Silent water slips away to sea, Kissed by trout and dappled with evening light. The gilded sun melts in purple shadows Over the blue powdered hills.
There are days here. Days moving round The oakleaf stone, The delta, The forgotten ford.
When the river rose and filled the furrows with san When we found the enormous caterpillar on the dead tree When we sang Wade In The Water though none of us did When we faked the ritual of slipping through the leaf When we cobbled sculptures of winter stone When we found the big tree torn out like a tooth When Paul, Rosie and Titus swam in the cool water and found 100 mussels.
When we found treasure and garlic And sang songs all the way home.
The Market Cross
This is a place of words: Words which accompanied the Celtic dead to rest, Words that told how King Eadred of the English Had burned Ripon to insult this kingdom, Words of royal charters and plain dealing.
When maps were made by markets The cross was made. Four solid steps surmounted by a shaft, And, until Cromwell’s days, by a cross.
Here was the royal signature of control. When William the Bastard’s soldiers Laid Masham waste Here is where someone told the survivors: This is the way things are.
Now the monastic flocks are memories And the court which pilloried criminals here Is just a house in College Lane, And Mr. Tenpercent-Vicar No longer collects his tithes on this spot, It is still the centre of our little universe, The hub of the holy fair.
From outside It looks old, Unchanged for two hundred years. Mrs. Danby’s endowed school.
But inside The fastest metabolism in town Boils and swirls And kicks its feet And roars around the playground.
This is the cutting edge of time Where people grow faster than bamboo And the work goes on forever: Stoking hearts and heads With the nutty slack of knowledge.
But nothing lasts forever And when the screws shake the chalky dandruff From their fingers And climb the winding stairs for tea, The old lags kick, slide and laggy in the yard And raw life echoes off the workhouse wall.
Voices in the King’s Head
In the Friday night clamour of smoke and ale froth We gather to dispense With the language of the English, And round the table cut the bandsaw rhythm of Norwegian Geordie, Smuggled Cornish, And the taste of tin on the tonsils As the flat Barnsley vowels Slap and slide. In the corner, Black as the Pentlands in December, The lowland treacle mixes with The curling stone consonants of the Cheviots And runs aground on the barnacled Inflections of Grimsby.
But this is how its always been.
Once it was monks and drovers, Chapmen, tenters and tinkers. Now its reps, keepers and software analysts Who are making sure We are a nation at war with the common enemy Of the Queen’s English.
Outside My Front Door
Outside my front door The dust hangs in the air of a thousand sheep sales.
Monks and a king’s company Pass up the road from the river And a file of Roman’s march across their path.
From the river the sound of baptisms echoes in the stone Before the making and breaking of the church.
The dead are everywhere: Under grass and under stone, Under streets and on Gregory Hill, Carried down from Colsterdale And back from wars.
The square flows with tides of William the Bastard’s army, The Masham Volounteers, Maypole dancers, mummers, The church orchestra, Nuns off to Gun Bank And out of the square go Sheep. kings, monks, sheep, Stage coaches, carriers, soldiers, Sheep, tractors and drays.
But sometimes there’s just the swifts and the shadows, The cross, the trees and the cats Outside my front door.
In the wind that slides over the ocean slopes of Cat Gill And falls like water through Warthermarske at dusk There is no news but old news, And the old roads are empty but for keepers and grockles.
In the bird call that echoes over Roomer Comes no echo of Roman sandals And the Celts who farmed above Nutwith Are long gone.
But on this hill Where Charlie the old horse pulls at the winter grass And looks down the long furrows That stream away through the field to the river’s meeting I can touch fingers with the last of the kings of this little country And be the watch tower.
Coming Home By Station Bank
There’s a sun swept low on a mad march wind Silvering streamered clouds Sliding cutlass lights through the heather smoke Feathering from the fells. There’s a distant bird like a storm tossed coin High on the hammering wind Far away and long above The town in the valley mist.
And I always travel this mile so slowly Savouring every yard, Cresting the ridge of the edge of the world Coming home again, Coming home.
After The Steam Rally After the taste of tar on the tongue, Of hay seeds, dust upon grass blades And the clank and cough of mechanical lungs The market place cools as evening stretches Its fingers into the open hand Of the short summer night.
Sitting on the cross Under the swift vaulted sky, Half empty glasses in our hands, We consider the reptilian grooves and swirls That pattern with mute archaeology The bedrock of the square, And the primeval ooze of engine oil That glistens in the first lit lamps.
And I think: It is wonderful to live in a town that people are always Coming to, Having lived in a town that people couldn’t wait to leave.
The Feast of the Returning Sun
Every January I tread the churchyard path. To me it is the curving henge bank Centred on the stone Before the Christians came And covered it with psalms.
Did they instal a new priest or convert the old? Did they nail the old rite with the malleting cross Or sweeten Yule with Christ’s birth?
Now there are No more bale fires No more hunted wrens Though still there is the slaughtered man, And the pagan lights break out here every year.
It takes more than a new god To stop snowdrops Hammering through frozen soil To the returning sun.
The Duck Race
Like a clock spring driven one one Gigantic annual tick The big hand of duck race Sweeps aside the dead years.
TICK : a baby in my arms TICK : a boy in frog-faced wellies TICKTICKTICK
And suddenly it is my youngest child’s Last year in the water, Thrashing after yellow plastic demons. Brief as a may fly, Her duty will soon be done.
Next year she will be Looking through invisible bars At the ones who are still doing time And then she will hear the
It was late on a Friday, early December, The heavens ash grey and the wind scarcely moving. Snow simply fell as though Someone had switched on the sky And left it to empty the clouds.
Come Saturday morning the power was off, The phone dead, the air still as the ice in the lane. We ploughed the snow deserts like huskies And snowballs and laughter flew round us in swarms. In the field by the church we set reaping The harvest of crystals until the red sun Sailed away to the west
I came on the photograph yesterday: All of us standing as proudly as Inuits, Only lacking the backdrop of walrus or polar bear, Next to a small leaning igloo
The Wishing Seat
Whenever I’m here I’m never alone, There’s always you and me. Whenever I’m here I feel at home On the old tree’s bones Where the sunshine’s warm And the wind sighs and sings and moans Like a ship on the southern seas.
Whenever I’m here its a lovely day Under winter or summer skies And in times to come when you’re far away I’ll be leaning back on the bark of grey And feeling inside the warm sun’s rays And looking out of your eyes.
Whenever I’m here and the touch of gold Is frosting the winter breeze I will always find your hands to hold For wherever we are we are touching souls
For in my wishes are folded Your words by the wishing tree.