Lucky me

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Sunday afternoon.
Warm and drowsy
As blackberry wine.
Walking through fields
I’ve known for thirty years.
Doormat stubble, shining grass,
A whiff of windfall crab-apples.

Dog nosing ahead,
My daughter at my side
Chattering like a magpie;
Still too young
To have her tongue
Tied by time and chemistry.

What strange chance
Made me glance
At the ground
Right there
Right then

And from the crowds around it
Light on that

One

Single stem
Of Trifolium repens
Ignoring its own bill matter
And getting its double helix
In a twist

Throwing out
Two extra tokens
Of pure dumb luck.

Plucked it
(Who wouldn’t?)
Wondered
Just what I held then
And what to do next
With my million-to-one shot:

Line up my seven numbers,
Put my shirt on some long-odds nag,
Back the Texans all the way to Arizona,
Book my ticket to The Strip

Or maybe
I already had
All the luck
Any one man needs.

 
 

More free verse. That universal talisman of good fortune, the four-leafed clover, is a genetic mutation that pops up roughly once for every 10,000 of its common-or-garden trifoliate brethren. Five-leafed specimens like the one I found at the weekend are held to be luckier still, since the odds of finding them are, literally, a million to one. Even so, that’s still roughly 14 times more likely than winning the lottery! N.

Northbound train

A long, slow groundswell
Torn, cut, worked over
And the steel road slicing through.

Raisin rooks
Cookie-dough cows
Low sheds full of secrets
Silos packed with wealth and mystery.

Flat as a skillet.
Only the trees
Muscular pylons shouldering powerlines
And the racing streak of the train
Break the line.

A sudden tunnel
Through a surprise hill
Coming out of nowhere.
The odd comedy of a deadpan country
And a suggestion of what’s ahead.

Farmyard junk, mouldering straw
The carcases of nameless machines;
The tell-tale symmetry of old spoil heaps
Now grassed over; the burial mounds of industries long dead
But still remembered
And never far below the surface.

Turbines and church spires
Jostle for airspace
Each tapping into and transmitting
Their own unseen sources of power.
In this unpeopled place.

The empty heart of England.

 

Random thoughts from the East Coast Main Line, somewhere between King’s Cross and Peterborough, earlier this week. N.

Winter reflects

White-haired, crooked as a cottage beam,
He shuffles through the quiet wood;
Runs crabbed fingers over the young hornbeams’
Cool, straight limbs, picks at their tight bark
With cracked grey nails
And sighs. For these last months
They have been his, stripped bare and helpless,
Bending to his will.
But now
He hears her singing far off,
Sees her first shoots spearing through the slop
And knows: she’s coming.
And beneath her softness she is strong –
Too strong for him, that’s certain –
And with her steely sweetness she will win back
All he’s called his own
Then fill it with her colour, drive away
All trace of him, send warming breezes where
His chill breath lingers, melt his footprints,
Send him to some strange and distant country
Where he’ll lie in iron chains
Until the trees wax fat and sleepy,
Eager for his touch.

Age gap

The road tilts
like a crooked picture

and in a heartbeat

he can’t hold
my wheel;

every breath
like a bedsheet ripping,

pedal stroke
ground out like black pepper,

adding another yard,

another year,

to the infinite
         unbridgeable
                  inevitable

 

gap

 

opening up

between us.

 

 

The first draft of this piece, which I wrote about six years ago, was about going for a ride with my dad. But when I revisited (and revised) it, I suddenly heard a new voice: the me of 10 years ago, contemplating the rider I will become one day (if I haven’t already!) Love it when a poem does that. N.

Out there

On such a day
Want
Is not enough; only
Need
Will get you
Out there
In this.

It takes a deep and eager
Hunger
To ride roads emptied by cold’s curfew;
Roll alone
Through dank tunnels of dripping trees,
Sumbit, mute,
To the steaming lorries’ lash
Of fume and filth,
Ignore the creeping chill of water
Closing in on skin,
Jealous of its warmth.

Give me this shot
Of wild weathers:
Let them
Wrack me as they may.
For all their force
They’ll never break
My habit.

Lottery of life

Tonight
They say
A winning ticket
Could be worth

One
        hundred
                    and ten
                                million.
All those
Zeroes:

Seven wondering mouths agape;
Seven whistles of disbelief
Or one long ecstatic moan.

But even such incontinent
And wishful-thinking-weighted wealth
Could not buy me

A twenty-fifth hour, a second self,
An easy heart, a quiet mind,
A single cubic inch of open sky.

And when I smell the new-turned soil
And the forest after rain;
Eavesdrop on river’s chatter
And the whisperings of the sea
Watch the buzzard circling high above the dark-browed wood
Hear flute-notes ring like silver bells
Feel her soft hand enclosed in mine
And catch a certain smile

I don’t need a string of numbers
Spat out by some cold machine
To tell me I’m in luck.

War poem

They handed us our call-up papers
Along with our degrees
In the golden summer of ‘91;

Another generation
To be thrown into the endless fight
And lost. But I refused.

So while my mates
Packed up their kit, pulled on the uniform
And went to take on the world

I dug in among my fields and woods,
Watching the battle’s bright sky-bursts
And hearing its rough thunder from afar,

Raging against the folly of it all
With quills cut from white feathers
I was handed in the street.

Now they sit, gloriously pavilioned,
Freighted with honours and worthy scars
Commanding legions, lands, and all the spoils.

While I fight on,
Day-by-day and hand-to-mouth,
Beneath no banner but my own

And though my gains and conquests
Are slight and insecure
I claim each little victory as my own,
And trust that I will triumph in the end.

Foraging

Catch their sound:
A long-drawn snarl
From beyond the woods.

I track them
Across glistening fields
Bouldered with cows;

Through a gate
Kinked by years of heavy carelessness,
Over a stile in the wayward hedge,

A hundred yards up a concrete road;
Another gate, bent like an old coat-hanger,
And over the brow.

There: the big machines
Peeling dark swaths from the shocked hillside;
Gaudy jewels on pale skin.

As another turncoat June
Hurls wind and rain like insults
The breathless work goes on:

The famished clamps gape like fledglings
And so the trailers fly
To feed them

While I stand here,
Powerless to help,
Taking a first cut of my own.

 

Silage-making is under way at last in our corner of Sussex. Better late than never. N.

High plains drifter

Long days
Long gone
In unknown, airless lands
Alone;
A wordless drifter,
Eyes half-closed
Against the glare.
Out there,
They said, I’d find some answers:
God knows I searched
For sign in soft creek beds,
Scuffed down dry arroyos
In a boil of dust and gravel
Stood rim-rocked on the canyon’s edge
And stared out at the plains of promise
Shimmering, unreachable
Across the great divide.
Turned around and tried retracing
All my sidewinder steps. Too late:
Hot high wind and freak flash flood
Erased my passing from the earth,
Left my mind’s big wide-open
Empty as the drunk man’s threats.
I shot at shadows,
Spoke with stones
And tried to set my loop
Around the breeze.
Lost my mount
And found myself
Afoot In all that elemental space
With only two rounds left.
This one
Loosed off in the air
To boom and echo
Unheard in the void:
The last
Saved for myself.