May 2009


A curtain falls

across the secrets

of the ghyll,

the pond whispers,

trees tap, rocks –

the very earth

turns darker still

and sense is flooded

with despair. 

 

And after the rain,   

a drowsy peace,    

the melancholy air

warms, thickens,

grows darker, greener.

Buds burst,

leaves stretch,

reach out

to fill the gaps.  

 

Close your eyes,

rest, listen, feel  

the soft lamentations

of blackbirds

heal the wound,

and when resonance

reminiscence yields,

anguish fades,

loss is less,

 

hope flickers,

takes wing,

wagtails dance

and gleeful swallows

sweep the air,  

while the cob glides

the darker water

and the pen lies sleeping

on her raft.

In just two weeks, the greening wood has spread  

And deepened, the orchids a darker hue,  

The chestnut holds its spears aloft,

the butterburr is over and bees visit the comfrey.   

 

In just two weeks, the screaming swifts

claim the skies, blackcaps chatter

in the leaves and the cuckoo returns

slack winged to the windy walls.   

 

In just two weeks, the red faced brood of coots,  

motoring across the green pond, piping for roots,

sheltering underwing from the storm,  

now police the river in white-fronted deliberation.

 

In just two weeks, the sulphur grey wagtail

brings no more flies to the insistent moss,

But shows his shorter tailed charges how

to hawk by the falling water.     

 

In just two weeks, the newborn lambs

Shivering on their fragile heights,  

Run in their grassy gangs, bleat with glee 

And butt their last-drop ewes.

 

And in just two weeks,  my dear mother who

Long nursed her loneliness in querulous complaint,

Left her anxious quests and floated free, her mind    

Abandoned in a bed boat of intensive care.

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They’re raising the roof of the church today!

The building’s in scaffold, a big yellow crane

Is removing the ridge tiles on top of the nave

And disturbing the sleep of the souls in their graves.

Oh, they’re raising the roof of the church today!

 

They’re raising the roof of the church today!

The foreman’s come round to check it’s ok.

The boys are excited and shouting, ‘Hooray!’

They’re having such fun.  What more can I say?

Cos they’re raising the roof of the church today.

 

They’re raising the roof of the church today!

The unctious incumbent looks ashen and grey.

The Duke and the Duchess are in disarray.

They cancelled the trials since it poured yesterday!

Now they’re raising the roof of the church today! 

 

They’re raising the roof of the church today!

The organist thunders, parishioners pray   

To God, their salvation, on this judgement day

Now the pathway to heaven’s wide open to gaze  

Since they raised up the roof on the church today.

I was running along the narrow track that threaded its way along the grassy slope.  The deer were feeding far below me.  The rain the previous night had made the mud slick and my feet slipped at every pace.  I was concentrating on the way ahead when a faint hissing from high above me made me stop and look up. 

There high in the tree, a bird, no bigger than a sparrow, seemed to dangle.  Its wings were spread and its tail was fanned and it rotated horizontally as if it were snagged on a fishing line.  

I removed my binoculars from the back of my waistband, where I had tucked them, and identified the bird as a Great Tit.  As I watched, it seemed to swing first one way then the other in the breeze.  ‘It must be dead’, I thought.

But No!  Every so often it would flutter its wings ineffectually.  My next thought was, ‘It’s caught on something and can’t get free.’  But that wasn’t true either. As I watched, it hopped onto another twig and repeated the performance, wings and tail spread, turning on an imaginary breeze. 

It continued the exhibition until it got close to the stump of a branch, where its dance elicited a chorus of plaintive whistles from what must have been its nest,  but instead of hopping up to join its chicks, it remained there ‘as if’ dangling, quite resistant to their entreaties .      

So what was going on?  The bird clearly wasn’t damaged.  It was some kind of display, but for whom and for what purpose.  Surely not for me;  I was thirty feed below and no threat. Was there a sparrowhawk around?  I scanned the adjacent trees with my binoculars and could not see anything.

My guess is this was a decoy display.  The bird was pretending to be injured in order to distract any would be predator away from chicks.  But if that was the case, why did it keep hopping towards the nest?

Decoy displays are not unusual in ground nesting birds.  On the high moors, I have been led down the path by a female grouse, dropping a wing to feign injury only to take off with a cackle when I was far enough away from her chicks to be safe.  Curlews do something similar. They fly around in a state of high anxiety if you get too close to their chicks before alighting a few feet away and running off in the opposite direction.  Lapwings do much the same, they fly off and alight at a safe distance uttering a hoarse pee-wit repeatedly to warn their chick to hunker down in the grass, where they instantly resemble a sheep dropping.  Experience has taught me to stay still and scan the ground nearby, the intensity of the performance is directly proportional to the proximity of the chicks. 

But today, I witnessed a different display of avian protection.  While other geese were busy tending their chicks in the farmyard, one large solitary white goose had adopted a young mare as its sole charge.  As I approached, it became very agitated, started hissing and then holding its neck out low to the ground, launched itself at me, a hissing missile, intent of grievous bodily harm.  But this was more wuss than goose.  A few yards from me it drew up and became all nonchalant, prodded the ground with its bill for a bit and then ran back to the oblivious mare, honking loudly with wings outstretched. 

‘There, see what I’ve done.  I’ve chased him off. He won’t bother you now.’

The mare looked up.

‘Oh thanks!’

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Not for you, the intimacies of the night;  

you like the light;

the freedom of dawn, when

scampering winds shepherd clouds

over the hills of your dreams.

 

Not for you, the beguiling song of the blackbird;

the one you cannot trust.  

You prefer the high rise worry of larks,

the pied piping of oystercatchers,

the querulous slide of the curlew.

  

Not for you, the hooting melancholy wood,

but the thrill of the moor;

the paraglide of pipits,  the thrum

and squeak of roller coaster snipe,       

the tumble and whoop of plovers.  

 

Not for you the furtive stoat in its crevice,

in the windy wall.

You favour the clear lines of the wheatear,

his bright soliloquy in pastel, his promise in slate, 

his innocent gift of primrose.

 

Romance is not for you; too intense.

You’ve no time

to waste on pain and sighs.

You want no make believe, no lies, 

just constancy ….. and life.

If he had been braver or less brave.

If she had loved him more … or less.

If they had been honest or not so.

But he wasn’t, she didn’t, they weren’t.  

 

And so the passion of frustrated desire

fuels the fury of her disappointment.

The one she would love to distraction,

she now hates to destruction . 

 

All has become nothing at all.

Anger disavows the love, denies

the terrible assault of compassion

that would re-open the wound.

 

What she once craved, she must deny.

What was close, must be distant.

The hurt must be transferred; sanity

restored with shallow pride.

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The breeze softens and fades down

where the Blackbird’s beguiling flute

stirs the heavy scent that lingers

 across the trance of summer’s eve.

 

April has lain her fragrant quilt

over the moss that clothes

the limbs and secret belly

of the darkening wood.

 

Nodes of eager bracken thicken, uncurl

and thrust through cobalt covers.  

Subversive tubers reach into damp hollows

that reek with the sex of garlic. 

 

An owl hoots!  Leaves burst from swollen buds    

And the dark roebuck, his mission complete,

withdraws silently across the blue shades

whose canopies stretch out to hide his shame.