Overload

These are the days that run and run
Into each other; merge and blend,
Amorphous, seamless, never done,
When even sleep can bring no end
To thought; wake in sick certainty
The world is lining up to send
Another damned delivery
Of Way Too Much for me to do.
Tight panic rises, choking me
Like smoke from burning tyres. Through
The weary hours I wish that I
Could stop the clock, escape into
A quieter world, beneath a sky
Of speedwell blue, and walk apart
From all the toil and tumult; try
To find a place to rest my heart
And mind. But this is not my fate.
With each new dawn, I’m doomed to start
Again: no time to contemplate,
To breathe clean air or feel the sun;
Though I protest they will not wait,
Just shake their heads, reload the gun.
These are the days that run and run.

 

A quick terza rima thrown together in the midst of what my good friend Tom Davis calls ‘a long work jag’. I guess I should be glad to be busy, really, when so many are losing their jobs, but it starts to feel like too much of a good thing sometimes. This one goes out to everyone stepping back onto the treadmill this rainy Monday morn. N.

Terza rima: One acquainted with the bike

I have been one acquainted with the bike.
I’ve ridden out in rain – and back in rain.
I’ve felt the snowflake sting, the hailstone strike
I’ve carved through screaming street and lonely lane.
I’ve laboured on the endless, airless climb
Rejoiced in conquering gravity and pain
Forgetful, free and falling out of time.
I’ve found myself on roads the Tour de France
Has passed along, cruised Paris’s sublime
And sacred boulevards; made others dance
To my tune all day long, and mine the wheel
To follow if they can. My years advance
But I’m kept young by carbon fibre, steel
And aluminium magic. All my ills
In mind and body slip away; I heal
Myself with massive dosages of hills
And saddle-time: the only cure I need –
Don’t give me platitudes, prescriptions, pills.
But I’m addicted; yes. I love the speed
And freedom of it – love the work and sweat,
The downhill fear, the knowing how to read
The road, the muscle memory, the wet
And dry, the heat and cold, that strange dreamlike
State on the double metric. I forget
Myself, can find myself, be who I like.
I am still one acquainted with the bike.

 

This piece was inspired by Robert Frost’s achingly beautiful I have been one acquainted with the night, which was the first terza rima I ever read, and is still my benchmark for this mesmerising form. Have a great weekend. N.

Terza rima: Just riding along

 

So. You might think I’m just riding along
With no agenda, purpose, urgency
(I know that’s how it looks) but you’d be wrong.
I’m not here simply for the scenery:
This is my office, and I’m working; words
Are waiting in the woods and fields for me,
And ideas dart, elusive as the birds
That hurry in the hedgerows as I pass.
What’s been, what is, what hasn’t yet occurred:
The rhymes and rhythms ripple like spring grass
In glossy swathes, which I will harvest when
I’m back in that false world of bricks and glass
And peddling their illusions once again.
For now, I’ll breathe clean air, survey the land,
Draw in the scents of flowers and soil. And then,
With all of this material to hand,
I’ll set it down on paper. I belong
To this place: everything I understand
Is here and, through this labour, I grow strong.
Though you might think I’m just riding along.

 

Thought it was time for another attempt at the terza rima, which I’m determined to crack eventually. Its endlessly circulating rhymes (ABA BCB CDC DED etc) seemed just right for a poem about cycling, which is, after all, a game of rotation and movement. The title, incidentally, is a bit of bikeshop-speak: mechanics get so many people bringing in ailing or busted machines and beginning their tale of woe with ‘I was just riding along when…’ that ‘JRA’ is now a common, if somewhat sardonic, abbreviation on many workshop job-sheets. N.

Terza Rima: Craft

I had no choice. This is my life. My trade
Was not in doubt. I was not pre-ordained
To take up hammer, chisel, brush or blade.
Long deskbound years I craved a craft; untrained,
Unmanned, I longed to work in wood or stone,
Thatch roofs, make flutes, shoe horses, hand-paint stained
Glass for cathedrals: I have never thrown
A pot (except in anger) wrought a wheel,
Felled timber, laid a hawthorn hedge or grown
A crop of winter wheat. Old ways appeal
To foolish heart, and fingers with no feel.

But what is this, if not a time-worn way
To work? Did men not celebrate in song
In times and tongues unknown – relive the day
Around the feasting fire? The ties are strong
Through generations. Just as some are stirred
By steel and brick, I know that I belong
To that long line who labour with the word.
Though fashion may, perhaps, not recognise
This métier, my voice remain unheard,
No company or office could devise
So grand a task, so glittering a prize.

And thus I find myself indentured, bound
Apprentice to the woods and fields: the sun
And scented air my salary; no pound
Pressed in my palm for pay when day is done.
My workshop is the world; my only tool
The pen; when ink hits paper, I’ve begun.
The iamb is my plumb-line, and the rule
Of rhyme and metre studied and obeyed.
I was enrolled in this exacting school
By higher powers. Their decision made,
I had no choice. This is my life, my trade.

 

As so often, I’m indebted to Thomas Davis, whose generous comments on a previous piece got me thinking about the whole notion of poetry as a craft. Haven’t tried the terza rima form for a while, and now I know why…the interlocking rhyme scheme (ABA BCB CDC, etc) can, in theory, go on forever, but for reasons that escape me now, I chose to do three stanzas, using a pair of ‘D’ rhymes to make the breaks. Drove me nearly demented, I can tell you. I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to start and finish with the same line, but it’s the kind of thing Robert Frost would have done, and that’s good enough for me. N.