This short poem was written a long time ago. It’s the only prose poem I’ve ever written, and it’s the only poem I’ve written about being saved. That’s why I like it – because all of us want to save and be saved, don’t we?
The man who was saved
by a fire-fighter at the Marriott Hotel on 9/11 was OK before; before he’d never shown anyone any affection and expected none himself but when an unknown man, a stranger, did that to him – saved him, without him asking – he found that something shut away for a long time, so long it might as well have been forever, came out and that’s what has made him into someone who cries each time he watches the news, what has made him alive and weak. He loves being weak.
I hope when they arrive they see this first.
The red-and-white lighthouse
tied to the cliff-top,
the Channel slipping away to reveal
a ribbed parchment of sand
and space for three men,
an arching fishing rod.
They will not see a horizon.
Rather sea, sky, morning in union,
a relaxing of green and grey,
suffused with childhood blue.
It is beautiful and warm.
I hope this is where they come.
I hope this is what they see.
This poem was inspired by an inscription on a gravestone in Warwickshire:
‘She Being Dead Yet Speaketh’
just before I wake or when the dog
looks up suddenly from cracking its bone.
When my name sung by her voice
seeps through the wood in the house.
When I run to the phone,
thinking that it’s her.
Behind the confusion
of a stranger’s piped words.
In the blaze of the baby’s hair
as she sprawls beneath blue bay windows
I hear her still speaking
telling me always, telling me nothing,
making me feel, before it bursts,
Please, stop sending the cards.
She is still talking.
I am all right.
This was one of several poems I had published in the Belmont Art Centre’s Poetry File programme for secondary schools in Shropshire.
I used to do a lot of hill walking when I lived in the right places, principally Stirling, where I went up into the Highlands, and Cardiff, where I used to drive to the Brecon Beacons. The Surrey Hills, where I live now, are good – but they’re not quite the same. There’s nothing like proper mountains for a sense of freedom.
The old man in this short poem is the the Old Man of Coniston. Those who know that fine mountain in the English Lake District will also know that this photo is not taken there, as I don’t have any digital photos from that walk, which was done a long time ago. (It’s in the Brecon Beacons, near Pen y Fan).
The Old Man first appeared in Orbis poetry magazine, no.88.
The Old Man
In stride pale valleys grow before us,
smoothed between slumbering beasts,
and exciting strange pools of thoughts;
after roaming the Old Man and returning
like water we fall together
by a crumbling river and you sing,
a silly song, into my ear
as I rest my thoughtless head in your lap.
Who are you to me?
Dreaming child, self-absorbed,
before eroded thoughtways
you sing the possibility of freedom.
This poem, written one winter when I was doing a lot of outdoor work, first appeared in Envoi magazine, no. 127. I was reading quite a lot of Ted Hughes at the time, too, and the great Welsh priest-poet, R. S. Thomas.
The crow is not itself
just as I am not myself alone –
some of me is stolen
by that shrewd, wheeling eye.
What do I look like in crow?
Dumb, slow, stumbler on a field
of plenty, just trouble enough
to keep an eye on.
It sits there on my fencepost,
careless that it contravenes the good of me.
Watching me, utterly
unafraid of me.
Watching me, my enemy.
Watching me as I pierce
the slopping, inert earth with my cross
and dress its stick arms with shredded sacks.
And it doesn’t caw or blink
as I settle on the upright pole a pumpkin
and on that a black, shapeless hat.
The light on the winter field fails.
The crow’s wings stretch out,
pass up through me
as I walk, unsteadily, home.
Leaving my scarecrow in the field.
Alone with the crow.