ODYSSEUS


This is the hardest month. Five days ago
clouds, as big as ships, in a blue sky blew fast
southwards. Next day there was an icy fog
that had silvered the lichen on the copse.
The sun had caught it. As the light rose the fog
dispersed and, through the damaged branches,
a church tower appeared – high, square, gothic.

Three days ago I crossed the motorway.
(I had entered the wrecked services first
to collect bottled water and oat bars).
A jack-knifed artic was still smouldering.
I looked away from the cars, the still figures.

The following day, I took to the canal.
The towpath was clear but the drying bed
was beginning to smell of diesel.

Yesterday, I walked the old toll road
towards the mountains. At first, its emptiness
pleased me. But I heard shouting somewhere close
then an engine catch and die. Last night I dreamt
of sheep high on the sides of the wide valley.

As I scale the last quarter of a mile
to safety, I cross to the narrow stream
falling near me. I dip my fingers.
The water is pristine. I mount the ridge
as snow begins to fall – but there is the lake
and sheep still grazing at its verdant margins.
I hear crows and see their blackness vague now
in the white against the sheer crags – then a blurred
orange. I focus the binoculars.
A climber, neck broken, long hair loose is
swinging in her harness…

 

 

 

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  1. #1 by Hugh Powell - January 31st, 2016 at 16:30

    A neat piece of post apocalypse – which actually feels as if there is a narrative behind it. LIke a novel you feel sure there are unopened doors you could go through on your own. Taking a familar jourrney from urban confusion to the possible safety of the mountains, this is an odyssey which finds only tragedy at its close.

  2. #2 by John Huddart - January 31st, 2016 at 16:32

    There’s a touch of Edwin Muir about this poem – see http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-horses/. I too liked the sense of a plausible backstory – waiting to be told?

  3. #3 by David Selzer - February 1st, 2016 at 13:58

    Now there’s an idea…

  4. #4 by Alan Horne - February 2nd, 2016 at 21:43

    This one stuck in my mind. The countdown through the days seems to wind things up, and the trauma is rather veiled, even in the final image of the crows with the climber’s body. In that respect I think the poem differs from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” to which you refer in the keywords, a book that, in my view, is quite sadistic in its treatment of protagonists and readers. In this poem, the protagonist is allowed to look away, and to take pleasure in the water or the emptiness. Also, I got the idea that the protagonist was headed for Hafod Eryri, the cafe on the top of Snowdon, which strikes me as an excellent post-apocalyptic bunker, I’ll be off there directly when the unthinkable happens.

  5. #5 by David Selzer - February 3rd, 2016 at 10:05

    He’s reached Lyn Idwal, which is above Lyn Ogwen – so, if he keeps going, in a more or less southwesterly direction, he could make it to Hafod Eryri eventually.

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