A charm against wanton destruction

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I cannot stop you tearing up the land;
Turn back the clock or stay your heedless hand;
No word of mine can still your crushing wheels;
My flesh and bone no match for your cold steel.

But what I can, I’ll do. And so I lay
This charm upon you and your deeds this day.

From sullied soil, let briar and bramble spring –
Let thistle burn, thorn scratch and nettle sting;
And when the summer sun warms earth and sky,
Come, adders, sharp of fang and cold of eye.

In every vehicle that you blithely ride
Let spiders big as saucers now reside;
And in the cabin where you take your rest
Bid hordes of wicked hornets build their nest.

Then let it rain and churn the clay to mire
To grab and grip and clog each helpless tyre;
And when the cries of rook-bands fill the air
May you hear mocking laughter everywhere.

Now let this doom hang heavy round your necks;
A right reward for him who rips and wrecks
Without regard or care. My rhyme is done.
But not the charm. Its work has just begun.

Rewilding

To my left-brained
Scientifically-inclined
Critically-trained
Eye and mind

These fields should now
Be an abomination;
No discipline by plough
Or corrective cultivation.

A shameful parade
Of gleeful weeds appears;
Led by a brigade
Of over-eager volunteers.

But as I look around
All that I can see
Is my native ground
As it’s meant to be.

 

The fields close to our home have been left uncultivated this year and the weeds – and we – are making the most of it. As well as wheat plants seeded from the previous crop (known as volunteers) there’s an amazing profusion and diversity of wild plants that would normally be sprayed out of existence. We’ve followed the rewilding process right through the lockdown period (we’ve been allowed to go out for exercise) and it’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch. Sadly, all the plants, and their attendant birds and insects, are doomed, but not for reasons of husbandry: the entire farm is a development site and is slowly disappearing under what will eventually be 1,000 new houses. I studied agriculture at university years ago, and I still like to follow the rhythms and workings of the farming calendar. But this spring, I’ve learned I’m even happier seeing what Nature can do when left to her own devices. N.

Lines and sentences

 

We know what’s coming
From the pictographs and hammered posts;

Spray-painted warrants of execution;
Whole acres marked for death.

But who will tell the trees
Inform the flowers, tip off the birds and animals?

If I could, I’d pick them up
In my two hands, spirit them away

But I’m condemned to stand and watch
The steel blades bite, the heavy wheels shake the earth

See all I’ve know and come to love
Torn up, despoiled and thrown aside

Entirely unconsoled by knowing
There was nothing I could have said or done.

Droighneach: Back on track

You have not changed: it’s me. I’ve been distracted
By events, become estranged from you: unlearning
All I knew and understood, my view refracted
Through dark prisms; all good things lost. But I’m returning.

I let myself be taken. Dumb and dutiful
I joined the fight. Chain yanked, cage shaken, I ignited;
Burned hot and strong awhile, but nothing beautiful
Formed in that flame; no song beguiled, no line delighted.

Please: show me all I’ve missed; the slow revolving
Of the seasons; days kissed by early snow, descending
Into winter’s night, rising to summer, dissolving
In fire and bright gold as the great wheel turns, unending.

By long ways round I stand back where my road divided.
A wrong turn? Perhaps: yet it showed my true endeavour
Is to be your voice, speak your truth. I have decided,
Made my choice. And so to work; today, and forever.

 
 

Continuing from yesterday’s post, I’m making a conscious return to the forms and themes I was exploring – and enjoying – before the events of 2016 and afterwards knocked me off course. I thought my duty as a writer was to join the war effort; but there are many, many others far better qualified who can make bigger and more meaningful contributions to those debates than I ever could. And it turns out I’m not a fighter anyway; it just makes me miserable.
One could argue (and I have told myself for years) that writing about the beauties of the world is pointless, frivolous and self-indulgent, when there is so much hard, real, dangerous stuff to deal with. But I’ve found that road, for me at least, leads nowhere good. It’s time to accept my purpose lies elsewhere and believe it has a value; somewhere, somehow.
Anyway. I felt the need to stretch my writing muscles again – and nothing stretches ’em like the droighneach. (Apart from the sestina, but that’s for another day.) I haven’t attempted this fiendish form for about five years, and now I know why: it is a refined and exquisite torment, made up of four-line stanzas (as many as you can stand) of nine to 13 syllables, with at least one cross-rhyme between the first and second line (eg long/wrong, road/showed) and third and fourth line (voice/choice) in each. Oh, and there’s the small matter of the ABAB rhyme scheme; AND that every line has to end on a three-syllable word. It was quite the tussle, and I’m still not sure who came out on top, but I feel SO much better for it! N.

Waiting

Rough plough
The furrows’ edges like ancient walls
Awaiting their final ruin.

Rooks swirl
Like tattered umbrellas blown aloft
Caught between soil and sky.

Bare trees
Beech, ash and oak in hedgerows, by headlands,
Twist in the wind’s busy fingers.

Brown stream
Bides its time, brooding, building its strength
Slyly testing its banks.

Dark clouds
Raise ramparts and towers beyond the far hills
Ready to settle everything.

 
 
Little nature poem on the day the [third in four years] general election campaign gets fully under way. It all feels hopeless, pointless and ultimately doomed; nothing will be properly ‘settled’ by this farrago, but events beyond our control will finally seal our benighted country’s fate. Trying to be optimistic, but it’s hard. N.

Flight of fancy

The gulls are everywhere
Filling the bright air
With their wheeling mystery.

Where do they go at night
Make nests, lay eggs
Rear their tea-stained young?

Does their quarrelsome clamour
Every bird for himself
Hide a fiercer loyalty?

And could an untempered appetite
Disguise a finer feeling
In matters of the heart?

I do not doubt
Some wise, observant soul
Could lay their whole life bare.

But out here, in their world
Of sand, wind and saltwater,
I am the stranger, and happy not to know.

If I could

I would

Pen some pleasant paean
To the fire-tinted fall
The heavy apples hanging
By the garden wall
The splash of geese arriving
On the silver pond
The view across the ploughland
To the hills beyond.
The buzzard slowly circling
In the endless blue
Or even of the weather;
Anything would do.

But when the world is burning
And danger is at hand
With enmity and violence
Poisoning our land;
When all we knew is ending
And everything’s in doubt
The darkness is encroaching
And the lights are going out

What is the poet’s duty?
Who am I working for?
Do I serve truth and beauty
Or rise and march to war?

Kite

Easier to count
The days I don’t see your lesser kin;
Familiar, worthy of a look, a nod
Like neighbours passed in the street.

But you. What wild wind
Blew you out here;
A foreign shadow falling on the field,
The crows in uproar, the air alive;

All things made smaller
By your breadth and heft;
The flash of copper on your wings
The glint of a drawn sword.

A wanderer from beyond our bounds,
Rarely seen and half forgotten.
But you are surely welcome, stranger.
The great world turns. Not all is lost.

 
 

Buzzards are common as sparrows rouhnd here these days, but their larger cousins, red kites, are still pretty rare. I saw one today, though, for the first time in ages, set against a bright spring sky. Of such true and noble things is happiness made in times like these. N.

Fledgling

A small bird
On a narrow branch
Where pale new leaves are springing.

Will her soft feathers
Withstand the winter wind;
Does her timid, unpractised eye
Spy the fat, fallen grain
And is her grip secure
When the bough bends beneath her?

Would that I
Could cradle her
Forever in my hand,
Shield her from foul weather
And the wickedness I see.

But more than that
I would watch those hard-won wings –
As yet untried, hesitant, uncertain in their strength –
Unfurl and catch the breeze
So that her song and colours
May brighten all the world.

Prose poem #1

Spate

The river is gorged on days of rain; consistency of soup, colour of coffee. Barely contained, boisterous and rowdy, it barrels through town, boiling in froth as it shoots the bridge, snatching up tangles of twigs and branches, bright-coloured plastic, bottles and beer-cans, odd bits of litter, any duck not quite paying attention, and hurling them down its own throat as it roars its wild way to its mouth. But I recall summer, when this noisy delinquent was a starveling shadow, thin as a wand, sticks and stones like ribs and bones staring through its pale, dirty skin. Oh yes, it’s big now, bold and rambunctious, and nothing dares stand in its way. But wait till the sun is back in full fire, the brown fields are gasping and the sky is a bowl of blue steel. It won’t be so full of itself then.