North Dean

A gust of wind, I swing wide the door,
rush in,
the stairs take my breath,
each step
a giant stride
for a child’s legs.

I turn towards the room where I slept,
the cool metal of the threshold strip,
the towering white wooden door
and, at eye level, the oval handle.

The heavy bed covers are fringed with tassels
that quiver in the draught from the window.

Now I return to the stairs,
each foot sinking steeply from step
to step,
to step,
like boots into mud.

I swing round the banister post
and rush off along the hall,
past the sunken temple-cool of the pantry
and all of its pungent mysteries.

In the dining room,
beneath the great slab of table-top oak,
I crouch again to touch the carved mice
on the legs of the cane-backed chairs.
I glimpse a face at the serving-hatch,
hear the rattle of the cutlery drawer.

I rush on along the hall,
beneath my ancestors’ disapproving looks,
breathless into the light and space of the living room.
I see again the stained glass in the bay window
and the spider-web crack in the corner,
a silent shriek trapped in glass,
fixing the moment a childhood game went wrong.

I lose myself once more in the pictures on the walls,
in the mountains of Japan
or among the granite houses of a seaside town,
in the same way that I lose myself now
in this visitation
that I stow away again in my mind
with confidence:
a painting
into storage.


Driving into England

(from the collection Frequencies of Light)

at Carter Bar
a last look back
down into Scotland
muted colours of hillocks
faded by retreating summer
mixing with yellows
endless plains of harvested land laid out against the horizon
somewhere near Edinburgh.

Ahead is England
a fell blackened by heather
and by the declining October sun
brilliant behind Northumbrian summits
where the wind blows you hollow
like a corpse caught on barbed wire;
the sight of a rolled hay bale
represents a relief from something oppressive.

Hard to imagine
this road will sink steadily southwards,
link horizon to horizon,
find other roads,
drain into the M25.

Hard to imagine
the same sun also sets
on a man ascending the steps
to the East India Club in St James’s Square,
a red double decker edging along the Tottenham Court Road,
a train swaying out of Leytonstone tube station,
the curious hordes pressing against the railings of Downing Street:

a surreal city
at 300 miles proximity
presiding over this high ground
where fir trees thicken into impenetrability
like fine fur across the flanks of some vast creature
heaving in sleep.


Persephone: Homecoming

(from the collection Persephone)


high bare branches
knocking like antlers

wild garlic
massing in the woods

snowdrops like sheep
distant on hillsides

the eye of the daffodil
waiting to open onto the world


Bluebells push through the skin of the earth,
stems as frail as the legs of newborn calves.

Mounds of wild garlic leaves
cover the ground beneath the trees,

climb the steps through the woods
like giant green spiders.

The passing whirr of a bee.

Blackbird song at evening.


This is a child’s time:

dandelions are fat suns,
seed heads full moons,

daisies are fried eggs in miniature
and cherry blossom candy floss.

In all its glory, the copper beech
expects to be taken seriously.

A heat-haze of bluebells.

The electric yellow of the rape field
wires your brain to the mains, dimming
the light from the flowers on the gorse.

Swallows are here.

Only the ash stands bare.


Swallows skim wind-rippled wheat fields.
Dust lies like velvet, thick on the lanes.

The lights have gone out on the gorse
and the blossom from the cherry has been swept
from the earth, as though it had not existed.

But honeysuckle is sweet
in hedgerows as full as wedding chaplets

and, waving regally in its furs,
the ash is robed at last.

We know the world is working.



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