Read him like a ticker tape forecast
- he walks a splash closer to your legs,
nudges his message
home, go home, must go home now, so
we detour over fields of baked clay,
pushed on by the dimming light,
unpacking each other’s faces
in the flashes he has predicted.
At the forest edge the sky
begins to rock and roll, we add
to the percussive threat, his an off key aria,
mine, more jolly, I think.
With the house in sight the wet
arrives, single drops on shoulder,
arm, leg, then joined up sheets
that drain my shirt of colour.
We make a synchronised rush
for the door; he slithers
under my bed to wait for the diminuendo
I snuggle below the covers with my book.
now two poems about the hens ... winter, summer ... the same path differently
There & Back
Under the twisted willow’s tangled threads,
avoiding their tinsel of rain, I pass through
the gate that closes with a bent wire loop,
my tread meets yesterday’s footprints
in the clog of clay and last year’s wheat
and the hens start to gather, anticipating
cheese rind, peelings, stale baguette
exchanged for several speckled eggs
- no question of who gets the best deal.
A Quartet for Today
This morning’s sky is shy,
like a child who thinks she’s spoken
out of turn and feels her first blush
sweep her cheeks.
On my way to collect eggs, a grass snake
crosses my path -the elegant passage
of dark chevrons glide from the twisted
willow ‘s under-floor to honeysuckle overgrowth.
The cockerel utters his struggley sound,
he’s journey fresh, transferred from market cage,
where two steps were too many, to a stadium
with four hens that I suspect of bulling.
On my return I pass a dewy eyed web
on couch grass stalks, this one seen,
saved, like the fragrance of citronella candle
the morning after the flame is snuffed.
at about the same time
On this day
summer flowers in a autumn morning
tightly bound rosebuds, pallid petals
blue tits busy in the gauze of the passiflora
five deer crossing a fallow field
bleached strips of clay, not quite crumbling underfoot
a blackbird rummaging in leaf fall
the blow of night air as you open the door for the dog
posted January 2010
The HawkA hawk autographs the sky
at the far far end
of my half hectare.
He parabolas over
crunchy cut channels of french clay.
I remain unable to explain
the phenomenon of our difference.
Field noticesLast time I walked up this hill
the field over there
had a cow grazing solidly.
She took no notice of me.
Today the field is a shadow
of itself. Abandoned,
fence-less. I notice
how the grass grows.
Freezing fogAll day freezing fog keeps us
wrapped in sweaters, scarves, socks
released from a chrysalis of warm winters.
We remember the choice shape of logs,
how to keep the range alight with steady
glows, ready for the morning.
Silver kettles sing all day, emptied
each evening into rubber bottles,
snug in quilted coats to warm our beds.
Statues of yesterday’s trees reach
into ice vapour, their disappointed
buds set to wither with the shock.
The wind changes, warm dampness
seeps into our bones,
then once again, freezing fog.
Winter in the houseWaking to the cockerel, snow on the Pyrenees, mist in the fields, church bells.
Cooking on the range, bread, risotto, porridge,
so many meal possibilities, heat for the room
clothes to dry on the high rack,
boiling water for tea, dishes, hot water bottles.
Digging leeks, pulling cabbage for minestrone
started with a sofrito of last
summer’s onions and garlic, finished
with parsley that realised the hope of its sowing,
Watching the oak tree hold its leaves until the last
minute, winter canopy over an acorn lawn
littered with first primroses, sticks discarded
by dogs, the lasting green of hedgerow.
Feeling cold, moving logs from outside
inside to warm for burning, warm
enough now to meander the garden
oleander, pinus –all in good order.
Sleeping behind shutters, sounds and sights left to their being.
One wall, two storiesMy daughter-in-law recreates
the wall that joins two halves of our home.
First she crafts a solid base, roots
debris from ancient cracks, splits
new bricks to complete the puzzle.
She hoses the crumbling face,
letting wetness soak to its heart
for seven restless days. For three nights
a palette of practice samples crowd
her dreams. The spectrum of colour intrudes
until she chooses: top patch in the last row.
A peachy cream, sun touched
to blend with the summer wheat,
to give winter cold a nodding glow.
Next the calculation: ingredients per metre.
On day six she mixes water, lime,
grey, white, sand coloured sand
(sifted on days four and five). Overnight
this sand will take the water to its heart.
I’ll add red and yellow pigments tomorrow,
she says, for an un-kept look.
The materials are ready. She aims
to finish the two stories in one day.
Crouched into corners, balanced
on boards across interlocked girders
she dances the huge palette across
vertical terrain. Her finale eases
the skim to a silk skin of satisfaction.
I take her tea in a mug with no handle,
offer chocolates, later soup.
Mostly, I listen in the fresh faced
silence of her concentration,
to words that scan re-plastered pages,
take their places on unending lines,
for stories from the roots of the wall.
Everything comes to those who wait: so said my GranLater that day I take the dogs out. He stops
under the tree where a stick,
thrown by the last person who walked them,
is waiting. She hesitates
then bounces after a twig
that shakes into shards
as it falls through heavy air.
He is still waiting so I mime looking
for something, anything; something
stronger than my last find.
I am rescued by a tree that suggests
someone has practised
their post mortem technique. Insides
exposed, all sizes of limbs laid out.
Soon we tire of the stick game. He finds
the log just where he left it last time.
She and I continue along the margins
of the set-aside. He waits, finds
somewhere for his log to spend the night,
pretends to have had enough, then
joins our climb to the next field.
I walk from the grassy edges of the wood,
onto the field: they hesitate.
Did the last person who walked them turn
back here? I continue.
The field has a welcome flatness,
its crop chopped, its soil waiting
to be turned into ankle-turning lumps.
I place one foot either side of the wheat bristles,
their tickle marks my ankles. The dogs spin,
jump, circle each other and me, or stand,
watching for deer that I hope stay
in the woods. Going back
he and I are ahead, she is either
prolonging the moment or unable to keep up.
Later that evening I see two deer
beyond the glow of my last
glass of 2004 Bordeaux. They’re close by,
later closer, marking our drive.
Next morning we are out early. He streaks away,
she stays close. The deer cross
the field, moving out of sight. I stop
for webs that haunt the damp grass,
for the bird whose seven notes were the last
sound I heard last night. On our way home
we meet him below the waiting stick.
Waking upThe house stretches and stirs into morning
I hear a blue tit’s five note trill,
hoop, hoop from the woods, church bells.
Cats arrive from overnight
places, the sun brushes bare fields,
poplar leaves, our stony path.
Someone descends the wooden stairs
the shake, shake shape of a waking dog follows.
In and out of fluHead ache, sore throat, heavy limbs,
do I have this flu that’s in the news?
Rest, they say, when there’s so much
to do, I let others bring water, tea,
maybe a fan, what do you think?
… tired, too tired …
Three days later, feeling better
I know I had flu.
A foot, a hand and a buttercup tileYou lift your foot from buttercup tiles
swept, grouted, glued, cut to fit
and if poetry can tell it backwards,
begin the moment the grout still
splatters the tiles, then separates
into powder and fugalastic that swoops
back into blue plastic cartons,
when scattered spacers refill
gaps, un-dissected tiles lift, repack
into stacks, glue dissolves,
powder pours back into untorn sacks,
watch water run up the pipe, goods return
to shelves, credit card debited,
now the need to decide, one from so many, but
you place your hand on the buttercup tile.
Market triflesIn Lectour market some shops spill
onto pavements, others remain behind
open doors. We stop at a stall.
Salted almonds, olives, sun dried tomatoes,
candied kiwi invite a queue.
I nudge Dordogne strawberries into my basket,
choose a shady place to watch a clown
take a long, pink, flat balloon,
he blows, twists, knots, twists. Another long
blow, more twists, the final knot, a child smiles.
Further down, tinned fois gras, bottled cassoulet
keep company with Floc - a sweet aperitif
good in trifle, or over ice, people reject
slack-eyed fish, and from out of the crowd
English vowels announce
I’ll be down at six, the pig will be ready by then.
In the heatLe Gers, midsummer, midday,
in a white chair tucked into the shade
just me and Sons and Lovers, ready to read
whether Paul, leaving Miriam, his nun,
will marry Clara, what Mrs Morel will say
about this, will another painting sell
for another twenty pounds?
A black bodied bee shifts from one
flower to another, its wings like ash seedlings,
now in morning glory’s faded trumpets,
then the cerise path of petunia.
This original penguin has Maidstone Girls Grammar School
stamped on pages toasted to fragile flimsiness.
Often I turn two at a time letting
Lawrence’s prose slip its style.
In the small pine a wren waits, flies down
to feed from the parched path, returns,
then tries the stones on the other side,
a cabbage white disappears, the bird leaves,
- its hot, too hot, even for
Sons and Lovers, the book drops
into the shade of the white chair.
Summer Haiku, 2009curled cat
on my tapestry
I understand why
bakers rise early
along their cleavage
reveal pink flesh
4 speckly hens, boxed
now free to lay
a tray of coriander
bullfrog on the prowl
caponata for supper
middle of summer
cut fennel flowers
scatter their seeds
a pretty nuisance
as 3am air
strokes my face
the cat and I listen
behind netted windows
a warm summer house
humming bird moth
heatwave storm clouds
red onion papers
colour the compost
a row of drips
along the chair’s edge
at the blossom end
food for the hens
at ground level
survive the heat
final Ashes test
west of Astaffort
slipping the horizon
cricket ball sun
one ripening pear
amongst curling leaves
we drag the mattress
onto the terrace
four segments of tomato
yellow, anise, plum, beef
Mauvezin garlic festival
cloves building blocks
houses, boats, a gramophone
honey toned lizard
disturbs sleeping cat
a protesting paw
waiting for the plough
one day of rain
the sun returns
bag of flour
invaded by spiders
sent down to the hens
fold into white throats
another wasps’ nest
in the broken bricks
by the heat wave sun
drought shrunken earth
releases the gate
hens enjoy leeks
the buzz of flies
irritates my aching head
A plumber for ChristmasDecember 2009, the plumber is delayed
until Christmas Eve. All day
we step over tools, walk round gas cylinders,
make fresh coffee . He stays late, making
his family wait for their Le Réveillon .
He leaves us a fire in the cooking stove,
a smell of the new, apologises for the mess.
We say we do mess and begin the undo,
vacuum, wipe, pick up one euro sized copper pipe pieces
shedding sweaters in the warmth .
I watch the dial move from cool to very hot,
put the kettle on the hob, tuck scrubbed potatoes
in the oven; others split logs, long and narrow,
someone shouts ouch, this water's hot.
Happy Christmas, Bonne Noel.
Desktop ForecastYesterday my desk top predicted
sprinkles, yet the dogs stretched
in the sun, we shed layers
chopping, splitting, stock piling logs
and worms stirred under
last summer's flowerpots.
Today I wake to soft snow that soon
slushes away, leaving bare branches.
The small flurries now forecast fail
to arrive, its not mostly cloudy when
I walk the dogs but clear and cold.
Tomorrow, apparently, we will have fog.
A winter spaceFootprints patchwork the ground,
imprints of lightweight birds hover
like shadows on a white sheet,
sparrows, tits, two robins that spar in between
pecking for forty per cent of their body weight.
Then news of our scattered seeds spreads,
three jays desert the woods for domesticity.
Over there dog prints begin reluctantly,
as paws feel an icy shock, quickly changing
to the chaos of play in fluffy stuff.
Along the hedgerow a line of muddy dips
mark the passage of our bird hunting cat.
Further down the chickens shuffle up their run
in a race for left-over rice, carrot peel, soft biscuits.
All now joined by castellated soles of human boots,
to the gate, the car, the vegetable patch where
this seasonal fall drapes around leeks, parsnip tops,
clods of newly turned soil patiently freezing
to a crumble. With a passing nod to the statue
of a garden fork these footsteps retreat; today
is for plans, grown with time from this wintery space.