Some people say an ancient race landed
a spaceship here a thousand years ago.
They sent out scouts; explored the land;
settled, and tilled the soil. Then famine came,
and war. All memory ends here.
The travellers are gone; their ship, forgotten.
Until tonight. Tonight I walk the length
of the great hull. Anchored by buttresses,
pinned down by rusty scaffolding, it lies
a prisoner under an alien sky, the spire
straining to make contact with the stars.
A late car passes in the rain. Lights flicker
on the walls. I hear the swish of tyres
on wet tarmac; the hum of mighty engines
waking up. The ship is stirring. Timber
creaks; a finial falls, a flying buttress
scatters Purbeck stone, the sheer sides
soar up, vanish into space –
I shut my eyes – and it is nothing –
just a tale – as insubstantial as the wind
that shakes the chestnut trees and chases
leaves across the black, deserted Close.
Nobody seems to know why the Vikings came
to L’Anse aux Meadows. Surely not
for the meadows (no grass here), nor
the grapes the Vinland of the ancient saga
conjures up (no grapes). I blame
the boredom of interminable winter night,
the Norse testosterone egged on by mead.
Maybe they didn’t come at all –
the experts differ. But here we stand,
stooped in a spick and span,
faithfully reconstructed sod house.
The Basques, though,
they were here for sure,
across the Strait in Labrador.
A hundred years of slaughtering
the Right Whale, pouring him in barrels
to illuminate the salons of old Europe.
We visited the traces of their trade
in Red Bay, and saw a few survivors
(whales, not Basques: they all were home
by sixteen hundred.)
So were the Portuguese from Bonavista –
more canny than the Irish and the Welsh,
the Dorset men and those from Devon
who kept returning season after season,
then left their homes for good,
built shacks, a fish flake to eke out
precarious livings salting cod
until the fish was finally gone
from Newfoundland –
and now it was the outporters
themselves who were hung out to dry,
uprooted once again, their salt box homes
abandoned, shattered windowpanes
inviting in the fog… Fuck Off ’s the message
globalisation sends to Newfoundland,
and those who have a soul to sell jump ship
to drill for oil in Fort McMurray.
For those whose soul’s not marketable
there’s a shop in Water Street, Fog Off,
that sells cool sweaters to keep tourists warm
and gives a share to charity:
for those whose minds fog up
with alcohol, with drugs and
homelessness in a lost land.
A strange place, this –
and what a lucky find!
The right whale, codfish, seals:
at the rim of nothingness,
a mirage found in ice and fog,
free for the taking,
and taken –
by Basques and Bretons,
men from Dorset, Devon.
A new found land –
paid for in shipwreck,
exile and loneliness,
A strange place, this.
The sadness of a lucky find.
The hills like dusty waves –
and that’s an eagle, surely,
floating over El Horcajo.
A herd of black pigs
snuffle close to greet the car
along the bumpy track.
stalk the courtyard
stabbing at grains of corn.
Behind the wire-mesh window
a yellow digger dozes
in the evening sun.
Dusk, and a restless bird calls
in a foreign language.
On the edge of sleep
the sound of phantom cowbells.
In the small hours
thin dogs howl from hill
to distant hill:
discordant whale song
in this sea of soil.
under a grey Cotswold sky:
summing up faded lives;
and the roofs
beyond the graveyard:
under a grey Cotswold sky.
Miles of louring cloud
over the sodden peat
and huddling cottages.
Who’d live here but
the lichen and the crows?
Only the men who
keep this art alive:
to set the rain on fire.
In a place of vast surpassing beauty
a man started building a path
to a view that was
just as fine as
Why is he doing it the locals asked
you can bet he’s going to
take money off some
And in time people came from afar
to climb that path to a view
that was just as fine
as any other
And so he grew
into a contented old man
happy in the surreptitious gift of
beauty he’d given the foreign dupes.