Plein air

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A sin to stop
Just six miles short of home
And sit on a slab of weathered wood
In the sun and set
A few words down on paper;
But what’s another moment stolen
From a day already plundered;
My conscience is as a clear
As the blackbird’s song
In the cherry tree
And the June sky I’d have missed
If I’d taken the other road.

UDI

Wish I could declare
A republic of myself;
A polity of one
With humane statutes,
And no bronze statues.
I’d open up my borders
Live in lasting union with the world
And in my sovereignty
Extend the hand of amity
To all. But here I am
An enclave in a hostile land
Overlooked and overruled
A subject of a tarnished crown
Beneath a ragged, bloody flag,
Gazing out across the water
Wondering helplessly
At the wretched state I’m in.

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.

Over the hill?

There’s really no need
To paint
SLOW
In large mocking letters
On this thirteen-percenter:
I’m not about
To flout the speed limit here;
It’s all I can do
To keep this small gear
Just going over
And my two wheels turning.
With legs and lungs burning
Approaching the top:
Can’t stop. Kicks up again:
More pain
Piled on. Now. Just one
More push and it’s done.
And suddenly
Gravity
Lets go of me
And I’m no longer quietly dying
But flying.

A long road

 

My bicycle has brought me
Through country lanes, quiet woods
And up a short, steep hill
To this almost-forgotten church
Where the old dead dream deep
Beneath tumbled, lichened stones
Lost in drifts of summer flowers.

And I could be content
Were it not for knowing
Even this sublime machine
Will never bear me where I truly wish:
Back through years to times when we
Had seen and lived through none of this;
All things lay up ahead, yet to be.

So I must choose: inter all hope
To moulder like these ancient worthies;
Vainly seek a road that runs
Against the flow of Time;
Or climb on, breathe deep, look ahead
And take the onward way again
To all I fear, and cannot know.

Something in the air

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Now the breeze brushes the barley
Sweeping through the crop like a cavalry charge;
Darkening the bright awns
Like velvet rubbed against the nap;

Then switches, swings, retreats in waves of pale gold;
All the field in motion, shaken by a hidden hand.
A power – all-present, fierce, unseen –
Swirling, sleepless, through the land.

Taken I

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A faint breeze wafts the feathery tops
Of the grasses in the hayfield;
Soft, tawny with sun, downy with pollen.
Shut up safe all spring,
No hungry mouths to tear and chew,
No hard hooves to spoil and trample.
But soon the end will come
In the whine and slash of spinning steel
And thus laid low, all will be withered, gathered up,
Neatly compressed, and then consumed.

Return of the jorio

It’s just four lines
Of four words each.
Can’t be that hard.
I mean, come on:

Not like the sonnet,
The villanelle, the ode
And not even close
To the wicked sestina;

No rhyme, no metre,
No stressed, counted syllables;
No getting stomped on
By careless iambic feet

And no limits, either:
Gorge yourself on stanzas;
Let rip, cut loose
Because here, anything goes.

Even the ending’s easy:
You just quit when
You’re no longer inspired
(No rhyming couplet required).

Is it a poem?
Depends what you mean.
OK, so it’s not
Shakespeare, Shelley or Sassoon

Wordsworth, Whitman, Browning, Blake,
Marvell, Masefield, McGough, Muldoon,
Hardy, Hughes, Heaney, Holmes
Or Gerald Manley Hopkins;

But if every word
Is carefully, thoughtfully chosen
Earns its rightful place
Carries its full weight

Adds to the story
Hooks them, holds them
And, were it missing,
You’d feel the loss

It seems to me
That it must be.
As to this one
You be the judge.

 
 

I haven’t written a jorio for ages: I’d forgotten how much fun this simple form can be. A good warm-up for the brain before getting down to something more exacting; or, as with this one, the perfect cool-down after being shackled to the keyboard until late by the day-job. Glad to have rediscovered it. N.

Cauchemar

What dream is this that comes upon me now;
Appearing out of nowhere, filled with fields
Of flowers, summer grass and grazing cows
Deep in some hidden corner of the Weald.
My younger self strolls easy, dog at heel
Along a sunken lane roofed in by trees
While overhead the broad-winged buzzard wheels
And all is as it was, and meant to be.
But on the grey horizon, dark clouds grow;
The grass bends in the breeze; and all at once
I see a hooded figure on the road
Ahead. No time to turn. No place to run.
A simple wish for one more carefree day
Now haunted by a fear that has no name.

 
 

Wanted to see if I could stick to the basic sonnet formula while mixing things up a bit, so I tried playing with the end-words, allowing myself more latitude than usual with the consonants as long as I maintained the correct vowel rhyme. Turns out that breaking one rule consistently and deliberately is actually just imposing a new one. Interesting. N.