A radiant rising
In readiness for a gilded mourning.
For a fraction of a fraction of a second
Night and day will stand
The season a bright gold penny
Balanced on its edge.
And in the fraction of a fraction that follows
We start the long drop into dark
From which we wonder
If we will ever emerge
And if we do
What kind of world we’ll find.
So I let our falling star
Copperplate my limbs and face
Breathe the newly sharpened air
Allow myself one more glance back;
The last day of a summer
That never truly was.
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.
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.
The hips and haws hang heavy on the thorn;
Dew-silvered cobwebs glitter in the grass
Along my headlands. Fox and badger pass
Like footpads, hastened by a scarlet dawn.
My fleeting furlough ends: a settled spell
Marks me for autumn sowing, and I feel
The tractor’s weight, the thrust of polished steel
From landside, tine and drill I know so well.
Then strangers come, survey with greedy eyes
My empty acres. It’s not whispering wheat
They see: a tightly-packed and tidy street
Of huge five-bedroomed houses is their prize.
They’ll break my ground their way; and in a year
There’ll be no sign that I was ever here.
No rest in these full, fiery days: the trust
Placed in me months long gone must be repaid
In fat, gold grain. The combine’s twelve-foot blade
Leaves me stark, convict-cropped. They raise my dust
With ten-tonne trailers, roll my ribs of straw
For steer and stable; when the men depart
The patient crows come gleaning – every part
Of all I’ve made picked up and set in store.
And in a monstrous sky my exhaled heat
Is gathered too. From thunderheads I’ve stacked
Ten miles high, blessed rain renews my cracked
And gasping soil. The circle is complete.
Once more I keep my promise made to Man;
Just as I have each year since time began.
The first bite of the coulter wakens me;
Five mouldboards turn my face to greet the sun
That climbs above the wood. Work has begun.
Gulls flock my furrows; on the easterly
Crows ride like witches. Celandines appear
In my hedge-bottoms; harrow, roll and drill
Pass over me with steel and noise until
The seed lies warm and deep. Another year.
Then ancient war breaks out. In elder days
I gloried in my arsenal of flowers
And weeds: now men have new, undreamt-of powers
And subjugate me with their soundless sprays.
The urging in the warming earth grows strong;
My young shoots rise up with the skylark’s song.
Cold, silent, colourless. A kind of death
Has taken me; my mourners are the crows
Who stalk my stubbles as the land-drain flows
And swells the swirling ditch. My shallow breath
Hangs in the air at dawn; at dusk I bleed
Where sunset strikes the still-raw chevron scars
Of tractors; while the Hunter’s seven stars
Burn over me, I dream of sun and seed.
For life still smoulders in me, though it burns
Its lowest as dark days die young, and men
With hounds and guns find food in me again;
Beneath my sleeping soil the great wheel turns.
The year is buried deep in me for now;
Awaiting resurrection by the plough.