Archive for August, 2016

THE RECLINING GARDENER

On the first spring day of prolonged clear sunshine

she mows the lawns, weeds the paths, hoes the borders,

counts the figs, admires the honesty,

tends the low lavender hedge – then relaxes

on a lounger in front of the gazebo,

framed by clematis and magnolia blooms.

 

She sleeps, safe in the garden’s ivy clad

chambers – the alfresco rooms she has made

from soil ravaged by lime and gravel.

If she lies too long she will catch the sun –

a curious, promethean turn of phrase

yet right for a gardener who has acquired

from the air itself wild strawberries,

welsh poppies, common columbine, even

honesty. Perhaps I should not let her sleep –

but waking her seems always an intrusion

into the private solitude of dreams.

 

We have been in love for more than fifty years –

doppelgänger, alter ego; boxing hare,

comedy partner; devil’s advocate,

critical friend; anxiety’s balm, pearl

irritant; good companion, turtle dove.

She stirs – wakened, no doubt, by that slow passion

of plants – before I can rouse her with a kiss,

like any common or garden prince or frog.

 

 

 

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NATURAL SELECTION

Sitting on the bench on our patio, sipping

our peppermint teas one August morning,

we saw five buzzards leisurely circling

the church spire, a quintet of raptors,

four of a kind – and a joker for crows

and jackdaws to mob. But what is the prey

in this suburb for so many to survive?

 

The Romans built a road from Deva

to the salt pans on the plain over this heath

and its brook and through its hollows. Heather

and gorse, under the Normans, became

a habitat for outlaws – until

the overgrown road was used for droving beasts

in their hundreds, thousands to market.

Prisoners of the ‘45 were tried

where the brook turns north. When the railways came,

developers built villas and terraces –

between the wars, semis. Bedsits and druggies

arrived. But we are gentrified now –

sharing with the Brown Rat our good fortune.

 

The first buzzard I ever saw was perched

in an oak in the Ogwen Pass. Gamekeepers’

poison, myxie rabbits and pesticides

had all but extinguished them from the lowlands.

The gamekeepers went to war, 5 per cent

of the rabbits survived, pesticides

were regulated and these predators

thrived, needing less sustenance per day

than kestrels or sparrow hawks or kites –

being ambushers and opportunists.

So, here’s to the buzzards and the rats –

and us, lords of them all!

 

 

 

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THE HEREDITARY PRINCIPLE

Hugh d’Avranches, one of the Conqueror’s henchmen,

with him at Hastings, got the Saxon earldom

of Chester and the palatine of Cheshire,

with its forests of deer and boar, as reward.

His nicknames were ‘Lupus’ and ‘Gros Veneur’

because he ravened the Welsh like a wolf

and he was a hunter and a glutton.

 

His descendant, Gerald Grosvenor, His Grace,

the late, sad 6th Duke of Westminster – holder

of twenty eight appointments, decorations,

medals, orders and titles, many bestowed

by the Queen; landlord of much of London’s

Belgravia and Mayfair, where dwell

Arab despots, Russian oligarchs

and celebrities from showbiz and fashion;

his motto being ‘Virtus Non Stemma’,

‘Virtue Not Pedigree’ – had riches

greater than the combined wealth of six

million of his poorest, fellow subjects.

And we are all, everyone of us, subjects

of Her Majesty. What a great leveller

our constitutional monarchy is!

 

 

 

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THE MINER’S WELFARE INSTITUTE, LLAY

Taking a wrong turn, as per usual,

out of Wrexham, I found myself driving

to Llay* up that gradual gradient,

looking for signposts to places I knew

to set me right but reached the colliery houses –

built in the ’20s with indoor toilet,

bath and the electric at nine pence a week –

on First Avenue, Second Avenue

and so forth to the Ninth as if the owner

could not be arsed to find proper, local  names.

Llay Main was the deepest pit in Britain.

The seams were worked out by ’66

so the village missed the Scargill/Thatcher show.

 

I saw the sign for Rossett and knew my way –

but then, on the brow of the rise, saw

the white neo-Edwardian Baroque

of the Miner’s Welfare Institute –

the large lettered name picked out in gold

like a movie palace or a music hall –

built with dues paid by each miner (hence

the apostrophe) for books and billiards,

cricket and pantomimes, talks and meetings.

 

I slowed, moved by its pristine survival:

a community venue for quizzes

and sports, for carnivals and weddings.

As I drove down towards Rossett, I could see

the distant refineries at Stanlow

on the far edge of the Cheshire Plain

and thought how we are close to forgetting

our history, of acting as if coal

leapt ready hewn from the earth or turned itself

into gas to make the world too warm.

 

Once, within a radius of fifteen miles

of Llay, among the hills, meadows, rivers,

woods, were two steel works and sixty pits.

It was lethal work in the stuffy dark

under the crushing heat of rock and earth,

uncared for and unregarded work.

 

In Gresford pit, fewer than two miles from Llay

two hundred and sixty six men and boys

were killed in one explosion – all but eleven

entombed in the abandoned galleries.

Among the thwarted rescuers were teams

of miners from Llay.  The words ‘whited

sepulchre’ come unbidden – hiding

exploitation, pain, loss.

 

 

*Llay rhymes with ‘die’ and ‘lie’.

 

 

 

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GOLDEN

As luck would have it, we were married this day

exactly half a century ago.

We holiday with our small family

to avoid the inevitable party

and announce our golden wedding to friends

via Facebook – and receive some humbling

encouragements that speak not simply

of being there like pebbles as the tide

ebbs and flows but of inspiration.

 

We chose to honeymoon by Bantry Bay.

Ireland spoke of mystery and romance –

to us ignorant of its privations.

As we drove through the town that August Sunday,

the sun lowering over the Atlantic,

some church festival was finishing.

A wedding guest had hidden confetti

in our suitcase so, as you unpacked our clothes

for the first time, gaudy paper disks fluttered

over the bed beneath The Sacred Heart.

Our week was ended with upset stomachs.

We had had lunch – potatoes, carrots, bacon –

in a dark panelled restaurant in Cork,

surrounded by unsmiling nuns and priests.

We were infidels in Calvary land.

 

On the return ferry, to save money,

we spent the night in armchairs in the bar.

Before midnight a gale blew up that rolled us

forty five degrees starboard to port and back.

We could see ships nearby in Liverpool Bay

bucking as in a cartoon of a tempest.

Behind the bar’s locked grills, glasses and bottles

shattered. Bench seats along the saloon’s sides

broke free and two lines of strangers grinning

with fear briefly curtsied to each other.

 

‘Strange to be there, beginning something new,’

I wrote that autumn. ‘Strange to go there,

hoping for what might come.’ The narrow fields

and lanes seemed untouched since the Great Hunger –

yet the dry stone walls were festooned for miles

with wild fuchsia and honeysuckle. Now

it seems as if we had known that we would learn there

how to weather sickness, storms – and bask in joy.

 

 

 

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