Here is a selection of my poetry for MARCH.
Close by the bridge, at Spencer’s church,
a red cross flutters in the breeze;
first swallows turn above the Thames
where swan flotilla glides downstream.
A solitary boat drifts on;
two walkers, with a map and dog,
seem set to walk on to Bourne End,
leaving behind a crow and thoughts…
Perched on a rotting willow trunk,
nodding and bowing to the stream,
he seems to concentrate so hard
watching the water’s glassy sheen.
Then, suddenly, he takes to flight –
matching his wing beats to the breeze,
seeming to hover in the air
and touch the tops of waves mid-stream
to snatch with talons some small prey.
Retiring to the other bank,
he eats his meal in privacy
before returning to his tree.
Twice more this fishing crow performs
then flies off to a distant oak –
leaving in mind a miracle :
a memory, a puff of smoke.
There is such yellow in the lane
that lifts and brightens grey March days :
the pussy willow is a haze
of lemon-pollened silky fur;
bright daffodils nod with the breeze
that dances hazel catkins now,
while carpets of wild celandines
fill up the verge where primrose shows.
And, in the gardens, jasmine’s flame
burns brighter than in winter’s scene,
competing now with breaking leaves
where, high above and all around,
this yellow spring turns slowly green
With careless ease, in half an hour,
this driver, tractor and chain flail
will decimate our lane’s rich hedge
and recreate the shell torn Somme.
Young trees are left as limbless stumps,
lopped branches, splintered, on the ground
and all the way across the lane,
confetti made from this year’s buds.
Yet here, only a field away,
a proper hedge is taking shape.
One man with skill and simple tools
creates a hedge to last for life.
A swift, low cut pleaches young trees,
he weaves them between hazel stakes
to make a kind of basketwork
of living growth, shapely and tight.
Such skilful work always takes time :
to plash a hedge, stock-proof and strong,
is costed out in yards a day –
the time it takes to get it right.
The tractor man and his blunt flail?
He’ll tear and lop a hedge to shape,
makes no repairs where stock may stray
but always clocks the miles up…
So, where have all the experts gone
who’d lay a hedge and clear a ditch?
Replaced by men who drive machines –
That way contractors end up rich.
Detail from Crivelli Madonna and Child
Exotics, on dull Lenten days,
outflank drab sparrows’ dismal show
with tinkling, bell-like calls in flight
and flash of gold as off they go –
a charm of finches bob the hedge.
Pushed to the margins of the farms
where tractors spray with herbicides,
goldfinches seek untended scenes
for spiky teasels, thistledown
and groundsels’ tiny wind blown seeds.
Kept as a charm against the plague,
then caged for beauty and for song,
they almost died out in the wild
till keeping them was seen as wrong
and Parliament came to their aid.
Yet, down the ages they’ve appeared
in pictures of the infant Christ :
companions for a tiny child,
as symbols of the sacrifice
and passion that was yet to come…
These sweet-voiced, gold-winged tiny birds
pulled out the thorns to free Christ’s crown.
In doing so, his blood was spilled
and blessed them with a love profound –
marking cheeks red as sacred birds.
The field, not ploughed in autumn like the rest,
has lain dormant and unused for several years.
This spring, the tractor came with heavy plough
to turn the tussocked grass, plough in the weeds.
Before the driver made a second pass,
he soon was towing more than just a plough –
a cloud of gulls descended from the sky
to mob the tractor, forage broken ground.
Where do they come from? – No one seems to know,
these gulls are not our usual, local birds –
no parish landfill, miles from the coast –
that they should be here really is absurd.
With tractor up the field and far away,
a white cloud marks its progress through the day.
Rumour had it that she had failed her test
when, in a fit of pique, the old man
abandoned her, lodged her in the barn.
On perished tyres she sat for fifty years
hidden by churns and a broken plough;
tarpaulin-wrapped, shrouded with fine dust.
Eventually his grandson sold the farm
and, as contractors cleared the barns and sheds,
she was discovered languishing there.
Dust clouds rose - the old lady was unveiled –
each rising mote was shaken free
like seconds from those passing years.
Gleaming in the sun, the famous Viking
badge and head are from a different age –
coachwork, beneath the dirt, still gleams.
Inside, thick carpets, leather, polished wood :
“gentlemans’ conveyance” from the time
when Britons took a pride in what they made.
On the front seat, a tin half-full of mints,
a paper with Haydock runners marked.
In the rear, a book of local maps
that would not help a driver out of here :
beyond the barn, farm and fields have gone –
a plain of houses where there once were cows.
This is where the horses stood
like statues in the rain,
their hedgerow in the early spring
saw blackthorn bloom again.
The field edge full of bluebells,
that spot where snake's head thrive;
across the field the cuckoo called
and swallows swooped for flies.
This meadow, full of buttercups,
where, homeward, heron flew
and kestrel, battered by the wind,
hunted the winter through.
Now, high above, a buzzard wheels
with changes in his eye:
hard-hatted men with cruel machines
soon make the good earth fly…
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