The Old Way 5

Poem five out of six.

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The Old Way 5

 

The Old Way now rises,

Leaving the rich damp soil behind

And attacking the ridge.

It becomes a wound, a scar,

A deep, dry incision in the chalk.

It runs up beneath the shelter of ancient trees,

Their roots knotted and matted beside the path,

It passes a mound, faintly visible in the turf;

The ghost of a cottage, if buildings can become ghosts.

Although is there any reason why they shouldn’t?

If they die abandoned, deserted and unloved,

After long years, perhaps only their sadness remains.

 

There are other ghosts here, too.

You might tell me it is only in my imagination

That I hear the plod of hooves, or

Voices speaking in strange tongues,

That I hear the creaking of cart and harness.

But I have heard them.

I know that we are walking in the footsteps of giants,

And giants do not fade away readily.

 

 

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Sunday Morning

It’s hard to think that just a few days ago we were enjoying exceptionally warm and sunny days for the time of year. This morning the weather is grey and windy and wet, although it is still quite mild.

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That was then…

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…and this is now.

The cats have made it clear they are not going out this morning. One is at the back door obviously pleading with me to do something about the weather. But he always does that when the weather turns bad. And I suppose it makes sense; he knows we give him food and shelter and all the cushions he can sit on, so we must be gods and can therefore fix anything. Surely?

I want to write a review for a book this morning, but I’m finding it hard to get going. That Sunday morning feeling. Getting up late and taking a long time over coffee, indulging ourselves by listening to choral music by Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.

Staring out at the weather.

I am in the process of completing a long poem about a long journey – one that shaped, in many ways, much of the art I practise now. Well, not a long journey in strictly temporal terms, but a bus journey from Delhi to Kathmandu that took about thirty hours, the first of many long bus journeys I have taken in India and Nepal. Sometime afterwards, I had wanted to find a way of recording my impressions of this journey, and toyed with a few earlier poems, and then some watercolour painting, and what amounted to prose in the form of reportage, but nothing seemed to work. This led me to experiment with my painting styles in acrylics, giving rise to the semi-abstract style I have used to paint a number of Indian scenes.

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That was another then. Not the then I was talking about, but another. Quite a similar then, though.

I assumed I’d never get around to recording that journey satisfactorily.

But last month we were travelling home on a bus after dark, going through open countryside near home. I was gazing out of the window into the darkness, when I began to understand exactly how I wanted to write that poem, over *cough* thirty years ago…

And now it is almost finished, with just a bit of tweaking to do.

The Climber – 3

This is the third poem in my series ‘The Climber’. Links to the other 2 can be found at the bottom of the page.

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He breathes climbing.

 

He eats and sleeps climbing.

Hell, I guess he even farts climbing.

 

His would be the van you didn’t notice,

Parked unobtrusively in the farthest corner.

His, the life pared down to the bare minimum.

 

If asked, he might condescend to teach for a day,

To earn enough to buy some food.

For a week or more.

 

Or perhaps to go towards that new rope

That he really ought to get.

 

But he will resent the waste of his time,

When he might be climbing.

 

Just as he will, too, on those days when

The rain just falls and falls.

And he sits frustrated beneath the shelter,

Dispensing good advice and

Recounting adventures

To anyone who will listen.

 

Or muttering ‘Perhaps we should all move

To Spain, or Yosemite,

To somewhere it doesn’t rain

All the bloody time.’

 

But when the weather clears

His good humour will return

And he will be back on the crag.

 

Climbing any route you care to suggest.

Links:

The Climber 1

The Climber 2

Acrobat

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Totally irrelevant photograph: Mt. Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

I don’t suppose he would think of himself as an acrobat,

As anything special.

But I watch him measuring the distance by eye,

Before he gathers himself

And leaps,

Two…

Three…

Four feet into the depths

Down

To land on the tip of a tiny wooden post,

All four paws

Together.

 

The Climber – 1

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A few days ago I went for a walk which included passing along the base of the crag where I was teaching climbing for all those years. It was a fine day, but I was the only one around – no one climbing, or even walking. As you do, I began idly looking at different climbs and visualising the moves I would need to climb them. It was then a few lines came to me that might constitute a poem on the subject.

I wandered around slowly, musing, jotting ideas down in my notebook.

Well, surprise, surprise. I now have several finished poems and will probably put them up here later this year as a series – perhaps once the climbing season has started again, and when I’ve decided what to illustrate them with.

But as a bit of a taster, here is the first one.

He steps one foot onto the thin ledge,

Hugging his body close to the rock face,

And slides,

Slowly,

His fingers walking up the wall,

Into balance.

 

He thrusts a leg out into space

And the watchers gasp.

Is he falling?

They move unconsciously away

From the base of the crag.

 

But no,

He keeps his balance.

 

Ah!

 

Now he reaches up

Up…

Just a little…

Further…

There!

 

Two fingers hook over

A thin flake of rock

And he scrambles up.

 

He smiles.

 

‘It’s all in the technique,’ he calls down.

‘Nothing to do with strength.’

 

Refugees

I posted this poem a year or so ago, and I think it bears re-posting again now. In fact, I think I should post it repeatedly every year until everybody understands the situation most of these people find themselves in through no fault of their own.

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The first time she ever set eyes on the sea,

She was forty seven.

 

It was a long road there.

She set off with little enough,

And arrived with much less.

 

She had a home, once.

A house,

In a well-to-do area of the city.

Life was good.

 

But fear came,

In the form of bullets, shells and bombs.

Once, gas.

Then everyone lived in fear.

 

Her house is rubble, now.

Memories and possessions buried,

Alongside her husband.

 

Alongside her daughter.

 

Alongside her middle son.

 

Her hands are scarred from the digging.

For weeks,

Her palms were raw and bloody,

from blocks of masonry,

Too large to move.

 

Dust and tears.

 

It was bad enough to lose everything,

But when you’re caught in the cross-fire,

And the food runs out,

What else can you do?

 

Her eldest son paid for the crossing,

With borrowed money.

 

Somewhere,

He is ‘paying off’ the loan.

A bonded labourer.

A slave.

 

She fears for him.

 

Her youngest son was washed away.

The dinghy was too small,

The passengers too many.

Fear.

You could smell it,

Alongside the despair.

The panic.

There were fewer of them when the sun rose.

 

There is shelter here,

Of a sort.

But when the wind blows she shivers,

Drawing near to the oil drum blaze.

 

There is food,

Once a day.

Of a sort.

 

There was a welcome.

She soon learns what sort.

 

Now, she walks down to the sea.

 

She wonders whether she should,

Whether she should just,

Just, slip under,

The waves.

 

Winter – a Tanka

I was writing a haiku yesterday, and decided to go the extra mile with it. Traditionally in Japan these poems were sometimes written in the form of tanka, which are essentially poems of five lines rather than three, with a syllable count of 5/7/5/7/7.

They could also be written as linked verse, with one or two poets writing haiku, and others supplying the two remaining lines between each haiku.

I’ve gone down the linked verse route, and also given myself the remit that each verse (of two or three lines) must contain a word or sentiment linking it to those either side – something that was also commonly done.

Yesterday was cold and miserable, hence the results.

It’s my first attempt – please don’t be too harsh!

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The flowers have gone.

Crumbling stems standing askew,

In waterlogged soil.

 

Outlined against the grey sky,

Old willows by the stream.

 

Ten thousand leaves are

All that remain of autumn.

Wistful nostalgia.

 

Memories of warmer days,

Are all but forgotten now.

 

Wrapped up warm and snug,

Watching the grey willows weep.

Hands in my pockets.

 

Leaves fall slowly through the air,

Onto silent black waters.

 

Now a gust of wind

Swirls leaves around and around.

Racing each other.

 

Shifting clouds race overhead,

Sudden drizzle on the breeze.

 

Spiteful winter day,

Grasses shiver in the wind.

Low sunlight dazzles.

 

Walking in meditation,

Clouds unexpectedly clear.

 

Sudden bright sunshine

Reminds me the cold Winter,

Will change into Spring.

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Five o’clock

I’ve been away from the computer for most of the last week, but now I’m back with a slightly longer poem than I usually write.

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At five o’clock the fire is lit.

Around the table we all sit,

With buttered bread and eggs and ham,

With cups of tea and cake and jam.

The idle talk is of the day,

The work now done, the latest play,

And ‘Anything to watch tonight?’

Or in the warmth and soft lamplight,

Perhaps we’ll read and play a hand,

Of whist, or bridge, you understand.

And ‘Don’t forget, at half past nine,

The radio – it’s music time.’

Then bank the fire, put out the lights,

The household settles for the night.

 

The heat blasts out in every room,

And lights and games and TVs soon

Take over so completely that

It’s pointless even trying to chat.

The sounds of gunfire, screaming cars,

Exploding buildings, and on Mars

The aliens armed with laser beams,

Are killed on several different screens

In different rooms by different boys,

With highly deadly killing toys.

The evening mealtime’s such a treat,

With pizza, chocolate, crisps and sweets.

Although it seems they all are eating

Different things at different sittings.

 

‘A cup of cocoa? I don’t think

That that will do, an energy drink

Is what I need, the evening’s young,

And there’s still much that’s to be done.

And if I cannot concentrate,

Upon this game, it’ll be too late,

The zombies will have won and then

I’ll go back down to level ten.’

It’s one o’clock, they still can’t sleep.

There’s not much point in counting sheep,

‘cause they’re all battery-powered toys,

Just so much electronic noise

And moving parts all running round,

And round and round and round and round.

 

I’m standing now beneath night skies,

Pale silver light from fresh moonrise.

I’ve walked for almost half a day,

It takes that long to get away

now, searching for a quiet place

Where I can pause and have some space.

I’m thinking how it used to be,

At five o’clock, the time for tea.

It seems to me that what we’ve gained,

Is not worth any of the pain.

And even more what we have lost,

We should have saved at any cost.

But anyway, now it’s just me

I have my flask, I’ll pour my tea.