The pit of my stomach fell out
At the sight of the solitary pine.
Seeing it alone, rooted, in the centre
Of a vast expanse of dusty green,
Lit faded memories. They flashed
As the pine loitered in my head
Bringing to an end the distant
Dream of redemption I had had.
A literary society
Bent on revering a poet,
The forgotten man of words,
Worried me a little.
After ten minutes or so
Two gentlemen arrived
Sporting suitable attire,
Carrying poems and an explorer map.
Dressed in gear,
Which was less shiny than I imagined;
Woollen socks, corduroy trousers, leather boots, tweed cap.
The cagoule was bagged.
A blue aluminium stick was on show,
Jutting from a hand,
Indicating that I had not driven through time,
But the Downs of Southern England.
The A34 allows me to drift off;
Be alone, seek the comatose self,
In the placeless space of car land
Where visions of people swirl,
On a haze of featureless lanes
Of tarmac, unrolling, on and on.
I seamlessly merge into nothingness,
On to another ribbon of routine
Before Winchester; Automatically
I drove on, detached once more,
From a swelling landscape,
Which could inspire one.
Not until a few miles from Petersfield
Did the road knit the landscape up;
Tying together what appeared to me,
To be the ancient folds and gashes
Of a giant duvet of mostly pale green.
Increasingly the road narrowed,
Its surface pitted, twisted and dipped,
Hanging on to, following and bridging
A shallow meandering stream.
The road now descended rapidly,
Turns tighter and tighter, inside
Jenny’s copse a necessary byway.
Shadows danced on the car in front,
As we bunched, the dashboard lit up.
The landscape no longer rapidly unrolled
But remained in my mind forever unchanged;
Field, hedgerow, field, hedgerow, field, hedgerow,
Green, brown, green, brown, green, brown,
Bisected by sky, blue, blue, blue,
Clouds, wispy white, crows, black swoops,
A gap, five bar gate, an oak tree, standing alone,
Cow, cow, cow, side on, unmoving,
Chalk Downs, Southern England: a tomb.
Light, Bright, White, Out, Open,
A round-about, straight over
To the Railway Station.
I parked and waited.
My hay fever was uncontrollable,
I could concentrate on nothing else but my body,
Its sweaty flesh and aching muscles,
Wiping the memory of what we were discussing.
I remember only the basics
Of the landscape we wandered;
A green corn field, a barbed wire fence,
A line of trees in the distance, a desire path.
Follow it out of this green blur.
Embarrassed at the affect pollen has upon me
I began to feel like a city boy more than ever,
Too clean, not used to the pungent country air:
Completely out of place.
Feeling dreadful in the countryside,
Sneezing away, folding the one tissue I had
This way and that, Left me longing
To be back in the warm beating heart
Of natal Manchester, with its grey concrete
Its red brick, the grime, decay, noise,
Life, fear, love, and the Smiths.
To my left I noticed the others.
They looked increasingly at home.
Their tensions were visibly seeping away,
With the corporeal techniques they used now working,
Some sort of mystical connection was being awakened.
They were attempting metamorphosis!
Reaching for a world beyond this life,
The fellowship transmogrified before me.
Bizarrely at this point I just wondered
Why no one else grazed these paths with us.
Even the cows, sheep, and wild horses had gone.
No doubt to make way for the very modest influx,
Of cagouled ramblers we witnessed.
Water had gathered in the deep trenches
Where wheels had passed over for centuries,
Down the narrow treacherous green lane.
Drenched cheap trainers began digging at my feet,
Leaving me looking down more often to concentrate,
I noticed when slowing, and studying my gait,
On the ground, a dead mole, face up with arms outstretched.
There was not a scratch upon it.
Its heart stopped from a fright, a loud noise,
Perhaps a blast from a gun. Bending down,
I reached for the mole, and stroked the fur on its belly,
Before picking it up. It was not larger than my palm;
Touching it I was surprised at its warmth and its softness.
Not long since it had gone.
The girlfriend felt she was getting drunk at last.
At the same time it crossed my mind,
That we really should be leaving.
It was funny: a few minutes before the argument started,
I had a feeling something was wrong.
I looked warily round, and my gaze settled
On a couple in the corner.
I thought nothing of their arguing to begin with,
As it grew louder the room became interested.
I struggle to remember now what they were arguing about;
It ended with a slap that much I remember.
The guy who squatted in the house down the Cowley Road,
A friend of a friend, said and did nothing,
Just drank a pink drink and shrugged.
He had just cooked up in his bedroom,
And was gutted when everyone dispersed soon after,
Before the shooting up.
I was stone cold sober;
But the girlfriend was by then gin addled,
Innevitability she would break down at some point,
Miserably it was only a matter of time.
I lost her for a bit in the melee post slap.
I hated to hear her sobbing back then;
I can just about remember the contorted face
And the noise that came out of it,
A yelping sniffle that would not stop.
It was out of her control: hyperventalating,
As the tears continued to drip from her chin,
And the gin mist took hold;
In the taxi or in her bedroom it did not matter,
She talked only of my momentary absence and sobbed,
Until eventually, exhausted, she slumped to one side,
Closed her blood shot eyes and snored.
Absent always now those nights cling on just,
And out themselves as a sound, a sight, a smell.
Memories are made of only this as I dwell,
In a point in time spent alone with her,
When I think I can hear those sweet gin tears
Through the endless drunken din.
A narrow chalk path, aslant; ascending,
Not directly over the crest, like in the past,
Via the sparkling shards of willow pattern plate,
But up a shallow slope hung above a patch of pine
On the side of the hanger amongst dense beech,
A short cut always facing out to the railway, the sea
The South Downs Way and the a3.
Climbing at pace the natural staircase,
Jutting from the sheer chalk scarp face;
A slippage of faults in the soft, porous rock.
Erosion of the cliffs over Petersfield,
Selfsame strata, dive down to the sea at Dover,
Dug away at through the toil of wind and water,
This southern most band of calcium carbonate.
On the landing a smooth plateau;
A sweep of the head from left to right,
Sixty miles in an instant of clays and sands.
Eye now racing from the rising tide to a suicide;
The tormented Woolf hearing voices,
Fills pockets full of stones and drowns herself.
A statue marks the spot of death,
A pilgrimage site for a brisk mourning walk;
Throw yourself into the river in a macabre homage,
To a prominent member of the Bloomsbury set.
And not to forget, Algernon Charles Swinburne,
Past those smooth-swelling unending downs,
On the south coast walking the line,
Ignoring those grey seaside towns.
Once the shoulder was again visible in the distance,
I remembered my movements and nipped across
A couple of recently harvested soggy wheat fields,
Where a lack of colour was evident amongst the short sharp stems
Crunching and squeeking loudly beneath my soles:
No rough poppy, corn marigold, or corn chammomile,
As had been noted in the past in these parts mingled.
Only the familiar dusty green the field had been sown with:
The pretty wild flowers had been killed off,
Weeded out, fertlised, without local protest.
Behind the now empty field on the skyline
Stood the shilhouette of the shoulder shaped scarp
Covered in trees; magnificent beeches.
A proposal to cut down the beeches
That populated the hanger was tabled in the fifties,
The most beautiful specimens were saved though,
Especially those on the skyline.
Still the richest woodland on English chalk;
The Ashford Hangers, devoid of flowers.
It was a scriuffier pub in his day;
Set in the middle of the Hangers,
Winded around by vines,
Propping up the frontage.
Inside a smoking room,
And a variety of ales in barrels.
The toilets remained unchanged
On the opposite side of the lane,
A tarmac garden of sorts;
The endearing outdoor bogs,
With a trough to piss in,
Enclosed the dozen or so benches,
In crumbling brick structures.
Greengage, apple, mulberry, and fir trees
Were spotted with delphiniums, poppies,
Everlasting-sweet peas, roses and dahlias.
While in a shady corner campanula,
Phlox, and allium grew.
The solitude of this spot
Meant he never moved far.
One would see whilst walking,
Him always sat here drinking,
The last time he was pottering around,
All stooped over with a head of white hair.
Not long after this visit he passed away;
His wife died too a few months later,
She would walk the dog this way,
To fetch him back home.
I talk to myself a lot now dead badger,
Guts spilt out in a pointless red anger,
Blackened face flattened to the hard tarmac.
Stupid creatures; if only we had turned back.
I passed your friend splayed over the curb,
Strewn with the rubbish thrown from turds.
We did not chat though; I turned away,
Anyway, after everything, what could I say.
Sleep now, I will go, and leave you in peace;
Pity, I could not know you as an old badger.
The road continues but we do not, as once
I turn this corner I am finally gone yonder.
I talk to myself a lot now dead badger,
Because you are no longer my badger.
Time Flies (1)
When you’re having fun
The time flies come
And steal in their droves
The time you kill.
The little blighters’ wing
And swarm until you can’t
Remember anything of before;
Numb, desensitized to pain
Drowning in endless rain.
You are five years older;
Bewildered, none the wiser.
Where did all the time go?
Spend your time productively;
Make a timely exit,
With a timeless beauty,
Instead of flitting about.
It’s your own time you’re wasting,
Not that you know that while drinking.
The flies press on and the ship begins sinking;
They have the time now
And there’s no getting it back.
With impeccable timing they come
While you take time out to remember,
With old father time
That you don’t have the time,
To be messing around drinking.
So you leave and promise to sort yourself out
Through good times, bad times, indifferent times.
Earn yourself time and a half
And bargain with the flies
Before time kills you.
Time Flies (2)
When you’re having fun
the time flies come
and steal in their droves
the time you kill.
The little blighters wing
and swarm until you can’t
remember anything of before,
suddenly, five years older,
bewildered, none the wiser.
It’s your own time you’re wasting –
not that you know that while drinking.
The flies press on and you begin sinking;
they have the time now
and there’s no getting it back.
With impeccable timing they come,
while you take time out to remember
with old father time
that you don’t have the time
to be messing around drinking.
You leave and promise to sort yourself out
through good times and bad times.
Swear to spend your time wisely,
and make a timely exit
with a timeless beauty,
instead of flitting about town.
Earn yourself time and a half
and the chance to bargain with the flies
before time kills you.
Rubbing hard on crusty eyes
footsteps and voices nearby,
the sun already streaming in and
the smell of bacon wafting over,
piecing things together slowly;
in my grimy clothes I lay
with a chronic lack of saliva.
A sleeping bag covering a girl,
bar the head and pale bare shoulder,
open mouthed, hair curled across her
fresh faced and serene beside,
in the light now dropping through,
not stirred from her sleep but sweaty,
I left her to her dreams exiting quietly,
wanting to stay but unable to,
stumbling over debauchery;
fag ends, baggies, vomit, empties,
a cup of rancid ash on burnt grass,
playing cards strewn with shit scraps
in splayed polystyrene takeaway trays,
screaming kids with pushy parents,
communal bogs and a hose ten feet off
to sear away the sheen of gear my eyes amass
when days elapse between sleep and wake –
the remnants of my decrepit life,
bits and pieces and loose ends,
increment by increment,
since the day I woke in that tent.
We are all damaged goods
Find beauty in damaged things;
watch a bird with broken wings
that in a sad tone loudly sings
and to you its soul it brings.
A grey box on the edge of town,
Some corners straight up and down,
Inside there could be anything,
The facade is faceless and unrevealing.
It could house a house for a mouse,
A rat for a cat or some tat for a twat,
Most likely the latter the cat is not fatter,
Sat beside a lorry guarding some matter.
Over time the grey box multiplied,
A blue one a yellow one loads I spied,
While all the shops on the street closed
And the candlestick maker cried.
One day I saw inside the grey box,
When I crept as cunningly as a fox,
What I saw to this day still shocks,
A box sat on top of a box,
Sat beside a box…
Some horses wandered
back and forth unhindered,
across a farmers field
under pylons chained.
Nothing much else happened
when the train stopped
on the outskirts of Minehead,
bar the horses being intrigued
by the presence of a weed
beside their lush field.
Most passengers just read
while the horses advanced,
the chance to see them spurned,
the printed word prefered
to the real world,
visible if they turned.
Beyond the pane
of a packed train,
a lonely cow
sat in solitude
in a field.
Separated from the other
slack-jawed fat cattle,
crowded around the gate,
mindlessly grouped to wait,
discussing the latest trait,
hoping not to be late.
Making a break for it
the lonely cow stood up,
came over to the train
and stared in for a while
at the herd in their pen,
munching away, groaning.
I gorped at the cow
now sat back down
content having a think,
while the train remained
delaying our slaughter;
murder me now