Sonnet: Us and them

They’ve given all our money to the banks
Who take the bonuses but not the blame;
They’ve added tens of thousands to the ranks
Of unemployed without a hint of shame.
They’ve dragged us into one unwanted war
After another, claiming every time
To be the bringers of the rule of law,
As if expenses fraud is not a crime.
And now they want to slap me with a fine
If I am caught with my dog off his lead.
There’s precious little left I can call mine;
My wants are few; this much alone I need.
We’re all in this together, so they say;
From where I stand, it doesn’t look that way.

 

Our town council is proposing new bye-laws that would force dogs to be on leads at ALL times on ALL council-owned land, including the woods I’ve frequently written about here. As a responsible owner, I absolutely agree that fouling is a public nuisance and utterly unacceptable: that’s why we ALWAYS pick up after The Hunting Dog. I also believe it’s a problem caused (as is so often the case) by a small, thoughtless minority, and that these rules won’t change their behaviour. The council clearly isn’t enforcing its existing anti-fouling laws, so quite how it’ll enforce these new ones – and at what cost – is anyone’s guess. I know this is an unusual choice of form for a protest, but what’s a sonnet if not the expresion of life’s great emotions and passions? Rant over. N.

Desecration

Heart broken

Rounding a rise deep in the wood
I feel my throat and fingers tighten:

A half-dozen young hornbeams
Supple, wrist-thick, new in leaf,

Wrenched from their ancient coppice-stools
Or snapped off shoulder-high,

Torn ends splayed like old paintbrushes,
Stark-white as wantons stripped in the market-place.

Someone seized these living limbs
And broke them, felt the soft bark split and curl

Heard the tender fibres tear
Smeared their hands with green and sap

And – what then? Just walked away
Or – more likely – ran off laughing, leaving

These slender lengths of springtime bent
And sticking out like dislocated fingers.

I stand in my defiled, sacred space
And grieve. For more than trees died here today.

Sounding the alarm

The night watch

Walking the woods as twilight slips
Like a poacher between the fading trees
My every step sets off some new alarm:
A blackbird chinking like a mason’s chisel;
A stream of shrill invective
Pouring from an unseen wren, blazing with a courage
A hundred times her size;
Pigeons clattering from the topmost branches
In a fusillade of frantic wings;
Jays and magpies rasping threats, while the silly yaffle
Hides behind his nervous laugh.
The watchword is passing through the wood
Like a creeping barrage. I advance behind it,
All element of surprise long gone
And with it any hope of gaining ground.
And as I pass back into the world
Of cars and curses, litter and the ugly shouts
Of boys and girls abroad too late, grown up too soon,
The darkening wood still rings with song:
The all-clear, and a sweet lament
For what the world once was
And all that we have lost.

Seeing the wood for the trees

Call it a wood

Call it a wood
If you will,
But this is my cathedral;
A greater glory captured in a single hornbeam bud
Or papery anemone
Than any Caen stone vaulting
Or stained-glass acreage.
And this is my study;
These living trees inspire more lines
Than the dead wood of my desk.
And this is my schoolroom;
These mute tutors hold the wisdom
Of the earth, and every lesson worth the learning
Of life and death, of failing and returning.
And this is my hospital;
In these soft scents and shaded paths
Lie sovereign remedies
For all my pains of heart and mind.
And this is my sanctuary;
The fears that stalk my nights and days
Dare not follow when I claim
Protection beneath this canopy.
And this is my stronghold;
A bulwark against the madness,
The ugliness, the noise
Of all that lies outside:
Call that the world.

A tale of our times

Cuts

He walks
Towards the grey stone house
Like a battlefield surgeon coming down the line
Or a man who, shaving hastily, contrived to nick
An artery in his neck.
The warm red rain has spattered his face,
Soaked his cap and shirt-collar,
Stained overalls and hands like some apprentice butcher’s.

He knows
This was a task he should have tackled
Back when they were calves,
The horns mere buds, and their removal
No more than a touch of glowing iron,
A brief sharp stink of burning hair –
A job for life in a minute’s easy work.
Now, left so late, it took three men
And a whole sodding day of trodden feet,
Shouting, straining, geysers of muck,
Maddened beasts slamming on sleepers and steel;
An improvised corrida, short on finesse,
Long on blood.

He begrudges
The time, the hurt, the fat fee to the sweating vet;
Still, it had to be done:
Seeing them swaggering into the yard,
Cocksure with their weaponed heads,
There was no question. The wounds, torn wire
And their seigneurial strutting at the trough
Left him no choice
But the crush, the needle and the blade. Yet

He finds
He cannot say who won this one. He’s left
Slumped and blasted, arms hanging like empty sleeves; the beasts
Bewildered, polls still stunned
By adrenaline local and the shock of shears.
All change in the herd, he thinks:
A social shuffling, a shift in power.
A bullet bitten, the right thing done.
But as he stumbles in to wash and eat
He shakes his head. And does not smile.

Under pressure

Under pressure

The big John Deere
Is working late;
After so long waiting
For a reborn sun and drying wind
To strip winter from the soil
They’re staying out,
Getting on.
The ten-foot, two-tonne roller
Treads thick, green scents
From the tender grass;
Driving in frost-lifted stones,
Making pancakes out of molehills,
As it wraps broad silver bandages
Round the bruised and pummelled pasture.
But these bent blades will be re-forged,
Stronger, and in greater numbers,
Ready for the tearing mouths
And hooves of summer cattle.
The roller passes on –
No time to lose –
And the soft earth breathes again:
When pressed, we do not break;
Though crushed, we do not die.

 

I promised my good friend and fellow poet John Stevens another tractor poem; I had something different in mind, but this one came along first, during a ride on the Paramount yesterday as afternoon gave way to evening. Apologies for the pic; a long-range phone-camera effort, I’m afraid.

The unkindest cut

In its drive to straighten out the nation’s finances, the Coalition (I won’t call it the government, as no-one actually voted for it) is proposing to sell off publicly-owned Forestry Commission land in England to raise a bit of cash.
The abysmal record of our formerly state-owned utilities in private ownership (the railways, buses, gas, water, electricity, phones…) should be enough to make anyone nervous at the prospect of another sell-off. But there’s also an important point of principle at stake.
Forestry Commission land is PUBLIC. We have a RIGHT to walk our dogs, ride our bikes and horses and take our children to play in them. As it is, 70% of the land in Britain is owned by less than 1% of the population (almost without exception congenital Tory voters).
Furthermore, the Forestry Commission, for all its faults, is now reversing its old, discredited policy of mass conifer planting and restoring our ancient woodlands – Britain’s equivalent, in habitat and biodiversity terms, of the tropical rainforest. Unfortunately, while of inestimable value for wildlife and recreation, our indigenous broad-leaved woods are far less profitable than coniferous monoculture. You can guess which way a new commercial owner is likely to lean.
There’s a huge groundswell of opposition to the plans, with the splendid Woodland Trust in the vanguard. Whether the Coalition will listen is another matter.

THE UNKINDEST CUT

Our politicians found the means to ease
The crisis in the banks that caused the crash,
And keep our struggling soldiers overseas
By cutting jobs and wages. But more cash
Is still required, so now we find our woods
And forests on the market. Public lands
And ancient oaks and coppice merely goods
To sell off cheap, and once in private hands
We’ll never get them back; then enterprise
Will take the place of stewardship. Behind
Locked gates and out of sight of prying eyes
They’ll plant their conifers and rob us blind.
They’ve hocked our future, spent our legacy.
They will not take the greenwood. Not from me.

For more information, and to sign the online petition against the proposals, please click here. Thank you.

www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

Happy new year?

Apparently, the prospects for the UK economy are better in 2011 than in 2010. Which isn’t really saying a great deal; after all, you can’t fall off the floor. I’m certainly hoping it’s a more positive year; just in case, though, I’m considering a Plan B. As the bankers have so graphically demonstrated, these days, competence just doesn’t pay.

RECESSIVE THINKING

If not better, I’m no worse
At this
Than I was
Two years
Ago.
So
Why is it I
Now have to settle
For a whole lot less
While the men who made
All this mess
Are still
Doing very nicely,
Thank you:
Maybe it’s time
I dropped the ball,
Downsized my scruples
Embraced ineptitude
And made life simpler
For myself,
Knowing that as others
Picked up the bits
I’d still be sure
Of cleaning up.

No L

No L

There’s no L in Mastercard, Visa or debt,
In Where can we buy one? or What did you get?
There’s no L in party frocks, panic or stress
No L in consumption, exhaustion, excess
In hangovers, arguments, waking at five,
Or that this is a season we have to survive.
Look up ‘turkey’ in Chambers and what do you see?
You guessed it – and what’s more, there’s no L in ‘tree’.
Of course, none of this should be any surprise:
There’s no Christ in Christmas in most people’s eyes.
There’s no L in Santa, I’m sorry to say –
And there’s no L like Christmas in Britain today.