Country, hills and mountains

Bungay, Suffolk
Skies that spread to the world’s edge
Clouds that climb each other’s shoulders
Wide water meadows rounded by rivers
Flowing to boat-bound broads.

The sun smiles on endless days
Stretching back to times
When castles and churches ruled
And still do, towering over thatch and tile.

Mauve and pink the walls, like the sunsets
Blessing an early autumn.

St Gabriel’s Stream in spring
In emerald vale you wind your wistful way,
Deep down in bluebell woods, by garlic banks,
Through soft earth laid with fallen oaken leaves
And broken branches ripped by Channel gales.

High above a buzzard mews and turns,
Mobbed by cawing crows and screaming gulls.
It finds a refuge up in Golden Cap,
That rears above the fields and woods below.

Deserted village, ancient chapel passed,
You dip and fall into a world of scrub,
Where snakes and lizards find themselves a home
In warmth so rare on windy seaside shores.

Our long day’s walk it was nearly done.
A day of sweet grass and sharp gorse.
Our souls were recharged by the green Sussex downs.
And their lambs, their cows and their hawks.

We’d cleaned out our lungs in the stiff salty breeze
That the cliffs had thrown up to inhale,
Disguising the rays of a burning sun
That assaulted our skins so pale.

A first summer’s walk, our legs felt the pain,
So we dropped from the hills to the town.
From time to time with a whoosh and a whirr,
A cyclist came whistling down.

The ring of a bell made us stand aside
And then to the path we’d return.
Once, as we looked down, we saw in our way
A finger’s length adder, so young.

A pattern of zeds lined up on its back
Beaded eyes in a miniature head.
The first time we’d seen such a snake in the wild.
So still, we first took it for dead.

We thought how to save it. She picked up a stick
Enticing the snake to embrace.
It curled itself round and she lifted it up
And placed it away from the race.

A feeling of virtue suffused us that night
As a well-earned sleep closed our eyes
Communing with nature makes townies feel good
The snake was a bonus, a prize.

The number 31 from Axminster to Bridport, market day
When I grow old, I’ll belong on this bus.
Sensible shoes, anoraks, tweed coats,
creased trousers, opaque tights,
snug fleeces and once-fashionable furs.
With Tam O’Shanters and cheese-cutters,
ladies hats only women can describe,
all haul themselves on the bus, these regular
Saturday folk, going to Bridport market.
The bus is full of gentle mothball smells and
a hubbub of hard of hearing voices.
It would be bankrupt if it needed fares, for
concessions are common, with few folk under forty.

And there she is, the icon of aged assertiveness,
purple cloak, purple headband, and jet-black hair.

The rain just poured and poured,
warned of the flood to come.
Streams and rivers swelled,
burst their banks, and in the town,
rising waters reached the doors.
Sandbags failed to do their jobs
And people went upstairs
To mourn the damage.
Boats floated in unusual places
On top of cars, through doors.
And then the dam burst
and the surge came.
The waters left, mud covered all,
Outside, on roads, and in houses.
Below the town, cars lay tangled
And compressed in scrap heaps.
Bodies lay cast on the river banks,
Their clothes ripped off,
naked like the cows and sheep
they lay with.
The farmers saw their crops
Shaved off their bare land.
And now the people tremble
When they hear thunder.

Country garden in summer
The hills that rise and fall, and hedges dense
With hazel, holly, oaks and shooting ferns
Adorn their sandy banks – a greenwood fence
In which a thousand rabbits take their turns
To dig their burrows, safe, so dark and deep
That foxes won’t get fat on dining here
Nor wheeling buzzards, kestrels diving steep.
And yet they do, for hunger conquers fear.

Our garden lies beside a meadow, lush and green
Where cows who’ve lost their calves now quietly graze.
Do sad eyes mourn a life that might have been,
Or is this yearly loss forgot in days?

And so our lives, in gentle waves we spend
With troughs of grief, more often near the end.

The leaning apple tree
You took me for granted.

In spring, you saw my branches,
Heavy with sweet-scented blossom,
Like all the Dorset apple trees.

Where was your famous human rationality?
You shaped me lop-sided last year,
And made the situation worse.

Not trimming my long North branches,
Stretched out to receive the sun
Shining over the bank to the South.

I succeeded, so was weighed down that side.
You saw my blossom, healthy on the branch.
Replaced by many buds - few dropped early.

You should have known I risked tilting.
With ground-dragging branches, fruit-heavy.
Nature does not always know best!

The mower-man assaulted me.
Just wanting to complete his job.
Who can blame him? The grass grew madly.

By then, you knew I’d be overcome with apples.
You could have written off a few, by summer pruning.
I could have taken it.

And so, I began to lean over.
My South West roots emerged through the ground
Who knows what damage winter frosts will do?

So please prune me early this year.
Pull me back upright, bury my roots again,
To save me for next year.

Morecombelake mist
The mist hovers at hill-top height,
Hesitates, hoists itself a little,
Then descends, blocks our view,
Cooling the air, bringing autumn to summer,
A moist blanket spreads down our valley,
Suffocating plans for a sunny day out.

The ballad of Tess
She came of Dorset country stock.
Durbeyfield was her name.
A maid so fair was never seen,
A rightful source of fame.

And as times passed, her dreams grew great
Of leading a better life.
She hoped that someone smart and rich
Would take her for a wife.

And so it was that Alec came,
False kinsman, him, for sure.
Paid court to Tess and won her heart,
Then had her like a whore.

Her babe was born, she loved it so,
Though Alec went his way.
She rocked and nursed it in the fields,
Midst scent of new mown hay.

No matter that she loved her child,
Its life came to its end,
And Tess was let with memories sweet
Of damage she could not mend.

But still her beauty stayed with her
And Angle, like a moth,
To her bright lantern flickered close
And plighted her his troth.

The day that they were wed, our Tess
She sold him of her woe
And though he loved her with al his heart,
He knew he had to go.

Our Tess was left all by herself
And anger became her life,
Her dreams were lost, but Alec found,
She stabbed him with a knife.

She paid the final price poor girl
But she’s still here to tell
Young girls that dreaming has its price.
It leads direct to hell.

Late spring 2013
Long held back, buds burst into action,
Shooting out blossom or leaves,
Clothing bare branches in
Long-awaited softness,
Green, white or pink.

At last the insects have food and housing.
At last the swallows can feed on the wing
And cease wondering why they returned,
While I can open my shirt, roll up my sleeves and absorb the sun.

Beckford Bridge
The sudden hump’s redundant curve,
its substitute a flat, slab-bridge,
crosses the charging Yarty,
swelled by storms,
tearing apart its sandy banks.

Summer-leaved trees fringe emerald fields,
laced with pungent dung, and
sunbeams skating across the vale
paint rainbows on a sudden squall.

Through flinty furrows,
wheat has quietly shoved,
accompanied by a swirling symphony of
water’s bustle and lamb bleat.

The Hardy Memorial
Far on the ridge we saw you standing,
Propping up a gloomy sky,
A suffocating sheet spread over land and sea.
When we stood near you
Your distinction disappeared.
A bare black brick tower
Amid barren waste
With threatening signs
A private place,
No parking, no picnics.
Pay now or go your  way.
And so we left.

Sky-hanging, wing-tips barely moving
Wind working for you, ruffling plumage.
Watching every movement on the ground,
Seeking your target’s fur or feathers.
If you can’t see one, you move straight on.

Find your next aerial watch-tower,
Hovering until you’ve checked the ground,
Then moving on. In our hills, no cars
To do your work, leaving you road-kill,
Just your energy and vigilance.

The abundance of rabbits, squirrels,
Voles, dormice, or larks, tits and field-fares,
A feast if only you got them all.
Then you see a rabbit. Your wings fold,
You dive, talons extended fully.

Last-minute braking, but you’re too late
Your intended prey found its burrow
Just in time. You rise again, soaring,
Until you find your next hunting ground.
Without hesitation, you know where.

You had marked it long before your dive.
So you proceed until your meal’s found,
A score or more hovering places,
Until you are sated and you’ve filled
The bellies of your partner and chicks.

Mount St Helens
The scientists knew. On the paper,
the pen was a moving finger,
pointing to impending doom,
saying mountains would skip like rams,
but faster, higher. Bulging, pregnant,
the earth was slowly moving.

The scientists said “Go, don’t pack.”
And most did, though some stayed,
confident, to be swept up in the
blast from hell, of rock, ash,
fire, smoke and deadly gas,
that roared from the mountain’s
slipped side, combing
tens of thousands of trees flat,
blasting water from the lake,
greying out the sky, cooling the globe.

Forde Abbey, Somerset - Open Day, July 212
Warm-stoned ancient abbey, clock tower-crowned 
Walls and windows reflected in
A small, shimmering lake,
Bordered by bright green grass.

On a slope under shady trees,
We sit and watch the sun-drenched world,
Neat laid-out stalls, busy or quiet,
Owners unsure what appeal they lack.

Suddenly, shooting up,
The wind-wafted fountain
Sprays the lake edge, drives dozing
Picnickers back to dry land.

Announcements flow, fuzzy, distant, jumbled,
A man who loves to hear his voice,
Half-obscuring far-off trains and planes
That add layers to the summer’s buzz.

The visitors stroll, undistracted,
Some young, some old, some barely live.
Too many pink-skinned, seizing a rare sunny week,
Ignoring the risk.

Old ladies with hats, some thin, some fat,
Wobble walking-sticked round the stalls.
Husbands long gone, handbags strapped
Over skinny chests or pendulous breasts.

Above the park, vintage cars
Ranged in rows of shiny pride,
Reflect their owners’ age and
Bring our own memories back.

Losing Lyme
Warmer winters bring
daily deluges, drenching Dorset.
Hills are heavy, soil saturates,
turf tilts, starts to slide.
Groaning ground awakes the town,
to tell them their
futile fight to resist ruin
has failed, and East Lyme
slips seawards.
St Michael’s tower topples
slowly onto its side,
broken trees creep casually,
like stiff snakes
while Mary Anning’s bones are bared.

Lake storm
The sun’s reflected in the glossy water,
but a breeze begins, turns into a wind
That works hard to ruffle the surface
Creating waves, while storm clouds gather
And gusts turn the lake into a raging lion
To threaten sailors, but then abate
And the mirror slowly returns.

I stand at the bus-stop, burning,
sweat trickles down my leg, into my shoes.
The sun bakes the roof and me,
senseless shade, no respite.

The church clock strikes steadily,
Marking the long, lingering hours of
Summer noon, when dogs doze
and humans hide from the heat
until the evening breeze blows.

Stonebarrow Hill in winter
I close the door, go through the gate
Turn up the road, into the path
My boots sink through the cloying mud.

I climb the hill, through mud and thorns
Emerge and breathe, the gorse behind
Spread out my arms, as does the bay
Below the sky - a weary blue
That fights the clouds, their edges gold
From setting sun that disappears
And leaves behind a dozen greys
As clouds and sky merge into sea.

The icy wind cuts through my clothes
And as the light begins to fail
I turn my back and leave the bay
Go down the path, pick up old wood
To feed the fire that warms the house
And keeps away the winter’s worst.

The wind
The wind blows
And wakes waves
In serried rows.

Fierce the wind blows.
The lighthouse glows
Saving ships.

Fierce the wind blow,
Waking waves.

Golden Cap dig 2011
Three thousand years ago
Four nobles died, were laid to rest
In mounds heaped up, for all to know.
And when the wild wind from the west
Whips up the waves along the bay,
It gives the cliff its sternest test.
The sand and clay are washed away,
Encouraging the cliff to fall
And turn the sea a foaming grey.

Behind the edge a crack once small
Now opens up and breaks apart
Reveals a fresh and sandy wall.
And now the slip has reached the part
Where four mounds mark the heroes’ grave
And so the digging had to start.

Lulworth Cove
Sea of tranquillity, enclosed in a bay
Carved out by Channel breaker-storms
Smashing the hard rock, then the soft chalk.
We climb the ridge, look down on you,
Hemmed in by the thunder of artillery fire,
Rippling its echo across the sea.
Next day, we approach you through
Breathless ascent and descent along the
Switchback of cliffs. We sit and gather
Pure white stones from your beach.

Beachy Head
The wind ruffles the chalky grass,
Trying to knock us down.
I find a stone, go to the edge,
Frightened, draw back my arm,
Use all my strength and throw,
Lie flat and follow it down but
I can’t see it hit the water. Instead,
I rest my eyes on the rusting
Sea-shattered wreck.
“Get back” my mother screams.
She hates all five of us milling around,
Chasing each other on top of the cliff.
My father smiles, he loves the scene,
Loves to scare her. He always did.

From every castle, rock and hill,
The view's the same, but changes.
The calm Dordogne weaves its way
Between the patchwork fields.

One field waves in golden corn,
Lit by sun all afternoon.
Its neighbour now breathes in the shade,
Heavy with the sweetening grape.

Far below, the farmer strides,
Sweating in late summer warmth,
Dog by side and gun in hand,
Seeking the meat of the boar.

All around this ancient bowl
The town-tipped rocks boast
Their towering majesty that
Awes and dwarfs us.