SILENCE

Silence

There is a lot to be said for silence
though it would be disturbed by a word.
There is much inspiration in music
but it has no note as fine as that chirped by a bird.
The silence of a kitchen can seem monastic,
if the mind attends in the right mood.
The silence of a clean plate
can seem to hold the key to the cosmos
if no loud thought is allowed to intrude.
When on the train the ear is aware
of the silence of air and land
above and below the clattering churn of the wheels
on the interminable rails,
while the run through the tunnel says, take comfort,
true dark will only come when all the light fails.
The lasso of the cowboy, the gun in the holster,
the piano in the saloon, the spear in the shaft,
random memories blocked in a sudden
by the cloth caterpillar that lay at the foot of the door
to keep out the draught.
Old man sat on an airport bench listens to the silence
below the loud speaker announcements,
the footsteps of the passengers,
the hum of the escalators,
no ticket or passport in his pocket,
he just finds it an interesting place to sit,
does not consider himself an idler.
Whatever he lacks it was not want of wit.
Maybe he is God but has decided to keep quiet about it,
will announce it when he sees fit.
Meanwhile, a college graduate
walks round a country house party, wearing a monocle,
talks of the operas and plays
he has seen in the capital,
blind to the cold pride in the face of his hostess,
who wishes her invited company she could forsake,
while outside the curtained windows,
a swan swims in silence on the late evening lake.

A Memory MET

A Memory Met

Once I walked south, along a scrubby grass verge,
to my left ran a narrow road,
empty, silent, in my memory,
no car, van or tractor passing by.
Stretched out, on either side of it,
lay dark grey black ploughed fields,
flocked over by gulls and crows.
Free of my council house estate,
I was in, what was to us, the country.
The air, a bit stuffy, smelt of turnip and cabbage,
the slime of a ditch for toad, frog and newt.
A telegraph pole rose before me,
tall and stark in the flat land.
I lifted my chin, looked up.
To my surprise, I saw, perched on its top,
high in the air, a barn owl.
I stopped in my steps, smiled,
thinking it must have forgotten its nocturnal nature,
for it was early afternoon, sometime in summer.
I could tell it by its white feathers,
the glare of its black orange brown eyes,
its probing, permanent predator frown.
Hunting in the day, as I now have learned its kind can,
it stirred my blank brain, made its roots quiver,
its juices recirculate through its tubes,
traced itself on a clean screen,
to be kept fresh in clear cells to summon and study.
Bird of the night, startled by daylight,
made it clear why from the ancients
its kind have been thought wise.
It lies in the eyes, large, round, alert,
like those of one who knows much
and thirsts to learn more.
As regards the bird tree,
one who sits on a branch
not far below the eagle.
Our unexpected encounter, chance meeting,
I knew I would always remember.
In a sudden, it must have seen or felt something,
for it spread its white wings, drew in its talons,
swooped from its perch, flapped over the fields
to the dim eastern skyline, vanished before it was reached.
Apart from that, of the walk, nothing comes back.

China Correspondent

China Correspondent

Now let’s go over to our China correspondent
who reports to us from Wuhan
where this virus began.
See him now on your screens,
note the lines of age and strain in his skin,
his report on his task to find the truth, hear him begin.
From his youth he thought the search for truth was a noble quest,
like the one the knights went on to find the grail,
and only the endeavour not started was fated to fail.
“No, you cannot film here,” the security guard
tells him and his camera crew.
“But surely the virus started here,” he says to a market woman.
“No, it did not start here. It started in America,” she tells him.
Her government would approve of her reply,
he thought, later, alone,
free of his work with his microphone,
settling back in his chair.
Used to hotel rooms, as long as it’s warm,
he does not mind that it’s bare.
Truth may glow like the flame of a candle in a window,
he thought, but he feared the servants of the lie
that multiply in the dark and reach to snuff it out.
His eyes grew large in his head,
as he acknowledged that truth was under threat.
The more it was hid, the less it was said,
the worse things would get.
The bizarre dreams of the Orient lured him
to fall back on his bed.
“Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
The words of Jesus he thought of often
in this time when world leaders
treated truth as but one option,
to be spoken or written when best it served them,
as if it were an orphan put up for adoption
they could save from the orphanage or leave there, forgotten.
The China correspondent dreams of a drink in a deckchair,
somewhere in summer, anywhere than where he is.
He knew truth was on trial in this time of denial.
Too many feel superior to the truth, that he knew,
as his desire and thirst for it grew.

2021

2021

Sing The Song of the Volga Boatmen,
five members of the Moscow military choir,
thrill, in your deepest tones, the dormant spirit,
thaw the twists of frozen rope hid beneath the snow
so that work worn hands may tow
the barges along the river,
open the green plains where the Cossacks love to go,
and shake the stones to reveal mammoth bones.
Beat the gongs on your lofty balconies,
Tibetan monks of the Himalayan temples,
sound your horns to stir
the beacon peaks with your drones.
Tune our ears to attend to the ocean pipers,
the whale and dolphin,
far below the seagull cries.
Cleanse our eyes to see
the beauty of the bird before it flies.
Make us face what was has gone,
be bold to live in the now,
in this new year, 2021.

Wandering Wolf

Wandering Wolf

Wandering wolf,
searching for prey,
your hunter, behind you,
not far away,
stops to study
the marks your paws left in the snow through the woods,
and in the slush by a stream,
slays you with arrow and bow, bullet and rifle,
in his determined dream.
No wonder, under the moon,
you howl as victor to survive another day.

JERICHO

Jericho

Does anyone know if this is the way,
if this is the way to go to Jericho,
that Old Testament town?
My path is straight,
though it may go up and down.
From hermit to pilgrim I made my fate.
No map or chart or magic art
but I will reach the gate,
and once inside the walls,
I will find an inn, be welcome within,
give the landlord coins
for a simple meal and a room upstairs,
where I will sleep, sound and deep,
on my bed in friendly darkness,
clean of the dirt of the road,
free of all puzzling cares.
And in the morning light,
my steps sure and slow,
I will explore the streets of Jericho,
till I hear the guard at the gate
blow a drone on a ram’s horn,
to warn that the hour is late,
but to be at peace, for hope will rise with the morn.
Tell me, is this the way, do you know,
is this the way to go to Jericho?

SIEGE

Siege

The world lays siege to your mind.
The eyes of hope are bandaged and blind.
The strings of her harp she can feel but not see.
The silence of space offers no harmony.
You must lift yourself from the ground.
Build a tower on a mound.
Surround it with a moat
for swans to swim on, lilies to float.
Climb the spiral steps to the top of the tower.
You will feel stronger in less than an hour.
Look down on the water, clear and deep.
Survey what you nearly lost that now you keep.
Ride out from your gate on a horse,
shed of your shadow, cleansed of remorse.

Only you can bring the end of the siege,
drive back the invaders, dismiss the darkness.
Only you can bring the end of the siege.

You sense the siege is over.
You feel your heart beat and breathe, lift, to soar and hover.
Now your eyes see clear and clean.
You know what is, what has been.
The world is as it was but no longer lays siege to your mind.
The need for your tower you leave far behind.

WINTER KING

Winter King

The temperature’s gone a good deal down,
the winter king puts on his crown,
to grip the wire cold and sharp,
pluck the strings of his icy harp.

Hear the howl of hunger in the air,
the light is dim, the land is bare,
but in his court of ivy green,
he spends his season with his winter queen.

Human hunters huddled round fires,
bitter ballads strummed on deer bone lyres,
mammoth herds crossing plains of snow,
he remembers from long ago.

His chief in command is old Jack Frost
with red rimmed eyes, stiff fingers crossed,
a long grey cloak of frosty signs,
over frozen lakes his skates leave lines.

His wintry wisdom he knows alone,
his cold sagas shiver in his bone.
Before his season melts away,
he takes a last ride in his sleigh.

A Fair FIELD FULL OF FOLK

A Fair Field Full Of Folk

When Piers Plowman was at work in the fields,
and the summer sky was bluer
than was painted by monks in the books of hours,
and knights rode home from battle
with broken lances and battered shields,
and maiden waved down to them
from the balconies of white stone towers,
and there were unicorns on the edge of the woods,
and minstrels sang of what the seasons did
to skin and bone, passion and flowers,
and there were monsters in the seas,
strange folk living beyond the trees,
it was the Middle Ages,
as we remember those times.
On illuminated pages,
silent scribes wrote prose and rhymes.

If I was living then, I would not be living now,
but a sheep would still be a sheep,
a cow would still be a cow.
From the top of a tower on a hill,
above a wood of oak,
I would look down and see,
a fair field full of folk.
That last line I quote
from what William Langland wrote
in The Vision of Piers Plowman,
the boat of parchment he built
to keep his words afloat.

If I was Piers Plowman at work in the fields,
I would see knights riding home from battle
with broken lances and battered shields,
and as a peasant, like every other person,
I would know my place.
I would cut through the corn with my scythe,
feel sunshine and rain on my face.
From the top of a tower on a hill,
above a wood of oak,
I would look down and see,
a fair field full of folk.
From gentry to pauper, and all classes in between,
their clothes would tell their tales
in red, yellow, blue, black, purple, white, brown, grey and green.
On my lute I would compose fair verses
of my dream when I woke,
that would let others see,
a fair field full of folk.

NOVEMBER IN THE PARK

November In The Park

November in the park,
the last leaves, yellow and red,
glow like harlequin rags,
strewn on a bare brass bed.

A swan lifts from the lake,
water drips from its webbed feet,
beats its wings over the trees,
till its flight path is complete.

Later, the swan swoops down,
settles near the aviary,
where a lone peacock calls,
unaware it is not free.

Parrots and mynah birds
are kept behind glass and wire,
but at least they are fed,
and live safe from smoke and fire.

The swan lands on the lake.
Children point and scatter crumbs.
The old park keeper smiles.
No one hears the song he hums.

A boy kneels on the grass.
From his jam jar hops a frog,
hears it splash among reeds,
squelch in mud beneath a log.

Street lamps glow through the fence
this November in the park.
No one can hear the song
the keeper hums in the dark.

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