‘The great Sage as high as Heaven visited here.’
Wu Cheng’en – Journey to the West, 1592
High staggered moorland crossroads
too few trees, the big wide sky
fresh roadkill and opportunist crows
turning turning turning turning,
The Roda Cross by the roadside
scattered offerings in the grass
Hogtenberg’s summit beyond Westerdale
Crouched friars, Rosedale Abbey, Cockayne Ridge
Roundhead recruits resting sore shanks,
tarmac’s scrape and sweep through crimples:
Life line, Fate line, Heart line, Sun line.
The cross’s shadow pointing arrow straight
at Boulby Mine, turbines and the sea
turning turning turning turning,
sheep picking paths through cropped heather,
fleeces marked with red or blue splodges,
lichen forests spreading over dry stone walls.
I stand, one hand on the cross, turning,
aiming names at horizon markers
knowing the words can’t reach them,
how the crow-wind strips them bare,
how history is deciphering our footprints.
“Their wisdom’s profound, to cheat us of our ground.”
Gerrard Winstanley – You Noble Diggers All, 1649
Take your share of tree moss and rock fur
The whistle of grass and dry poppy seeds
Nettle stings and tiny dust tornadoes
Take your share and store it safe
Take your share of new hues from bulbs
Splitting casings of sap-sticky buds
The golden petals of wee-the-beds
Take your share and garner it well
Take your share of a curl of river mist
A flat stone’s skim and its final splash
A pupa dangling from its silken path
Take your share and keep it ripe
Take your share of the crumble and flake
A drip and its echo off in the dark
A shadow to wear as a shawl at night
Take your share and wrap it up tight.
“Each regiment in order grows
That of Tulip, Pink and Rose…
But war all this doth overgrow
We Ord’nance Plant and Powder sow.”
Andrew Marvell, Upon Appleton House, 1651
“Degradation digs a bodily grave for a new birth; it has not only
a destructive, negative aspect, but also a regenerative one…”
Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais & His World, 1965
“The aim is, here in Britain, to create a really hostile environment…”
Theresa May, 2012
Remember when you dwelt within the Garden of Ecstatic Ferocities
where horticulture warped your frame into frills and petal folds?
Where your arms were burdened with clusters of ripe berries drooping
in a pulping sweetness that dripped through your scarecrow fingers?
Where you passed through splitting fruits and tangles of old growth,
lost yourself in explosions of colour from accelerating seasons?
How you left a litter-trail of new cuttings scattered upon the sward,
pollinated vacant, sticky stigma in casual acts of propagation?
How you romped in joyous abandon, spilling over deadwood,
trampled mulch, spliced and grafted unruly foreign bodies?
Do you recall the frenetic fight for light in the Garden of Exquisite
Furies where you learned the savage nature of predation?
How you conducted the rites of naming, suppressed weakness,
buried impoverishment, harvested fungal blooms in an iron helm?
How, daubed in charcoal and loam, you repelled invasive pests,
how poor Priapus’s severed stalk re-seeded fallowed soil?
Where you were whetted by his semen, how you dug a trough
in earth-flesh and laid down within it to receive resurrection?
How could anyone fully suppress these exquisite ecstasies
or forget the furies and ferocities of this ever returning Eden?
“…for I see the dirt of the Slough of Despond
is upon thee; but that slough is the beginning
of the sorrows that attend those that go on in that way.”
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678
Tinker John is tramping in the train of boots
through porridge spills of freezing fog
a lousy sun crawling from its make-shift cot
sick-bed, scruff-basket nest up on Ravenscar;
is only aware of something groaning deep
inside himself – it tells him he is still alive.
They clomp across the underside of clouds
their pikes and helmets scrape furrows
in the fields beside The Lion’s beer garden –
you can glimpse them passing in the bull’s-
eye bevel of the remote pub’s snug window.
John remembers that one day he will beget
a daughter, blind-born meadow flower,
who shall inherit the Earth, like him,
through suffering, in this topsy-turvy world
he’s learning how to live on the invisible.
“rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft”
“we have also multitudes of witches among us…More, I may well say, than ever this Island bred since the Creation, I speak it with horror.”
Epistolae Ho-Elianiae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, 1646
Hunched like a sack of black powder,
on the horse drawn wagon that holds
the roped-down minion, sits the witch
or that’s what Will Coppe claims she be
They’ll not leave this up to the might
of men, arms and God, but of witchery!
although the tinker boy has his doubts.
So, as their boots eat the heathland miles
John keeps an eye on the shrouded one,
spots strands of smoke beneath the veil
one wizened claw, his hackles bristle
when he senses her glare swing his way,
discounts a snatch of some incantation
like plague-soot adrift on hoar draughts.
Aunt Anne’s Canticle for Calm
“Lay by your pleading, law lies a-bleeding
Burn all your studies down, and throw away your reading
Small power the word has, and can afford us
Not half so much privilege as the sword does”
The Dominion of the Sword, Cavalier Ballad from Rump Songs, 1686
Close your eyes, my dears, to the wailing
turn the locks, my loves, to your hearing
to rumbles that run through the ground
an anthem of gunshot and mortuary swords
hoof beats, orders, the barking of hounds
the lengthening quiet between roars,
the stricken chewing churned grass in the field
our doorway is sealed with a scouring
of thistles and stinging nettles. Lie still
within the darkness, covered by a sheet
pay no heed as night limps from Ruthergate
to settle on a log to catch its breath,
stretch its legs and count the day’s cost
in a volley of owl hoots across the clearing,
turn the locks, my dears, to your hearing.