Thursday, 24 October 2013

FOR two DAYS the SKIES wept...

... and I walked alone in a desolate world of water and mud and wind; the fire of chestnut leaves was strewn carelessly across the glistening ground and conkers smouldered in the wet soil. Dirty blotting-paper clouds, torn and ragged, hung like veils over the sobbing fields. Save for a flurry of starlings, the jackdaws and rooks were the only birds abroad, swimming through the air. The sheep in the meadow turned their back to the whipping wind-driven rain and they hung their heads; and so did I. We both felt the trickle of cold rain on skin.

It was right that the sky rained its heart out for those two days.

There has been so much death in the village recently: The badgers on the low road; the deer by the old chestnuts at the brow of the hill; the nest of pigeon's feathers, with its gash of red, under the weeping ash.

Our summer broke with wind and the wash of rain, and with it the village was touched by the presence of death. News spread from house to house, mouth to mouth, eye to eye. Dog walks became a litany of death. Each day we entered the park with the rising sun and we left it a little quieter because our worlds had become a little quieter.

Some I knew, some I didn't. Those I knew, I knew only a little. A few were expected, but most were sudden. Those of whom I looked forward to meeting in the morning; a comment on the weather, a smile and gone. A wave across the fields, a pat of a dog, a greeting. But now they are gone. I miss them.

Different people respond each in their own way. Some want to know each death-blow in forensic detail, others just talk about the families and friends left behind. Some reminisce, catching smiles amongst the storm of shock and sadness. We learn all those things about their lives that didn't seem to matter when they were alive.

This world weeps rain because it has holes torn from it; the holes of those I knew in passing and who made my world a little different.

And now I hear that the Park Keeper is lying in hospital after a heart attack followed by a stroke. In his front garden, the large mower (he loves lawnmowers) on which he was working stands forlorn, gutted and its pieces spread neatly upon the grass, a few tools patiently waiting for a ready hand to put them back to use. It's missing its heart. His wife cannot comprehend what has happened to him and stands chattering excitedly at the gate or shouting news from the bedroom window. His daughter has grown up in the space of a couple of days. She now holds the keys to the park and, in her youth, has felt the breath of mortality.
And my friend with the Frisbee (who finds it so difficult to talk), on that same night, was also rushed to hospital after he found life a little too hard and a little too cruel to bear. We stand together in the rain, he is like a ghost. He tries to form words, but none come just a jumble of sounds. Not even his dog can make him smile.

It is right that the sky sometimes weeps...

Saturday, 5 October 2013

WHEN we WALKED to THE wood

              SO TELL ME...

     The day we walked to the wood... And I followed your footsteps up the steep earthen path, cut by rain and as brown as nature's womb... and when, at the steepest places, you reached out and held onto the same trees that I too hold on to; their slender trunks, wet with dew and rain and life... and you said that you could smell autumn and it made you smile as autumn always does... and we listened to the silence and a rook's call and the sound of rain falling from leaf to leaf.

              ... BUT I know there was more...
                                                      SO much MORE...

Two people cannot share an hour in the woods without experiencing a lifetime brimming over with wonder and joy... and I want to remember and to savour every single moment...

               SO TELL ME...

DID the mist hang in the air like dragons' breath so that the tops of the larches touched a different sky?

DID the chimes from the village clock roll up the hills, as sweet as carols, as soulful as owls, as lethal as quicksilver, shimmering among the beech and sycamore until only the moles and the sleeping badgers could hear it?

DID the crows rake the skies with their ragged wings?

WERE your fingers wet with rain drops that hung like glass globes from each leaf and branch and blade?

DID we dance together to the ancient music that the trees sing? And if not, why not?

DID we really meet the hermit who lived in the brushwood shelter, who smoked a briar pipe, and who sang songs and brewed coffee too bitter to drink? And did we sit with him beside his fire to listen to stories of love and hope and of friendship that is greater than both, while badger cubs dozed between his feet?

WERE there pink mallow and yellow cats ear and wood aven that outshone the sun among those dying leaves?

DID we taste together blackberry and wild sorrel's bitter-lemon bite?

DID we stand together upon the cracked concrete of the old airfield, now welcomed back by the wood, and listen, among the mist and the dripping leaves to the crackle and hiss of wartime music and the thud of distant bombs and the sadnesses they bring?

WERE there crab apples and rose-hips and bread-and-cheese leaves, and did we run our fingers, crimson with blackberries, through willow-herb's matted beard?

WERE your scarlet paths aisled with Lords-and-ladies and around your throat did you wear black bryony's bloody necklace?

DID the clouds part and the sun pour down upon us honeyed warmth so we walked through a dappled landscape where Cain was unborn? And I marvelled at the chalk-blue sky and you blew upon a dandelion-clock that was a perfect sphere and feathered-time drifted from your lips and out over field and hedgerow where the soft-eyed cows grazed.

WERE the fields filled with crane flies that rose with each footfall and heralded our way with elven wings?

DID the wind turn and ravage the world with ice and snow so that your breath burned in warm clouds and your nose turned red? And did you say, "This is Narnia" and I replied, "Yes. And below us lies the valley of Huntercombe where the Walker and the Rider and King Arthur meet." But neither of us could feel anything malevolent about the friendly, dancing flakes.

DID I see joy and wonder in your eyes, darting and flaming like fireflies (though I was afraid to look too closely), so that I too could see the world as you see it?

WERE there Chinese lanterns glowing again like painted planets in the Rectory garden below us and was there an accordion playing and the sound of a woman singing beneath the Harvesters' Moon?

DID dragons come and play at your feet? And each tree limb burst into bloom? And golden leaves and butterflies cascade from the skies? And was the world filled with God's laughter?

Perhaps ALL... or perhaps just SOME of this really HAPPENED...

I cannot precisely remember...
                    So tell me about the day we walked to the woods
                           and I followed your footsteps up the steep earthen track...

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

On BELAS KNAP I sat down...

An old one, but a recent visit prompted me to post it here:

Belas Knap (GLO1) lies on a gentle hill-slope overlooking a steep-sided river valley. The name is derived from the Old English words bel meaning a beacon and cnaepp meaning a hilltop. It displays many of the classic features of Cotswold-Severn long barrows and is often seen as a type-site for examples with lateral chambers.  The wedge-shaped mound is over 50m long and stands nearly 4m high; it is orientated north-south. At the north end is a deep forecourt between two rounded horns, and in the back of the forecourt is an H-shaped setting of stones, perhaps the remains of a portal dolmen. The ditch that seems to define the sides of the mound is a product of reconstruction work during the 1930s; the bank of soil and stones outside the ditch is in fact material that has weathered off the top of the mound.
Timothy Darvill. Long Barrows of the Cotswolds (2004:262) 

On Belas Knap I sat down
For I felt in need of some sacred ground
And I had no strength in my ragged soul
And for me the nonetide bell had ceased to toll
And so to Belas Knap by the withered tree
I hunted him who haunted me.

For I’d lost my way in Bethlehem
And I’d bartered my name to Rome
And the body of god was a dry wafer crisp
And my soul felt as cold as stone

And the book in my hand had lost is voice
And the altar candles their flame
And the blood had turned to cheap red wine
And the world had lost your name.

Then I heard it in the earth
And I felt it in the air
And the crowing of the birds above
An older voice laid bare.

The spilling of a wilder blood
The beat of shaman drum
The smell of earth and woody moss
The cycles of the sun.

And its…
1 for the man who counts our bones
2 for the woman who carries our souls
3 for the man who reads the stones
4 for the woman who flies with the crows
5 for the man who rides the moon
6 for the man who catches the dream  

And the primal drum beat pulses
Through the veins of every leaf
As before the Christ and devil danced
To the frozen music of our creeds
The Alpha and Omega busts out of Palestine
No longer held by cultures
No longer bound by time.

And so to Belas Knap I came
And kindled there a dying flame
And as I sat on ancient ground
It was an older God I found
As in the shade of a withered tree
I hunted him who haunted me.