Three

 

80. And so in this hard time, among the tangled shoots,
Returning like my father from his silent walks,
Straitened and sharpened as the winter pokes
Up into happening and in unclothed thoughts,
                Huddled together, and of their time.

You all I wanted: no larger claim
From someone unleased and made wild with grief,
Unsettled, ungregarious, not content with life.
Always it was you, one life, one home
                Endlessly nurtured if all else fail.

Why must you track me, over footbridge and stile,
As slowly the evenings reach out in March
And the couples form up and from church to church
The weddings announce in their happy peal
                The generations continuing and passing on?


Vast and withdrawn, they are silent again —
The forest and the Downland, not now sending
To an old man bewildered, trembling and handing
On from a patrimony hardly his own
                Even a shadow of that erstwhile fire.

How can you say that? My successors are
At large in my purpose, and  even their clothes
Extend in my walking. The story book leaves
Surely a wonderment. What is the fear —
                That you will not find me, not here or far?

As a man traduced and disfigured by joy,
Dwindled to misogyny who knows not why
But must cancel your syllables and on his cue
Behave as a stranger and, as you draw near
                Turn as though smiling and never bravely.

You do not know how your absences leave me,
You do not know how the years condemn.
How weighted with cares I continue, am
Stumbling on the far side of what should approve me
                But didn't and went laughing, sauntering on.

I am dust on the roadside and in the first breath of dawn,
The frost that holds fast to the pinnacled gorse,
The faint line of green in long-tramelled grass.
I am this and am nothing but the notice sewn
                In a thousand small touches of tempered pain.

Who would not feel for the terror I'm in,
When every dead creature and each small thing
Is around me attending, and insistent and long
They call to me, speak to me, that the solid stone
                Dissolves in the patois like emptied smoke?

On some days, some weathers I'm heedless and take
The paths through the forest, which is restless or still.
The stands have their rituals, which is admirable.
The sycamore, beech and the heavy oak
                Are nodding their heads and turning and caring

90.For me not at all. Was my gift of hearing
By you then encouraged, or my double sight?
My learning is slow and is naming by rote
Pubstops and roadstops, and the churchyard staring
                Hard at me passing with my course near run.

What is the evening but a conflagration
Of a radiance unanswered or that had no place?
From shunt-yards and depots the lifetime's lease
Is whittled to a platform, and the stopping train
                Branches to sidelines we never took.

The doors close, the guard waves, the carriages stack
Loosely concertina'd as the small lives wend
Outward and threading through the terraced land
Of gardens and allotments, the small duty stock
                Of lives ever forming, continuing free

To vast shimmied hopes, as over flatlands the low
Hills are as clouds and the springtimes are rising
Past what they grasped at, the small fists closing
Not on contentment, or not that they knew,
                But vaguer and thinner after all.

And settling, impregnations like a ragged smell,
A game in the yard that must shut them in.
Graffiti on the brickwork, plans stoic and plain,
Mouldering to nothing as the long years roll
                To the year's occasion or maybe not.

Substance to imagining: if an unframed thought
Is sun on the counterpane abruptly gone,
When all through the curtains the long campaign
Is of the clouds in white plumage, eddying, yet
                An absence, a passing from loss to loss,

Can there be keepsakes, that nonetheless
Emerge from our thinking as we drive on past
Some morning in thought, and closely pressed
By a matter of factness that cuts across
                The veins and freckles in an older hand?

Some turning, some echo, some lapse in the wind:
Nothing exceptional, an ordinariness —
A cottage, a churchtower, an arch framed by trees,
A belonging to others that distances lend —
                Returning once more to our childhood days.

Which are past, hardly present, though that present lies
Hazily around us that the house was ours.
Rain is on the window and the dropping years
Bring clamour and laughter, and still there goes
                Always the high sound drearily on.

You do not know the afflictions I'm in.
You do not know what that absence sends.
It is silent. It is listening. Even my hands
Are flayed with your touch, and the small parts sewn
                On my skin are a leprosy and a loss.

100.Who could have but contempt at this,
As I stand to my maker and the small clothes itch
On my skin, on my conscience, as occasions catch
In the hemline and flounce of whatever I dress
                In furthering my going into womanhood?

First I was storm-bird on the weltering tide
Sent headland to headland by granite fists.
And now I am warning of the far grey west's
Lift into daylight and passing, the last clouds sped
                 Over a torrent of turbid rain.

What's encompassed? Now tell me: the sea flows on
Deeper and more violent than the surface swell.
Under the water the lobster pots twirl
In a current that buffets and will buffet again
                  Making the inmates their very bars.


I want to be walking on more yielding shores,
On headlands in weathers when the whistling air
Evacuates the body and my fingers gnaw
At the rich sense of being, to dissolve and as
                 A name to continue, a darkening voice.

I thought the refusing would further contain us,
I thought in enchantment you would hold me where
Retrenchments would make me even more
Reverent and truthful, content with less:
                But no, there is only hiss of the tapes.

I have walked up bewildered through steepening slopes
That pass into hawthorn, then nettles, to stunted oak,
The path growing broader into gleaming chalk
Until there is nothing, just grasses, and the windy tops
                Of the high beeches tossing: alone, cloud-cropped.

What stays, what passes? Through the deep-mired yard
The cattle are plodding, the gate lies adrift
To the  weather, the sunlight, the ever-soft
Rain of the springtime, however viewed -
                Still I am chastened and only chose

To be nothing in this, not the nights or the days,
But only the pistil in the small hopes springing
Like poppies from the seed-drill, opening and flowering
In gardens, allotments, the terraced rows
                Where the lives are still parcelled by the simple laws.

I know them, I like them, they have battered cars,
Are kindly, hard-working: they come to the door
Smiling, hands wet, as though to adhere
To a "take us as you find us", as the daylight steers
                  Round and again the cluttered room.

All have their habits, their workmates, the same
Sequence of moves on the checkerboard
Of outings and shopping and drinks at the pub.
A start and return, following a dream
                Heartlessly etched on the daylight's skin.

 

Now rewritten and published as a free ebook by Ocaso Press.

 

part one     part two    part three    part four