One: In St Nicholas's Church
my thoughtful memory seeks out noiselessly
fragments of my past,
as outside, across the fields,
the inflowing sea washes in,
crevice and pool,
changing their watery atmosphere,
depositing new life and matter,
from who knows what stretch of sea;
to thrive there or decay.
And, over time,
scours and smoothes the rock
to new shapes,
perhaps more comfortable or meaningful
to my tide-lulled mind.
Two: First light
How shall the sea greet me?
Licking, lapping, jumping at my face.
Like sleep, dark and deep.
Like a new friend
luring me to what distant sorrows?
Casting me up, knocking me down, dragging me back.
Best say thank you as I leave.
This is the sea’s edge,
these breaking waves a flickering eyelash
on an unencountered body.
Four: Christmas Eve
How does time unravel?
Cherished threads tug at half-remembered pain,
denying the mind’s pattern.
Perhaps we should not seek a pattern,
casting this thread in and that thread out,
knitting each a carapace for the spirit.
Perhaps, at the end, our lives are atomised:
like cosmic dust,
each particle pregnant with new worlds,
every fragment full, whole,
needing no place,
Christmas Eve 2010
Five: Packing Up
Because we did not lie together, under the sycamore bough,
because we did not together walk the coast –
unspoken, long ago.
Flaws and faults in the fabric of our pastthat we wrap round us now,
picking at ends that might have lead elsewhere,
to a new pattern,
different from the strands we know too well.
Six: Welsh Harp
Can it be so?
Blood of blood,
limb of limb?
We walk in quiet contentment by the shore,
looking not at refuse but at swans.
I, for my part, remembering
uneasy visits to my father long ago,
feeling neither father nor son,
but now, being somehow both.
Two generations later,
and in part too late,
I understand him more,
and, perhaps, my child less
than once I thought.
Seven: Swimming at dawn
Coming up the path from sea to cottage,
my other selves precede me,
from forty years of visits,
glimpsed ahead as they disappear
behind hedge or tree –
This way, this way! –
But never there when I arrive.
Here I was young and foolish.
Here I quarrelled with those I love.
Here my work succumbed to its collapse
as I, powerless, listened to the sea.
Those other selves, like phantoms,
present but never met,
what are they to me now?
Or the sea to them?
Or to me?
The pale November sun
warms the blood to sluggish life.
A task begun, but not completed,
floats upon the surface of the mind.
All things gather there,
as wind and tide drive the sea’s mashed weed
and unwholesome detritus
to the safest inlet by the shore.
Do not enter here.
Is this the contemplation of a life?
The mode of tranquillity and reflection?
The stasis to which we strive?
Or something else?
An exhalation or a blockage?
When we first met
the season’s bloom, the current blight
overlaid the habit of our growth,
entranced us, claiming all our love and care.
Now neither flower nor disease
shows upon the thorny stem.
What – how – do we love now?
Do not touch me.
No, not there.
I know you did not mean to.
The time of touching is past,
slipped out of reach,
leaving a few desperate clutches.
This is the age of other senses.
Twelve: West Studham
The map is turning white:
places newly exiled from my life
One more bleached-out exploration.
Do not visit here.
Those who went before have met an unknown fate.
They did not understand.
My way of life
Is fall’n into the sere, the yellow leaf.
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have.
Shall we ever have the courage,
not simply to return,
but create new worlds
in our ruins:
new cities on old hills?
Thirteen: Night Swim
The only thing left now is to press on towards the point.
With each purposeful stroke
the distant headland moves jerkily into view,
as if propelled by the efforts of some remote scene shifter.
This recollected motion towards an unreached goal,
the only certain consolation in the quiet night,
when effort is disabled.
For the night cometh
when no man can work.
There is another, whom I scarcely know
or ever knew,
but whose image,
fleeting but clear,
haunts me over thirty years.
Would that have been an intimacy without compare,
a confidence in every journey undertaken,
a peace and a discovery?
Would it have been complete and confined?
One is responsible for one’s own relationship,
but children, their fortunes and feelings,
There is no other word.
I am become someone who should not be upset,
an affectionately born burden.
One cannot help or know one’s children.
Wild beasts are more sensible
not to prolong affection or support.
We can only love:
love that leads nowhere and leaves nothing behind.
Creative love has passed to them.
We are the relicts,
avoiding overhearing the sounds of their new loves,
passions alien and forbidden to us,
empty shells on the seashore.
There is too much to forget,
more than we can manage.
Fifteen: Whitchurch fields
Unaware of the time,
I count the clock strokes from across the fields,
imagining I can tell if still another follows,
hearing in the first note of silence
its length,brief or long.
Is this the time
between the present and the imagined end –
the present that I know will soon be past,
looked back on, as I look forward now,
living now and soon to be remembered?
As though one could
taste the peach at a glance,
all things hanging ripe
with their own completion.
Across the vale,
the light holds clear and still,
bulking out with their shadows
hedges and copses against the bright fields,
the sheep’s cries suspended.
Morning is a conspiracy,
the rooks gently muttering.
The air not bright but clear.
Moisture not rain.
The sun rises slowly,
casting quiet shadows.
All things wait,
Warmth enters gently,
bringer of life and small destructions.
Seventeen: Lastingham resurrection
I gave my son
to bring you strength and comfort,
hoping in some part
his strength might return to me.
What did I give?
Born of my confusion,
something I knew but could not recreate,
except through him; in him;
A new commandment:
your salvation maybe,
but not mine.
After the burial we move towards the hall.
Hands that gathered earth
now take refreshment.
We talk of her, and more of us.
Slowly the tears subside.
“Will you come back?”
We draw the living around us,
leaving the dead behind,
cold in the earth we threw upon her grave,
our ashes to hers,
sure and certain we will follow her.
We strain to keep her with us:
the memory rehearsed,
the fading photograph upon the wall.
We visit still
and mark the empty place.
We talk of her,
and maybe sense her watchful eye.
What would she send us?
Slow our thoughts and wait.
I know not, oh, I know not.
Eighteen: Loss at sea
A memory hovers in my mind's ocean,
clear but remote.
Only the name eludes me.
That is the beginning of loss.
Shall I reach out and grasp it,
offering a hand to a drowning man?
Or choose to let it slip beneath the waves,
knowing that soon we all shall drown,
Or let that go first?
Nineteen: Running on empty
This is the saddest thing of all:
not death, but life;
not death coming before,
but the loss of expectation in the young,
echoing those withdrawals of spirit in ourselves
that we hoped to see redeemed
in our children’s lives.
Wisdom is not inherited;
it comes too late:
for our children and for us.
Nor are the rewards of life transferred.
We, who were conceived in hope,
have but a short time
to offer our lives to loss and disappointment,
and undone love.
Twenty: Noli me tangere
Do not touch me!
At a touch,
things may crumble into dust;
the old where life has fled,
preserved in airless tombs,
though still, perhaps, capable of incandescence.
A dead light.
The new, as yet unformed:
not yet ascended.
Do not touch me!
Unlike the trees,
we participate in the seasons
They ripple past us,
as the sea’s waves pass the swimmer.
rising and falling,
leaving him unmoved.
Until they overwhelm
and drown us.
Twenty-two: Esperance, a private hospital in Eastbourne
I remember my father did not like the gulls.
As I visited him
in a room with a window,
but without a view,
the cries of the gulls seemed tokens of the sea,
(had he not moved here partly for the sea?),
I did not know.
At least you hear the gulls, I said.
But to him they were unwelcome,
something of life he did not want,
something for my distress, not his.
That was the beginning.
There came to be many things I knew he could not want,
inside, not like the gulls.
And as they grew,
narrowing his space,
I came to feel we were one,
as I had never done before.
Did he know?
Was that something we could share?
The end, when it came,
in a different hospital,
no special facilities,
his cold unreal body
left to meet me
in a room without a window.
I kissed him
- when did I last do that? –
Twenty-three: A Certain Hope
the balance of probabilities
and beyond all reasonable doubt,
What is it that I know?
More than enough for life;
less than enough for death.
I know so much.
I have heard the dying fall.
I have been told the secret of the sea.
I have seen –
what have I seen?
The garden in a dew drop;
the smile on the face of a stranger;
the fading ember,
as soft white ash consumes the fire.
Will I forget in time?
Will my words decay,
falling to the forest floor
for moss and fungi
to carry their meaning down into the earth,
into the deep green velvet sea?
Deeper than the furrow;
younger than the child;
quieter than the grave.