Saturday, 7 November 2009

LET THE MOOR BE [a collection of 20 poems]


i) The Hanging Sheep
ii) Moor Requim
iii) Top Withens in Winter
iv) Curlew
v) Rocks and the Earth
vi) Moor Heatwave
vii) Crow
viii) Moor Death
viiii) Life From Simon's Seat
x) Summer Moorpools
xi) Let the Moor Be
xii) The Church
xiii) Night on Grassington Moor
xiv) Hawk. Valley. Moor.
xv) Nab Hill, Oxenhope
xvi) Above Kettlewell
xvii) The Moor's Atomic Deaths
xviii) The Moor's Own Waterfall
xx) Vicious Wind

i) The Hanging Sheep

Over a moorland beck, a real dead sheep, hanging by its own horns,
Swung between two branches, like a child in swinging heaven.
The carcass was decaying.
Intestines open wide to summer’s sweating air,
The hawks’ bloodlust and bluebottles en masse.
All the while the rotten stench, at the fullest volume, pummelled our nostrils.

Take me, take me, it could have said.
There was no full stop to this picture of life, death, and all the rest.
Off the carcass went to the nothing-world – the sweetest nothing.

We stared voyeuristically.
Stared at the thing.
Rapt and trapped by the concreteness – the absolute reality of a particular, real death.
A death so actual, and in front of us, that we poked it.
We shuffled around with its once-mortal coils till quite unsure of ourselves.
Then, and only then, did we leave death alone.

The lambs were all alone.
Their bleats infused the moor as we eyed with ears the surrounds.
After watching true mother swing to death in the wind, they looked for proxy mothers.
We felt for the brainless beast. What a dim death!
Just one more moor-life claimed by the moor.
There, death is part of life.
It is not made aesthetic.
It is not made holy.
It is not veiled in backrooms for folk to poke and pry at.
The carcass is left where it drops.
It is dropped to rot in a greedy earth.
That, like a moorish Shylock, exacts its spoonful of flesh.
And the flesh rots.
And rots as it should rot - by blending with living peat.

ii) Moor Requiem

In that moor’s strict seclusion he would happily die.
He’d let the wind and rain, which he loved too much,
Take him deep into their sweet, deadly arms.
A calm, final movement.
A smooth, long fall through marsh grass,
Like Mushroom Alice down the deepest well.
There shall be no pain.
There shall be no sorrow.
No one to cry.
Only a most-elemental death.
A slow fall from consciousness to death.

iii) Top Withens in Winter

That farm was well dead.
A sheep-shit and heather death.
But enough remained to imagine, while between decrepit walls,
Of the lives once lived there.

A lone tree did its windbreak bit.
Must have shielded them from the wind of winter months.
How did they live when snowdrifts heaved against the walls?
Survive the wind that hissed and whistled through the cracked window
And under the solid door?

Imagine the farmer’s day.



Up at four to darkness that silenced the birds. That silenced the world!
All silent save for the beating heart and breathing lungs of the man now ready for work.

iv) Curlew

The curlew, high above, swam in Big Blue’s deep cool.
Then, with its spec of sound (a cry that cut the air and chiselled the heart),


It sank deep into the deep.
The cry pointed, sharply, at all the solitary souls in the land’s own solitude.
The tearful, tearing song dripped its grief on waiting, wailing heather.
It echoed and echoed in walkers’ tabula rasa minds.
Saying: Leave us! Leave us alone!
This is not your land.


Find your own place to wander.
This province is sacred to us.


To ourselves alone.
We’ve sailed this land for more centuries than you’ll ever know.

v) Rocks and the Earth

As first seen, in a revelation, by nature’s most basic eye.
A naturalistic jigsaw of rock upon rock,


Hung perilously free and unhinged. But solid to sight.
Rocks of curve, fold and trench were frozen at their death-moments.


Frozen to stone dead.
The sandstone, in retort to the sun, still flashed sharply.
That yellow flesh, under the grey skin,


Soaked up the sun’s rays and turned them cold to the touch.
Carved names, of the last century, also scarred that sandy flesh:
'Jack, 1902' – a brief whisper in a long and near-gone memory.

A breeze, in a returning dream, brought all rocks down in tumble after tumble of rockfall.

The rocks connected us, with their strong links, to the long-since - the long-since dead.
We soon broke loose, thanks to curious thoughts that touched bits of earth’s own history.
The earth’s rock-bones ran far deeper, far further (in that yielding soil), as the roots of an oak.
And its own drawn out, supple spine, ran straight across fields,


Up the rocky fells loosely enclosing them


And over the crowning moors, down to yet one more kindred valley.

The rocks change slowly. Imperceptibly.
Each god-like millennial glance perceives but a ripple of their sacred and slow motion.

vi) Moor Heatwave

The sun, deep in the sky’s blue -


A wound that screamed its red at the guiltless beneath.
The sun bled hot blood all over the expansive land.
Necks became clawed skin; skulls baked giddy;


And bodies melted their way from the top to the down;


Past sweat-machine pores in which the flies cared for a paddle.

The sun, as ubiquitous as any bound thing can be, was seen clearly in its sky.
No doubt it saw us too.
The cloying heat (the sun’s thought-for-the-day) was mean enough to create a cloying noon.
It hid in every corner; under dark trees; between the coldness that’s blown out by limestone walls.

In madness, born of the heat, skylarks, like gossips on speed,


Twittered prestissimo calls that merged in the upper air - a summer-moor chorus.
They had so much to say. But too little time to say it!
Like mothers, curlews wailed to my trespass.
Lapwings showed fake nerve by swooping our heads.


Then putting their windbreaks on, swiftly.
They too defended their land from walkers’ boots and the prying eye.
Grouse? Not bred their, anymore, for the bullet.
Free to shoot out of heather like graceless rockets


That yelled ugly, little yells into a distance that was theirs too.

Ants, like armies of autonomons, marched with intent and genetic care across the dusty paths.
Did they know their job? As much as any man.
Not like the indolent walker who moans for concrete’s pleasure and that Marmite-joy.
Ants bloody well get on with it.

In the shadows of drystone-walls the panting sheep hid from the sun.
They weren’t dumb enough to miss that trick or run when they could walk.
If only they could shear themselves!

I dragged a tired body-burden away from the sun’s sharp gaze, into the sweating air.
Heather gripped my boots to drag me back. And back again.
The heather, awash with fire a day ago, now black unshaven stubble


That crunched and crumbled under my boots


Like a fine tobacco-dust or puffball-smoke.
That ritual burning was nature’s (or man’s) remedy for the heather’s colonial dream.

Small pools peppered the moor with an out-of-date water that offered no respite.
I looked sky-deep into the peat-black.
A pale, known face, with a scowl of fetid black, rippled itself back at me.
Flies skated machine-like on the dark surface of warm-as-a-Jacuzzi moorpool.
What a lovely little world!

I then head straight and true towards the sharp edge of the moor


Wich led into a welcoming sky.
The heat, now as thick as concrete, dragged me down yet more,


To the small size of a trudging old trooper.
I walked through these walls of heat and snares of heather like a blunt fork through bread.
My bones held me back.


I slogged on, regardless.

When I reached the edge, the sky did not meet me. It stayed at its cool distance.
The hill’s fleshy but hard rocks weren’t quite enough to stop the chiselling of lovers’ names and miss-spelt obscenities.
I touched the rocks as I’d touch an old man’s face – curious as to the feel of his skin, but respectful, of course.
The rocks took me back - let’s say a million years.
As frozen solid as they ever were.
I sniffed the rocks’ crannies and peeped inside little caves that thrill curious little kids.
Polluting one cave was the night-before’s leftovers.
Lager and crisps (now only bags and cans) had been enough for the teen Party in the Cave


And for all those young bodies - frantic and still budding

vii) Crow

Crow stalked dry-stone walls with a hopping suspension


That was portentous of crimes committed in its dark little life.
In all the nearby air its carrion stank like death - like death should stink.

The crow wasn’t interested, like the robin is interested.
It kept an eloquent distance, as if it were us, not it, that carried a plague.

Spider-meat spurted over cold rocks.
The exquisite silence (on all the key issues) squashed by squat arses.
Under the creeping moss other spider-eyes poked out on their long stalks of flesh.

We rested, qua beings.
And we were there without artifice or aim to clot the landscape.
Existence washed over us.
And the clock’s covetous tick (in that farthest of distances) couldn’t even be heard.
There were no answers to the no questions…


No questions worth asking.


No answers worth hearing.
Our minds unwrapped into a thoughtlessness that floated easy,


On being’s still water, with a focused lack.

viii) Moor Death

In a place they found lush with nature’s aesthetic sense,


A death stained a riverbank with rotten flesh.
The carcass was returning to earth.


Its flesh had been vaporised, day by heating day.
Worms and flies now dined on its leftovers


In ignorance of the deathstench invading the sweating air.

The lamb had staggered to death.
Lost its mother to break a leg.
Through rough ground it stumbled and stumbled more,


To spring from a grass-clod into a dirt-black bog.
This is where novice walkers moan for concrete-pleasure.
Close reeds, twice its height, had shielded it from the hawk above.
Then the lamb dragged itself out of the putrid mess and made its way to cleaner water.
A skull, in strange separation, hovered loose on a river-rock.
The lamb then laid down, exhausted.
It soon sniffed its own death in the air.
And let life seep out of its young bones.
Then the chill night air… and the hunger.


Just too many hours of hunger.
At last, a short life swiftly ended.

viiii) Life From Simon’s Seat

The abbey sulked in the distant haze, behind the summer-trees.
Nearer, a tiny woman he dared not touch, not even with voice or eye,


Played cricket in the breeze.

He was the coward who hid behind sarcastic words.
He dared not speak in vain, or even hint the same.
And even when he talked, he sacrificed the thought, that remained unsaid, again.

Later, by a Wharf that stomped south like a liquid troop,


He stared hard into the river; to find, again, his lost chances.
To hear answers only a mute could give.
It reflected back the game he needed to play.


The price he had to pay.

As if that was a beginning.


As if.

x) Summer Moorpools

The little pools of peaty water played host to psychedelic dragonflies


That, like drunken pilots, careered from peaty pool to peaty pool.
Other strange little beings skated machine-like on the slippy water.

The water was as still as the closing grass was alive.
The smell? Nice organic death; alongside the long-dead water’s slight putridity.
The boys stabbed that still black skin with sticks that bent in water.
The pools weren’t Narcissus-mirrors.


Too dark, too cloudy, for that.
They did echo back, instead, big, black, deformed skulls, but not angel-faces.

The boys hovered on a minute shore.
Looking, with their microscope eyes, at the tiny little worlds of tiny little creatures.
All worlds and worlds away from such city-boys’ knowledge.
They knew, sure, of rats and pigeons.
But naught of the pool-beings swimming, without names, in the still, black water.

xi) Let the Moor Be

It is a holy place… or so we kid ourselves.
We walk our processional walks,


Down isles of waking grass.


To a blessed water-alter that allegedly spoke the Truth.

If the stream does speak the truth, it does so by saying nothing.


And silence can never lie.
Poets past and poets present looked for the truth under sheep shit.
And even asked the flies, budding and then swilling in their ever-so-small brains,


Where to find the Truth.

What about Meaning?


The poet finds it when he gives it.
And he gives it ever so freely to both rotten flesh and living flower.
But the moor means nothing.
It doesn’t speak sweet words, since it does not speak at all.
If it gives us any meaning, it is the meaning of that so explicit silence


On all those deep, essential issues.
Perhaps its lack of a view is that most-powerful view:
Born of minds that don’t impose their fixed, exact, yet precise illusions on a world without sense.

Take this moor again.


It couldn’t care less.


It doesn’t care at all!
It is only existents that care.
This moor doesn’t care about the really real.


What should always be or what is truly the case.
So it keeps to its exquisite silence, as the moor’s hermit also must.
The moor just is what it is – nothing less, nothing more.
There’s no more for it to be…
And it ain’t even a simple self.
It’s a mixed bag of many things - that’s what it is…


A mixed bag of pure particulars.
And what it is, ignores what we are…
No! It neither ignores nor notes.
It is well past and above those dissecting, organising minds


That try so hard to place it, as if a pretty fucking garden,
In its proper and fine place.
But gardens live off their spectating fans.
And, like gardeners, we too try so very hard to make sense of all the autonomous, senseless things that thoughtlessly clutter up the world around us.
Because that’s what we do - we impose such silly visions -


Even on all those lifeless and innocent things


Which plague our guilt-ridden minds


But which still do not need us - because they do not need at all!
We make up this world in the cracked, taught images that are our categories.
We choke a stream here, a curlew there, with our snooty poetics


We think superior to all the streams and curlews
That are alone and utterly free from our dissecting and spectating minds –
Minds that would put them in their rightful place: the huge, rapacious alter that is man’s ego.
Even those that sing let it be force their own loose and vague categories, still tight and taught,


On a once unclassed and unsliced world...


As I have done, just now, in this classificatory poem.

xii) The Church
(A free working of R. S. Thomas’s ‘The Moor’)

It was like a moor to me.
I entered with soft steps.
My thoughts held like last breaths.
All was still – the stillness of eight hundred years.
What was left of yesterday’s moor,


Seen (in that constructed place) by the eye of the imagination,


Was still clear.
Still equal to the modest splendour of the curved symmetry of the long, vaulted sky within.

I said no meek prayer.
The resurrection of the mind’s dead questions – that was prayer enough.
Along with the heart’s surrender of its temporary domain.

I sat down.


The church-damp closed in - as easy as moor-mist around a lone self.

Bring the moor back.

xiii) Night on Grassington Moor

Like a manic pilot out for corpses,


The potent wind bombed the cabin: the walker’s sanctuary.
Sudden gusts, like small explosions, kicked their weight at the door.
Howls, from wind-tortured things, hovered above the dark moor outside.
The rain, in a deadly profusion, lashed down its killing-knives.

He looked through a measly window that framed a picture of loneliness.
There were no trees to shield.
Impelled by his small-time solitude, he sunk deep inside himself.
Soon fell asleep on the hard floor and dreamt the siege outside.
Blow, blow, take this meagre frame and throw it into the sky.

xiv) Hawk, Valley, Moor

Hawk: stonestill.


Alive in bracken.


Eyeing all as contraveners of its land. We were.
We sat on its hanging crag, victims of its wind.


From where we dissected the wide land.

Above the glen: the hawk’s summer heaven.


A plain of heather; plentiful enough in mice (not men) to tie it to the land.

The hawk flew with style.


Killed with precision.
It obeyed only two rules: to survive and to propagate.

Far below the hawk, out of a scar’s sheer drop, trees grew sideways.
Their muscular roots, like strapping arms, grasped scree for life.

Higher, the moortops were raw enough.
They brought distance nearer - as near as the hawk could fly.
A tall and thin white mast, at one distance, set north, south, east and west.

Now think yourself a forest where the moor blooms now.
The trees within: so tight together they strangle each other.
Think of the forest’s hunger for sun.
Now think of one glacial arrival.
Glaciers that came to consume rock, earth and tree.


To dig out the deep valleys.
Now rocks, still high and loose, are here as reminders.

The land, care-of glacier and, later, man, shed its taut skin of trees.


Opened up its legs


And gave long birth to the moor you see before you.
Born as animals are born.


The moor grew as an animal grows.
It grew, so slowly, to the size of this moor you see now.

So nothing, not even this moor, will last.
And nothing, not even a tree or a rock , is ever truly still.
Just sit here awhile.


Wait.


Soon you will see the moor move, breathe.


See it live for itself and for you alone.

xv) Nab Hill, Oxenhope

Though the signs of man were faded, and still fading fast,


The hill still wore them without grudge or stir.
With no men to prune , the hill was left to grow and roam around itself.

That’s why he was there- to take part in its blessed disorder


And bathe, childlike, in the blasting wind.
He thanked God: All is free.


Free from the preening hands of the preening minds of the never-happy men.

Like the purest of imbeciles, he fell through the heather-malice


That tied knots around his feet.
He reached black bogs, still madly propagating and born of a week’s hard rain.
He jumped from clod to clod


As bog-mud sucked him down and farted his under striding steps.
The sopping grass weltered too -


Washed clean by crystal springs breaking their leashes, overrunning their banks,


Rioting on our footpaths.

At the mad-happy heart - an oasis of five trees,


Bent by wind-weight and the true attrition of a thousand winters.
That wind played his eardrums enough to make them bleed.

Army of liberties had taken the paths,


As the wax cap, its scarlet sharp against the mushroom-brown,


Stood by and watched.
Mottlegills stood proud - as proud as they could be when sunk in ignoble sheep shit.

The man sat on the hill’s fleece of rusty bracken and heather.
He swallowed the All around him.
Then looked at the horizon.
The hill, too, looked at the horizon.
Both knew what they knew.
And what they knew was true and real, both slight and profound.

xvi) Above Kettlewell

The mad Valley King sat limestone high on his rock-throne.
He smoked it well rolled, to laugh his bliss at it all.
He asked the skylarks: Could any day be better than this?

The sun shone hard from its own high place.
Shone hard enough to ignite, with sparks and life, the silver-foil river.
The valleys were also alive to curlews and colours.
The sheep, neat in fields, were insensible to it all.
Hawks, looking for the careless, strolled their own part of the sky,


Like watch-outs for the deep dale.
And there was this man: taking in deep the smoke and the all around him.
Could heaven be better than this?

Then his brainchild awoke to tipple-down the grass-slopes,


As the sky above did its own somersaults.
He caressed the dark earth.
He thought it sweet.
And as naive as the sheep, he sang high into the sky.

Was this man insane?
Was it his mad half-hour?
Whatever the truth is, he still breathed in perfect time to the earth’s own breaths.

xvii) The Moor’s Atomic Deaths

That day was an open coffin.
We counted five real-dead sheep.
Each rotted to its own silence


And the noise of flies consuming leftovers of flesh.
Nature’s song must keep going.

Death?


It fed the scavengers aboard that day’s moor.
And taught the anthropopoets the lessons they had to learn.
Life?


Nothing but the rented hours of the hunted and the crippled.

Why mourn these atomic deaths?
What should these deaths mean?
Sure the day’s body-count was high,


But did that cause a flicker in distant hearts?
Even the mothers’ cries echoed into the hills,


To merge with the perfect silence.

xviii) The Moor’s Own Waterfall

The river, with an unfettered flow, moved through tight conduits.
Creating foam born of fierce speed.
It splattered the ancient rocks vainly blocking the assault.
Above, the fall poured its waterload to the roll of ten timpani.

The river was hushed, still, beyond the noisy fall.
It reflected, without effort, the sunrays shining through the clouds above.
Easy and warm, a man laid down on a large earth-mattress, to dream of the fall beyond.

xviiii) Vicious Wind

It was cold on the moor -


A cold that ran down to the bones at the bottom.
The wind wasn’t tender.


It dug its fingers deep into the pale flesh


Which tried to live above the cold bones.
That was true abuse!
With no trees to hold its leash,


The wind was free to attack in its own relentless way.

It seemed to laugh at our high-tech guards between itself and our chilled skin.
It blew, too, at our dust - dust to its scornful breath.

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