The hardest 100 days
A warmth, not unwelcome,
But strange, unsettling,
Lingers in the land
Like a swallow
Uncertain of the way to Africa.
It will be gone
I felt it on today’s descents,
The air pooling in the dips
With a graveyard-at-midnight chill.
Then the real cold will fall
Unwelcome as the big gas bill
That surely follows it
Distant but devoted
As a stray dog.
And with it will begin
The hardest hundred days:
Of thick clay dinner-plates
Stuck to boot-soles,
Wet waxed cotton and whippet-coats
Hanging in the hallway,
Bicycles brought home
Muddied like hunters,
Old cracks and wounds in finger-ends
Split open like beech-bark.
And for all its wet and weariness
There’ll never be a minute
I’d rather sit inside and watch
Than be out living in it.
His body shakes so hard
I can feel it in the floor.
A cartoon dog –
By the old man in the monster mask.
But this panting, whining
Circling like a colicky horse
Are real enough:
The wolf’s fear, untouched by evolution,
In the face of fire
Or at the slightest scent of man.
How to tell him
That those distant detonations
How to calm a terror
Of the unknown
Counter to my intuition
The books and experts tell me:
Don’t stroke him, offer comfort.
Every soft word and caress
Will only make things worse.
Let him work it out himself.
So I keep my distance,
Carry on. And in my pretending,
Fool neither myself nor him.
At this moment
The bridges between the species
Are all blown.
And in his reproachful, staring eyes
I see myself accused
Of siding with the enemy.
‘Only us dog-walkers out today!”
She says brightly as she passes.
The Downs are drowned
In a drizzle thick and grey
As battleship paint, and yet,
Yes, here we all are:
My new friend with her King Charles,
Shiny boots and pointless shades,
Two Gore-Texed women with five fizzing
Gambolling round their legs like dolphins
Shadowing ships into a harbour, and a feisty papillon
With a heart and voice ten times his size.
A man, head down, hands deep in pockets,
Trudging the hard track round the field
Like a convict in an exercise yard
With a sofa-fat golden retriever
Wide-eyed, wheezing, at his heels.
Merv and Bailey, Ange and Leo.
Sid and Henry, Pete and Alfie,
And me, with the hunting-dog
In his red coat, smiling at the weather.
The familiar crowd of hardy souls,
All wondering as the rain redoubles
And Sunday yawns, goes back to sleep,
Just who is walking whom.