(please read this aloud and let the words take you wherever they may…)
Here I sit, uncold, wrapped in the jumps
That my brain takes from Here, to There, from Now to Then.
When I settle, deeply, warmly into Then
Outside, the russet-tinged clouds scud and scurry
Outside, the rusted tin roof screeches, echoing the owl of last light.
The limbs of the tree dance,
wind pushed togetherly, sway mightily.
We go to the line of the roof,
gable eyes winking, flashing and winking.
It nods to the left, my right, shows me the old house.
The wall of gathered river-cobbles rounded by
Concussion, collision, crafted erosion.
Here they stand, where they were laid down, in lines of curved straightness.
Trapping a horsehair from centuries long gone.
The cobble’s an egg-shell containing a fossil.
River sand limestone, grit, hair and water.
They stack up in courses, lines and right angles.
Long stone for the door jam, windows and corbels.
Put there by Old John, Jack, Will or long-Henry.
My gaze leaps the old house, springs over tin barn
Over to the hedgerow that marches the old road
Laid down by Romans, or even before them.
Trodden on by peddlers, tin-men and farm-hands
Weary and wary and stepping through puddles
Hands cupping treasures, or casting out crumbles
The sky gaze over but never the same one.
The hills have the long watch
The marriage, the murder, the chase and the capture
The lost and the found and the sly interloper
The birth of a baby, the death of a lover
The shriek of a coachwheel, the cry of a robber
The creak of collision, the crack of a leg-bone
The stealing of purses, hearts, souls and virtue .
This road lines past the high hills, the place where my heart lies
Heather, furze, whimberry, rowan and hawthorn
Edge curved paths hug the whitestone cliff
Past the long barrow, the holes of the dry wall a window
The home of the adder, sneck yates, the droveway.
A long stone, a walkway, a ‘wonder-where-that-goes?’
A lost hour, a found way, a new way to Haxby
A once hidden valley, a discarded horseshoe
A long line of engines, toiling and trundling.
I find myself lost and lose myself found
I trudge and upwalk, steps into bounds
The rise is a hill, the steepest of mounds
I slip, only once, my blood stains the ground.
Then I’m free of the climb, up, look once around,
free now of rhyme, now I’m on top of the hill
The top of the hill, here it’s cold and I spy
A bottle, long buried, the neck winks a glimmer.
A picnic, the twenties, flannel for him,
Wool skirt for her, a blanket for both.
Some brown ale, a salt egg, a shared patch of sky.
His interlaced fingers cradle his head
As the sky races on, clouds huddled, rush by
She talks of the future, the summer they’ll wed.
He thinks of the sky, the day it turned red.
Not here, but in Ypres
Green Howards go forward,
Onward to chaos
The mud turns to the colour
Of shepherds warning
A lobster a boiling
Of shouting, screams, shells falling then
-John, what do you think? What shall we do then…?
He blinks, shakes his head,
begs his leave (for now lads)
Of Johnson and Wilson and Smith, Lees and Thomas.
He knows where they are (forever they’ll be lads)
Forever Green Howards, never now tailor
Or farmer, or blacksmith, tanner or turner.
John turns to his Mary, sweet sun on his meadow.
She knows, will not mention,
uses love to heal terror.
They swig from the bottle, then bury it
Under a slip of a Rowan, the berries her children.
The red of a warning, food for the skylark
The finch and the redwing.
Hiding a bottle until now, when I find it.
That was my brief pause, where John had his picnic.
Onward, well downwards
The path, steep, heel ruts for toe-holds,
A curlew overflies and answers another
I dip below wind, warm now and cautious.
It’s steeply slippy, hands grasp the bracken.
The hills have the long watch, the furze, deeply trodden
A march stolen, a hidden down treasure,
A stop, stump-trip shinned knee.
The wait of a parent, the crunch of the gravel,
the kiss of the key on the lock, unsteady.
The stars freckle the night and wink.
The hills know, but will never tell
of the birth and death of those flickery candles.
The dance of the lights, the death of the night
The courtship of the dawn and the gloom.
They have felt the weight of clawed paws
The prance of hares leaping in the long grass
as they pause at the shock of the eclipsing moon.
Here ends the rainbow, here, here and here.
There goes Auld Tom, driving the herd, switch flicking
Feet stretching from lowlands to Durham, finally York.
Here stands James Douglas, his army
of Scots and their taking of Byland.
Here knelt a king, cowed by the Bruce.
The shadow the abbey, whole just for now
Bore witness to the rout.
They marched on the old road, laid by the first feet
Which laid the barrow,
Opened the lime of the hill to bury a king.
The hills embraced him, enfolded his cairn in moss and turf.
Then they waited, until he became part of the earth,
Returned to his home,
Returned to the long watch.