All  Things Are Connected

Touch this web

We call the world

However lightly

With your God-finger

And see

From each concentric strand

The dew is shaken

Not one strained string

There is that does not shimmer

With that motion

Even the hollow centre

Ring of nothingness

Into which we fall

Moves

And the guy-line cables

That hold this universe in place

Tremble

 

Ullswater Requiem

I Dies Irae The Anger of the Water

Here’s where I stand. I read the lake each day.

Beyond our reach it changes endlessly.

Sometimes it’s dark as ice. Sometimes it’s broken glass,

sometimes like metal streaked where boats have passed,

sometimes with ripples regular as sound.

Sometimes it’s like a sky: Sometimes a pit.

Sometimes it’s white capped, rough.

Sometimes there’s barely breeze enough 

to drown the mirrored image of the trees.

It mirrors all moods, given time.

Today the water’s still and black. Call it

sullen if you like. It cannot mind.

And there’s a pebble beach that waves have cut

driven by storms against the mountainside.

 

II Tuba Mirum The Bringing of the News

Whatever moves above it or below

disturbs the surface: Writes its passage:

weight: speed: bulk: hull: body: keel and fin:

the changing pressure of the wind.

A drowning man will tell his tale

as clearly as a fishing heron can.

Today it’s briefly mute: What lives below

is motionless. The wind is starved of breath.

Here three boys died a few yards from the shore,

where the wave cut platform tips sheer down

the steep slope to deeps that glaciers carved.

So cold at depth it strips you to the bone.

That shock of cold will take your breath away.

Only shallow water over stone’s not cold.

 

III Recordare Memory

You remember once yourself slipping off

the narrow shelf of Ullswater.

You were no swimmer at all and had waded out like them

beyond the glimmer of sunlight on rocks below,

walking on a cliff edge in a mist,

and only when you felt the stones begin

to slip and shift knew you were on the lip

of some commencing underwater fall.

You had rowed singing over the water

like fearless Vikings to the shingle beach,

bringing your gear: striped blazer, straw boater,

a camping stove for the picnic, scones,

a gramophone and old seventy eights.

You danced on stones before it drew you in.

 

IV Quid sum miser The Bereaved

Crossing a mountain stream once in bare feet

you could not keep yourself from crying out,

sliced by that scalpel cold, burned by its ice.

An avalanche of cold enfolded them.

Only an inch or two beneath it’s cold

as graves. Stone cold where the sun can’t penetrate.

Rivers of cold run deep along the lake.

Perhaps it helps to have a faith, belief;

Something to make sense of grief, to bring relief

from pain: insubstantial as breath.

We are taken from each other every way.

By fire and water, earth or air, broken

by illness, old age, accident of place

or time, seemingly without rhyme or reason.

 

V Lacrimosa Weeping

I did not witness this. I saw the lake.

Ripples run towards me every day.

I cannot read them all. The steamer makes

eight beats per second by my clock, no more.

Yet I must speak or what’s the watching for?

My words must face you square and eye to eye.

We are each other’s strangers of goodwill.

Tears bind us; the sky; mountains, and fire.

Tomorrow they’ll be singing from their boats once more

and paddling in the shallows by the shore.

Their waves will reach me soon. Make no mistake

who knows the depth and coldness of a lake.

The shoreline trees cast shadows where we tread.

The living must keep vigil for the dead.

 

VI Lux Aeternum  A Celebration

 The sky’s sheet ice, the blood of sunset drained away.

Clouds are gathered in like nets at the horizon.

Rose petals of last light are floating in

an awkward angle of the bay. Crows are

Litter, whirled in a corner of the air.

The steamer’s wake has met itself returning.

Some say this is the old day’s dying, as if

no dawn will break; but not me. I see a star. 

This moment holds the world still in my eye.

A perception of the vastness of planets,

of the unimaginable distances

of space. In the turning of the day

that hemispherical shadow of

yesterday and tomorrow coming to pass.

VII Libera me A Prayer

Let me drop a pebble to that surface

and watch its ripples run out perfect

and see a fish rising from the depths,

a pebble cast by water into sky,

and those two rings meeting, interfering,

intermingling, intersecting but still perfect,

each still unbroken in its way:

A criss-cross message of place and time.

Believe. We shall not be alone whatever

faith we hold or understanding reach.

Hold to it that the circles of our lives

shall in their intersectings bring us peace:

That we shall write ourselves upon the water

and learn to speak the languages of waves.

 

An Instant

Suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,

Even the squirrel on the wall.

I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

I heard nothing at all

But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,

As if there were a distant call,

Even the squirrel on the wall,

Suddenly motionless eyes peeled.

I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

Maybe there’s some message on the breeze.

I heard nothing at all.

Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,

But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I,

As if some deity has drawn us to a halt,

As if there were a distant call

From one who has authority over us all,

Even the squirrel on the wall.

For a moment we’re like a photograph,

Suddenly motionless eyes peeled,

As if something amazing has been revealed.

I’m carrying sticks. They’re in the field.

And the best of it is,

Maybe there’s some message on the breeze

That I can read too.

I heard nothing at all,

But we all know there are other senses.

Perhaps they’re more finely tuned than me,

Or can see more clearly,

But suddenly we stop, the sheep and I

And I’m included with them all,

As if some deity has drawn us to a halt,

Not with a command but

As if there were a distant call

Addressed to someone out of sight

From one who has authority over us all,

That we just overheard,

Even the squirrel on the wall,

That makes us stop and realise.

For a moment we’re like a photograph,

Wondering if perhaps there is some deep intent,

Suddenly motionless, eyes peeled,

Hiding behind this pure invention,

As if something amazing has been revealed,

Going about our proper business.

I was carrying sticks. They were in the field.

The Flickering

All’s done with for the year

dropped discarded drear

even clay moisture-black

and sycamore leaves wet leather

mist in the valleys

and the grass flop-heavy with dew

the air still

sounds plod through

vehicles labouring

a few birds

some colour

the robin on my wheelbarrow handle

a birch tree yellow as a roman candle

mushrooms have made rot

that all our hopes are founded on

and where I’ve raked leaves off

next year’s snowdrops showing

little of it my doing

less the further from the door

none beyond the wall

our lives are just a patch of kempt ground

on a mountainside

time is sky wide

darkness fills

grass grey toned down

and comes round

and comes round

flickers.

So here we are again

snowdrops out

daffodils to follow

in a week or two

?what’s changed

but where I stand

a year on

age is just another point of view

and in the outer depths of space

comets come round

telling off each planet

like a bead strung on a sun

everywhere time’s wearing away

never mind how little

or how much

we make the same

notches on a stick

of indeterminable length

drawn from dark water

measuring our heartbeats

lifetimes days

?how other could it be

for all our bridges and our towers

if we could choose to swap

our very little lives

for something grandiose

eternal

denial

tomorrow

next year

to see the snowdrops bloom

the spring

midsummer

harvest time

the first snow

speartips of shoots

a child born

lambs at play

a season’s crop of birds

flowers

seed heads

turning leaves

buds on bare trees

always a future showing

through decay

it will suffice.

Things change

move on

are moved

come to an end

contracts expire

someone has to hire and fire

houses crumble

cracks appear

walls are not as permanent I fear

as we have told ourselves they ought to be

warmth leaks away like water into sand

and both we know will trickle from your hand

our landscape changes day by day

we do not notice year on year

until it’s clear

we are not where we used to be

perception is the cruellest shift of all

we cannot call it wear and tear

nor shrug and say the world’s unfair

nor call it bad luck to be there

when things went wrong

must recognise we’ve weakened

or grown strong.

And now the storm is done

the wind has dropped

clouds sulk to one side

with sunset heavy

waiting for poets

to make their metaphors

evening will be put to use

the fading light

heat leaching

from a corpse

even birdsong

made to sound forlorn

with an entirely human misery

this sense of loss

repetitious as the day

that time must pass into oblivion

not be forgot

what we have been

tragic or comic

constantly with us

but out of reach

forever ending

sinking to sullen sunsets

beyond our false horizons

I cannot see the sky

but stare as if I glimpsed

time past

and irretrievable

memory more an echo

than a mirrored glance

a subtle transformation

one last chance

each nightfall’s a regret

each dawn a hope

and when it’s dark enough and clear

stars will show

appearing one by one

the brightest first

or the moon

casting back the light

of somewhere’s new tomorrow

making promises

to make us think

we might transcend

this flickering.

Sometimes a metaphor complete

when all has seemed to end

but one last sunburst gleams

winter sunlight through the spindle trees

flickering on a dark wood tool-shed handle

warm as flames. Flickering. Flickering.

 

A Falling Frost at Bank House Garden

Winter has arrived. I’ve found starved robins

on the path, as pale as old barolo.

Hard frost has told the trees, time to let go.

Leaves fall like dead birds from the sycamores.

Dew-drips drop from spider threads.

We’re draped with mist,

like garden chairs out of their season.

From each bud’s tip as it begins to freeze,

leaf edge and pine needle, pearled globules squeeze.

I motionless, while winter breathes me in

and settling air around my shoulders slips.


This group of five poem won the Sir Patrick Geddes memorial Trust  award in 2009, the first poetry collection to do so. Previously, The Flickering, and Ullsawter Requiem had won Kirkpatrick Dobie  prizes. An Instant was published in The Journal #19, and A Falling Frost in Windfall (Crichton Writers). All Things Are Connected appeared in Acumen, and was subsequently included in their First Sixty anthology.