You could see the unexpected humidity
in the weep of the trees
almost a rainforest drip in the woods of Sussex
and being tall I had to dip to avoid
the damp stroke of lime leaf on my neck
that of a sweated relative
or grease-ball teacher.
Underfoot the cinder path was an equal impact
on memory as I lugged my groceries
that playground in Surrey which grazed kids
and scuffed the sandals
a home to sparkled
stones and shiny ants
and games of ball
and secret skipping songs of girls.
You too have climbed
from the alluvial swamp
of youth, of immaturity,
that dark cloy which sticks,
a viscid ignorance,
up from that shallow place
to our adapted older-selves,
without His re-engineering,
One’s dulled interest long lost –
ever since J. Robert Oppenheimer
re-purposed the identity of God,
and made mankind the last hope.
‘Survival of the fittest,’ is questioned,
but we stand, good, on two legs,
presently erect on this planet,
us, the last keepers of the foul waters
in which we clean our children,
Each weekend was a curst return
boot-filled, lifeless ditches,
each boy scolded for deep cuts
and rips off furrow-tripped meadows.
We ranged, untouchable, free,
across fallow farmland,
never knowing every acre was doomed.
The River Addle, our course of choice,
went first, piped and diverted.
Next came the laying of black lanes
for shot past trucks and cars –
killing machines, legally driven,
which then road-blocked our crossings.
Our wild life was inequally divided
by over-takings and lines of sped death,
cutting us off from the dark woods,
that far copse of unmanaged oak
which, before they lay the orbital road,
was our furthest-ever destination
on our stone-kicked roamings,
in squelch-squeezed Wellies.
We had read nature’s encyclopedia
within the oaks’ shadowy gloom –
the same woods where Dad
had me shoot all that moved.
I have danced on the stage
at the Royal Albert Hall,
sidled a swept Princess
and a hundred-like fools.
Their rules of movement,
to me unsaid,
I turned to a tune,
not that which played.
I spun below domes,
under the clouds of song,
with a woman so slight,
because ballet is wrong:
Their rules of movement,
to me set blind,
I turned from their tune,
not the dancing kind.
From Kensington Gore
dropped on to Queen’s Gate,
ripped fast from the ball
by my own complaint.
Their rules of movement,
to me mistimed,
I removed from that tune,
that which was mine.
Take me from such
dance floors and grace,
I have no true patience
to keep me engaged.
‘The years teach much which the days never know.’
Half a century has passed,
of my oblivious education:
Valves glowed behind Bakelite,
those wireless invocations,
mail was flap-rattled –
some bore oddity stamps,
wearing cent-priced strangers,
sent from inky confidantes.
My search was inherited,
in spine-bust encyclopaedias:
I learnt the word ‘concentric’,
and skipped the Roman Empire.
Past that rough triangle
off Heath Road, Weybridge,
a slow junction lined
by gloom-slimmed birches,
these woods we all knew
as the murder patch,
where a woman was killed,
his low theft gone wrong,
and a foul faked rape
by other thrust means,
(facts then unknown):
we kids were alive to
her near place of death,
there scoured by detectives’
and we looked for shadows
on every pass,
we innocents whelped
on his criminal act.
Recall is now grey scale,
but I once dreamt in colour
without any gnaw of limp,
or hint of restricted reach:
back when stiff was good:
And I would wake to this:
Eight AM, clear-road Sunday:
Floored up the A316,
in my stripped-down Landie,
me, blown, almost removed,
with the doortops off:
I circled, again,
old Trafalgar Square,
to corral, with fumes,
the climb-shined lions,
those I once ascended,
(now boxed snapshots).
I then accelerated
under Admiralty Arch,
to bomb down that drive,
The Mall, a red carpet
of tarmac, on my whirred
fast past the Jacks
of Buckingham Palace,
and then out, away,
to the Home Counties,
where my rough thoughts
took someone else’s wife, again.
There to see my father,
propped-up in a polished box,
one that my eldest brother,
chose, on the basis of, what?
Death was still too sour to us,
the parlour’s air throat-clogging,
this feared place of passing youth,
ten yards from the level crossing:
Often halted by its turned gates,
and scoured spin of wheels,
on our way in and out of town,
with Dad, and his thousand skills:
he could dissect a battleship,
break apart any gun,
extemporize upon anything,
with sketch, and rule of thumb.
Now boxed-in, he tarried,
we’d leave him, lonely, there:
my brother could not stand
the shop’s execrable despair:
In that time, almost gone,
I learnt about death’s prop:
that last lesson from my father,
our paths no longer crossed.
This is my constant (since childhood):
along a rough path of almost-identified
bird song, high-scattered;
but I am no longer drawn to the slip and suck
of uneven grasses, to be welly-filled
so my socks squelched:
Not over the land topped by last year’s
stamped brambles: As ever the grey sky
she rests lightly on this damp copse,
where locked-in trees are north-greased
The birds I once shot, our farmers’ pests,
ruminate overhead on bowed wires,
adjusting with flap-claps,
and, still, ever, that distant roll of
tarmac breeze, of sped tyres
on a constant road.
The men of Darwin don’t dance,
they prop their lagered weights
on arms over beer glossed bars,
as turned-from-Sheilas oscillate,
in girl-twisted-girl disco shapes:
We had them, choreographed,
in moves (swifter than drinks poured
by locals), the lit-girls entranced,
by us, the few English horde,
we rout of travellers took the floor.
I woke late at the end of the world,
with a forced order to bed rest,
the night had left me pain-curled,
in that ghost town, now unimpressed,
the ideal spot for a nuclear test.
Days later, I limped, gingerly,
to Uluru, to her sunken otherness,
but I was floored, by my jiggery-injury:
Propped at the shaded base,
as Aussie men shimmied across her face.