A hubbub of sparrows
in the bald black boughs of a beech tree
swap stories of spring.
A hubbub of sparrows
boot prints and paw marks
notes on invisible staves
mute song of winter
A compact black Zen priest,
he sits in the exact centre
of a perfectly green field.
In the early morning mist,
in the blistering noon heat,
in the fading colours of dusk.
Master of alert meditation.
His body is humming with
the mantra of swift death.
Such innocence. Such faith.
They are long gone.
Long gone from the now tame valley of the Saane.
In olden times
they were abroad here, fleeing from storms
and sheer starvation:
the wild blond-bearded men dragging baggage
of tattered womenfolk
and meagre, filthy pigs and children; desperate
for shelter and a home
in our inhospitable, narrow mountain valleys.
They’re just a rumour now,
lost in a legend. Only some autumn nights,
when storms rage
all around the comfortable farmhouse
and the sturdy stable,
we keep the lantern burning in the kitchen
and huddle close, hearing
the harsh barbaric voices, hammering fists
on double-bolted doors,
dogs whimpering, the desperate lowing
of the cattle as
the seven thousand Friesians stare at us
from empty sockets
on their endless aimless journey in the dark.
A few millennia hence
(fresh from inventing
the shovel and the spade)
those who came after us
will be chancing upon
an ancient sign bearing
an opaque message from
a more illuminated time:
a smiling Death’s-head
on fluorescent yellow,
radiating magic rays.
they will start digging.
Where will the tide of ancient oaks spend itself?
Swell upon swell it runs towards the horizon,
the rasp of a thousand cicadas a second tide
in the almost night air. Three stars are out.
In the middle distance, the lights of a village
hover between waking and sleep;
beyond, in that glow between earth and sky
faint inklings of Siena or Florence.
the rimless pool
last vessel of spirituality
mildly chlorinated transcendence
as if you could simply
swim out there
Tide of birdsong washing over the pillow,
morning light zebrastriping the wall.
I surface to bubbles of drowsy excitement
drifting from under the bed.
The old dog is dreamhunting again.
Fug of ancient canine wafts up
like a comfortable, friendly embrace.
The world is at peace.
A company of rooks have commandeered
my tree tops, cawing their raucous orders
to the foul-mouthed platoon of carrion crows
billeted lower down.
Their croaking sorties darken my window –
but shush: from his high lookout a blackbird
raises his voice, rehearsing spring rebellion.
I clear my throat.
Assemble all the implements.
Then lock the door and set to work
when night falls.
It takes the darkness
for the thing inside to stir, and hours
of tender teasing out before it shows its shape.
Then deftly, cautiously, you set it in a vice:
compress, condense, and purify;
decide what must be smooth and what left rough.
At last you chase its silver surface; polish round
and round until it gleams with hope
and sparkles with despair.
Now get up from the table
with its paperful of fragile words.
Unlock the door. Admit the day.