An exile in my own land
Squatter in my own skin.
Looked for myself
In all the right and usual places;
No settling of the stirred-up water
Only walls to bounce off.
So I wander.
The road and hills
Forests, fields, sky
Wrap me in themselves.
Free of numbers, name or country.
At home when I am nowhere
Defined by what I’m not.
Remembering Peter Fonda, 1940-2019
He rides high over the wood,
A black cross carved
On a flat, cold sky:
The wind and all the world
Turn with a twist
Of his curved flight feather;
His weapons ready –
Beak, eye, wing and talon
Sharp and clean.
What I would give
For his lone completeness,
Such unweighted, spare perfection;
While I am bound and grounded
By this jealous, grasping earth
And all its superfluities.
Out on the dream-dipped dawn-run road once more,
Alone, but less than lonely: stop to drink
A pot of supermarket tea; restore
The caffeine balance, shake off sleep, and think
About the life I’ve chosen, all that’s brought
Me to this place, at this ungodly hour –
Freewheeling, independent, never bought
But just for hire, beyond all corporate power.
And though I am not rich, still I possess
Great things unseen, more valuable than gold.
Long years have proved to me that more is less.
I do what’s asked of me, not as I’m told.
A hard and twisting path, rebuilt each day.
This is my road. I know no other way.
Last week I received a very tempting offer of full-time employment. I agonised over it before deciding to stay freelance: I couldn’t quite let the security of a regular payday win out over the freedom to walk, ride and leave my mobile phone switched off in the kitchen drawer. So, yesterday saw me hauling west to see some of my favourite clients as though nothing had happened. But on a subtle level, it clearly had, since I wrote this little affirmation to myself on the way. Freelancing isn’t for everyone, but it seems to be right for me. All is well. N.
This is a moment I could steal:
The task that’s kept me caged in here
Complete; the next not yet begun.
The rain is gone; a pale sun
Returns, the blue-washed sky gleams clear
And branches wave in mute appeal.
No contract to compel me, no
Cruel clock to punch, no overseer
Or deadline to detain me. Still
I hesitate; the guilty thrill
Of truancy upon me – fear
Without foundation. I can go
And damn the consequences: I
Am no man’s man, at large, unbound.
This unwatched hour is mine to take:
My criminal impulses wake
And furtively, without a sound,
I’ll snatch this jewelled time, and fly.
Seems in some past life, I pulled off a crime
So heinous I have been condemned to years
Of penal servitude. I do my time
Inside, until some clement spirit hears
My plea and turns me loose. Today’s parole
Came in the afternoon – a chance to ride,
Cut free the chains of commerce from my soul
And breathe the clean and healing breeze outside.
A hilltop stop to shed my jacket. There
He was, dark blue and scarlet in the sun,
Forked tail tuning up the April air,
First with the news their season has begun.
One doesn’t make a summer, so they say;
But he was just enough to make my day.
Come, brand me fool: I will take no offence.
A motley coat is all that I aspire
To wear – no suit fits my uncommon sense –
The wild wind’s liberty my sole desire.
I have my charter, blow on whom I please
And speak my mind, unblushing, where I will.
I mock the world, not to insult or tease:
My jests medicinal, each barb a pill
To treat infection. What the wise ones call
Their sensible pursuits of status, wealth
And comfort, I’ll make light of; though it gall,
My folly is a physic for their health.
For if their Real World is sanity,
I’ll gladly live a fool, be mad – and free.
Lugubrious he may be, but Jaques is one of my favourite characters in probably my favourite Shakespeare play, As You Like It. This start-the-week sonnet is inspired by his famous speech in Act II, which follows his first encounter with the equally splendid jester, Touchstone. To my mind, we poets are the sane ones: it’s the rest of the world that’s crazy. And if anyone knows where one can get hold of a motley coat these days, do let me know! N.
If I were a pro
Whose name and logo
Would I be prepared
In exchange for a berth
In the greatest annual
Sporting show on Earth?
A big foreign bank’s?
Thanks, but no thanks.
A car-hire firm’s?
Not on their terms.
Some Big Pharma name?
Spare me the shame.
Liquid gas? Coated steel?
Come on now. Get real.
GPS, smartphone makers?
Sorry. No takers.
Owned by voicemail hackers?
Not my ideal backers.
The national flag?
Not really my bag.
(And, while highly evocative,
The Cross of St George
Might be seen as provocative
Should Le Tour
Ever take in Agincourt).
But since my fate is
I’m free to remain
Close of business
For my mind today:
It’s been a strict
Eight-hour forced march
On hard roads
Of others’ choosing,
The telephone bawling orders
And the Inbox driving me
With frequent lashes
Of its electronic whip.
Now the rest of me
Weary with inaction
Rises up; a quiet insurrection
Fomented by the sun
Shining in my window
And the swifts
Like black new moons
Racing over heaven.
The world has made a market of my hours:
Those that remain
Till sleep claims me
Are not for sale.
I am free.
Off the hook
I’m not available
To take your call right now:
The air in there
Is sour and sick,
Thickened with work,
Tainted by worry
Like the gust of last night’s beer
From the pub door Sunday morning.
Now I’m out
Of reach of the bank, the Revenue’s men,
The trivial tyranny of whencanyougetitdoneby,
And the world falls away
Like the sheep-speckled hillside
Beneath the red kite’s wing.
Just a coat between me and the wind
That playfully snatches at collar and cap;
Boots pressed into the old, soft turf
Like the fifty-pence-piece in my Grandad’s palm;
The dog stops, turns, looks at me and laughs
And a lone crow tips me a knowing wink.
When I’ll get back to you.
This should give you some idea of the week I’ve had. Wish it was half-term again, and we were back in Wales.