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.
An endless sea of ancient oak trees –
swell upon swell it runs to the horizon,
the rasp of a million cicadas a second tide
in the almost night air. Three stars are out.
In the middle distance a village, its lights
hovering between waking and sleep.
Beyond, a faint glow parts earth and sky.
Inklings of civilisation; 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 up from under the bed.
The old dog is dreamhunting again.
Fug of ancient canine wafts up,
a friendly embrace.
The world is at peace.
A company of rooks have commandeered
the 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.
I sit quite still
on the weathered wooden bench
as the caramel coloured chicks
The sharp tugging of beaks
at tender shoots of grass,
the homely hencoop smell –
and I’m five years old and adrift
in summer, giddy, cut loose
from my moorings,
lost but wrapped safe
in solicitous clucking –
The chicks nestle near
in the last rays of the low sun;
the hen, wary, patrols –
and I hold Grandpa’s hand
as we go and lift warm eggs
from their beds of straw.