He found costmary, anise, ginger and cardamom. Rhubarb, parsley, sweet flag and cinnamon. Juice of acacia, nard and castoreum. Turpentine-resin, carrot seeds and galbanum.
He found flower of round rush, storax and saffron. Myrrh, frankincense, shepherd’s purse and juice of hypocistis. Darnel, long pepper, malabathrum and sagapenum. Dried rose leaves pressed between the pages of a book.
All of this in the glow of honey.
A poem can be like a herb. A poem can be like a herb garden.
from 2,643 Acres
BST by the car’s clock frozen with the hedgerows.
Time minus one in black ice Eden. The acres frozen.
The river frozen.
Through the glare window, Blencathra,
cold as only saddlestone black can be,
the snow-sharped southwest of the valley rising
and falling with the rolling road home from Long Meg.
A wild cat, lying in waiting, watches back
then waits on. I have seen him,
slinking between the undergrowth’s teeth
in the garden, eyeing the bevy of quail.
We have, in the past, uttered words, invited them in:
Tippy, Stranger, Stiltskin, cat names,
frozen water bowls – the last I buried on the church plot
after a long life, shredding voles and fish
we occasionally caught. Breathing morning ghosts,
time by the fells, east-rising hard sheets
casting long blast trees with the sun’s fly rod.
A Carlisle hook, thin wired for live bait
rests flat against the ice surface.
The Eden underneath bergs north.
Beyond downriver, haaf netters trace
their nets and tickle the firth for fish.
Time by their slow strides in Norse.
stream and mirror,
its hardy whispering
through the Moss.
Its thin trickle.
We drive on
past the barns,
past the pub –
the Red Lion!
the dead cheer;
the Pheasant Inn –
Black Dub, Fuggles
Tarnmonath, Hell Beck,
Brampton Bitter –
Time, lads, time!
The frost is gnawing
into the pipes.
The sandstone well they used to come to for water,
even it’s drip’s stopped. It was base for Fifty-Fifty,
Bulldogs, Shanny On, Fox and Hounds
and all the games that’ve gone cold dry.
Time by whichever child was last left stood there
under the huge midday, crunching the grass, It,
counting. One… two… three…
Here comes the bride down the white church path,
tie up the gate and demand ransom.
Big’uns are the best,
get the fiftypees -
we won’t let you out ‘til you give us ‘em!
Mam! He hit me!
Fight nicely, or the groom
won’t throw his money.
There, swap it for a ten
and two twenties.
The graveyard is a sinking sandtimer. One,
she was red dust, and red dust happy to be again,
sandstone-slape words that’ll soon be gone.
I hear my skin braze in the wind that washes her stone,
thick tongued with Cardunneth’s hoar frost.
I hear the frost crackle, I’ve understood the shod flaws:
her grave creaks clear of its easels every day
closer to the catacombs and boneshows down.
I hear the voice of the dead taut with dead heaviness;
time by the voice of the dead rhyming heavy.
Here’s another dying art
to grit the underside of the nails for;
the sun setting, time by the dial
on the church’s south wall.
Time by the turning of soil
on raised beds.
Approaching Morgan Avenue
I can see the street reflected in the lens
of the camera you take everywhere with you,
held to your eye.
The focus like a ray of light,
you make Jacob’s Ladders appear in Brooklyn,
and the shadows stretch out.
Passers-by resemble a magic lantern.
Paris, Milano, Roma, London.
These memories you take with you, and,
often, it is only after you have printed them
and slept for a day
that you remember where you have been,
after letting your eye lead you,
occasionally over a border,
or onto a ferry,
or into the arms of the women
you have no photographs of at all.
The clouds move
and the street opens up.
Under the boughs of trees,
you would be
a Russian fairytale,
but here, approaching Morgan Avenue,
you are something else entirely.
I spend all morning cutting potatoes into chips.
I halve them on the narrow side
and then chop chop chop
I sometimes catch my thumb
but it is thicker than a knife
and the blade does not slice it.
Cutting, slicing, chopping potatoes I think of
Heaney’s dipping knives
and I am pleased to state it so plainly in a poem,
cutting, slicing, chopping potatoes –
I must go back to them, now the poem is done.
Back in the kitchen, the chef is laughing;
somebody has eaten half a chocolate brownie
and put it back in the container.
I say it was not me and
maybe it was some kitchen elf taking its pay.
Then I remember a story my mother told me
of when she once dropped a potato onto the kitchen floor
and it clean disappeared.
Chop chop chop
I began drinking a second glass of champagne
as the plane approached Chicago.
I was still very taken with the ice
I’d seen through the window,
stretching out, flowing together;
the great blue skies; the prospect of America
suddenly become real,
something to move in; an actuality,
not simply a set for a film, or a series on TV.
The waves of the ocean beneath us rolled
as the champagne fizzed on my tongue,
just beneath my huge eyes.
The Best British Poetry 2014, Mark Ford & Roddy Lumsden, Poetry anthologies (various poets), 9781907773686 | buy from Salt
I am delighted to be included in The Best British Poetry 2014 anthology, forthcoming from Salt in Autumn.
In the Hospitaller Herb Garden
Heaven could be
a sprig of orange scented thyme chewed
and left under the tongue,
with a bite of bitter perry pear.