, then drop their heads to graze
And I walk on, my mind on distant days.

Pirate day

Ho-heave-ho and haul away –
No tie required – way-hey!
For half-term’s here, and pirate gear
Is the order of the day.
With a yo-ho-ho it’s off you go
All rigged for the Spanish Main –
In your old ragged shirt and sword-belt girt
Ann Bonny walks again!

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest –
These are the times that we love the best,
When you’re still young enough for this dressing-up stuff
But the day brings its own quiet warning:
For the time’s going by like the cannonballs fly
When the men-o’-war meet for slaughter
Then what shall we do for a pirate daughter
Ear-ly in the mor-ning?

May you always hold, like a pirate’s gold,
Onto all that you’ve done today;
May your flag always fly in a clear blue sky,
And fair winds blow you on your way.
May a fine, gallant crew sail along with you
To wherever the world may spin you;
With a yo-ho-ho, don’t you ever let go
Of the pirate spirit in you.

 

Our daughter’s school has just installed some new playground equipment, including a climbing-frame in the shape of a ship. To celebrate its inauguration, the children were allowed to go to school dressed as pirates; my wife conjured a costume out of charity-shop odds and ends, and the girl looked fantastic. She goes up to secondary school in September, which means there won’t be many more days like this, so I’ve marked the occasion with a sea-shanty. There’s a first time for everything!

Sonnet: Letting go

Letting go

The swifts do not debate: they will depart,
Though summer still lies soft on England’s fields,
For stormy seas and distant shores. Its heart,
Touched by September frosts, the great oak yields
Its crown and glory to decay; the rose
Gives up its scent, lets its bright colours run
Without regret, and vast, all-conquering snows
Surrender meekly to the reborn sun.
So who am I to wish to stop the wheel
And hold her always in this time, this age?
I must seek out that secret strand of steel
Within, accept this turning of the page.
This is her time to run, to fly, to grow;
And mine to learn to live with letting go.

Breakaway

Breaking away

Today
This sunny Sunday lane
Is our own private
Tour parcours
Complete with mimicked Phil-and-Paul
To lend us greater speed:

“And now
The leader
In the Best Young Rider competition
Makes the move
On the inside –

The gap’s opening up –

And the champion
Must respond to this:

He’s digging deep

Let’s not forget
He’s the oldest man
In the race,
So you’ve got to ask;
Has he got the legs
To counter the attack
And close it down
Or are we about to see
A new era ushered in?”

Of course
If I chose
I could go
Straight over the top of her;

But, smiling, I permit
Her cheeky breakaway to succeed
And sit on her wheel;
Training for the big attacks
And moves I cannot answer
In the stages still to come,
Knowing that one day I’ll have to watch her
Head up the road alone.

Written after yesterday’s ride with my 10-year-old daughter, who seems to have inherited my competitive streak on the bike…my fault for encouraging her to watch Le Tour, I guess. For those who haven’t been glued to ITV4 or SKY for the past three weeks, ‘Phil-and-Paul’ are the dynamic commentary duo of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who have been the ‘voices’ of cycling to British fans for over 30 years.

Notes to self

Silver bullet

My mother
Never understood how I
Could play this thing
When I couldn’t see
What my hands were doing, or
Which finger pressed which key.

My father
Couldn’t fathom embouchure;
And though he tried
He could not begin
To see the simple physics
Of blowing over, and not in.

My classmates
All clamoured for their turn
Then wondered why
They could not make it speak
Beyond a hollow, windy hissing
Or sudden, scalded shriek.

And I was grateful
For their foolish questions
Which moved my mind
From darker, deeper fears
That occupied it then, and still
Endure despite the years.

And even now
The asinine demands of others
Fade into forgetfulness
Whenever I take up this length
Of slender silver, close my eyes,
Reach back in time, and breathe.

On one level, the flute is a very simple instrument: you only play one note at a time (no chords like the guitar, or double-stopping like the fiddle) and only ever in the treble clef (it doesn’t go lower than middle C). At the same time,  many people find it fiendishly difficult, or even impossible, to produce a single note (the idea is to blow across the hole, rather than into it). And while it’s sweet and soulful, it can also be very powerful, cutting through the sound around it like a silver stiletto.

I’ve been a flute-player on and off since I was nine years old. After being ‘off’ for most of my thirties, I’m now playing regularly again, as precisely half the flute section in our local community orchestra. We’re a small ensemble, mostly ‘of an age’ and pretty rusty, but through our weekly rehearsals, I’ve rediscovered the sheer joy of making music again.

Although the ol’ brain and fingers don’t work together quite so well as they once did, I’ve surprised myself with how much comes back to me when I stop trying too hard.

Night vision

Night Vision

Beneath a waxing moon
And Orion like seven silver nails
Hammered into heaven,
The tawny owls’ hollow fluting,
Lonely as train whistles in the dark,
Reached me from the shadowed woods
And I smiled:
As a child
My bedtime prayer
Was for protection
From their forebears
Who haunted the beeches behind the house.
And I wished the new-hatched brood of terrors
Winging through my wide-eyed nights
Were so easily reduced
To harmless noises on the wind.