Last arm pointing - New Tales from Ovid - and - Parallel Lines were intended as part of a large collection but were in the end published separately in pamphlet form. (JB)
POEMS FROM ‘THE LAST ARM POINTING’
For some reason I don’t understand
my mam takes me on the bus
to the hospital twice a week,
to have my left arm tickled.
I have to lie down on a big bed
and a pretty nurse with curly black hair
strokes my arm with a wire.
She starts in the middle of my hand,
then slowly moves the wire up to my shoulder
and back, and all the time I can hear
a bee buzzing behind her,
and my arm tickles all over at once.
When I giggle the nurse smiles.
But sometimes I cry, because
I want her to stop so I can go
to play in the toy-room.
Then she tells me to shush
and be a brave boy.
Once a doctor told my mam
he wanted me to wear a corset,
but she said ‘No’, and cried
all the way home, while I sang
‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree
With Anyone Else But Me’
over and over and over.
On First Seeing Olivier’s Richard III
I wondered how he’d do it
- how would he get that knotted mass
of cartilage and bone to hang
from his shoulder, dragging his spine
into a lazy S? Which shoulder
would he choose? Or would it be
one of those Mr Punch jobs,
dead centre and rising
like a mountain peak behind his ears?
Then there were the legs.
How would he get those elegant pins
- the ones he’d used in Hamlet
and Henry V - to twist and lope,
lose inches from the thighs?
And would both hands be the same size?
Or would one be shrunken and cramped,
inadequate to the holding of swords,
the balancing of crowns
or the wooing of maidens?
My schoolmates knew, of course,
as they showed me, aping my jagged
shape and halting gait
when the teachers drilled us into line
outside the Regal.
Olivier, in the end, chickened out,
stuffed a cushion up his tunic,
stuck putty on his face,
and kept the legs as neatly turned
A Wasted Talent
At playing dead, he was simply
the best kid in town.
Stand him up against a wall
and on the command 'Fire!'
he'd spin to the ground
with a cry of defiance
worthy of cinema's finest.
Ambush him in Sherwood Forest
and arrows would pierce
his Norman armour
like pins through fag-paper,
and there he would fall,
clutching his shattered heart.
Lob a hand-grenade
and see his limbs spread
across an entire meadow.
Shell him, and he would vanish
in a ball of blue smoke.
Push him out of a 'plane
with a duff parachute
and hear the scream
as he hurtled earthwards.
He could even drown convincingly
if you held him under water
for long enough.
Winter Morning, Withernsea
Even before you're truly awake
something rare has taken hold.
See how the light stands solid,
enclosing the room
in a chaos of fern.
Feel the hands that have wound this
icy design about the house.
If you put an eye to the window,
they will be out there,
waiting to bind you too.
A penny warmed in the mouth
burns a precise disc
in the window glass.
to the far distance.
In the frozen ocean,
the old men of the town,
like so many Ancient Mariners,
wait for a breeze
to release them.
Wind Of War
All night the wind screamed out its pain,
shaking the elms in the back field,
rattling the tin roofs of allotment sheds,
crossing the face of the moon.
In the blacked-out house we lay entwined,
safe in our tent of flannel
bedsheets, woollen blankets,
hearing the wild sounds
as from the mountains of Titan,
seeing only the glow
of our own pale eyes,
feeling the touch of warm flesh,
the heat of close bodies,
In the morning all was still.
We could see to the far horizon,
ships of war riding the grey estuary.
Silently we climbed upon broken elms
strewn about the back field,
remembering the ends of days.
new tales from Ovid
1. My Husband Ate Our Son
Afterwards he said
it was the tastiest stew
I’d ever cooked for him.
I could see he enjoyed it
by the way he scraped the dish
then looked around for more.
Bits of flesh hung from his beard
and he had that look,
so I knew what to expect.
Always the same once he’d eaten
his fill; he’d give me that leary glare,
eyes small like a snake
staring from under a rock.
Then he’d pull out his great thing
and shove it into me
right there at the table.
But not that day.
He seemed to know something
was wrong. He said,
where’s that boy of ours?
And I told him.
My sister, screeching, tongueless,
tried to stop me.
But revenge was too sweet.
He’s right there I said,
right inside you,
and I began to scream
He would have killed us both
if he’d caught us.
But we were too swift.
It was as if we could fly.
Now he’s completely off his head.
Most of the time he thinks
he’s a hawk, we’re a couple
of sparrows. He curls his hands
into claws and chases us
about the garden.
My sister flaps her arms
and swoops around
I keep out of his way
until he exhausts himself.
Then I sing my song.
2. Whatever He Touched Turned to Gold
With luck like that
you’d think he’d have the wit
not to antagonise the gods.
Not him. Every day another scheme
to make money. Every day
some new adornment to our house.
I told him the roll wouldn’t last.
He just laughed and slipped
another ruby on my dress.
Our daughter went to school
in silk and diamonds.
No good will come of that
I said. What harm, he said.
If you’ve got it, show it.
And he went on making money.
Then one day he sold the lot,
businesses, houses, goods,
took off into the hills.
Left us, without a word,
in the clothes we wore,
bailiffs at the gate.
Next I heard he was in a fight
between a traveller and a goatherd
over who played the hottest tune.
His luck ran out, picked the wrong man;
the traveller beat him silly.
Now he wanders the town in rags,
a woolly hat pulled down over his ears,
hoping we won’t see what an ass he is.
3. Enough to Drive a Woman to Drink
A romance made in heaven it was said.
He, a scuba-diving tough guy -
the type that wrestles bulls,
bungee-jumps into volcanoes.
Me, the virginal daughter of the King of Crete.
Problem was my half-brother,
produce of my mother’s indiscretion
with a passing stud,
whose antics with the visiting girls
were scandalous to say the least.
A brief and bloody fight ensured
the beast would rape no more
among the eighteen-thirty girls
seeking sun and wine and sex
But now my hero tired of love,
dumped this princess on the honeymoon,
took off with another,
the very image of his mother.
The sky’s the only thing attracts me now
as through a haze of wine I gaze
at a crown of stars,
my destined place in heaven
the wise old barman says.
4. Just Another Object of Desire
Just because my naked image floats
on glossy pages, you might believe
you’re free to wander over me,
that I’m an object of desire,
a piece of stone made flesh
by your cold artistry.
You might wish that in return
I’ll accept your exploration
as a sign of true affection.
Such illusions may possess you
but I am not the thing you see,
your creation rendered free.
I am the stone I always was,
figure of perfect womanhood,
a female rock to break your heart.
5. Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Lord
Am I to blame if now my one,
constant, overpowering desire
is to gorge myself
on raw flesh?
Can I help it if my body-hair
is thick, matted
with the congealed remains
of impromptu feasts?
It was, after all, a harmless jape,
a simple prank to deflate
a self-important jackanapes
strutting around our town
every bit like some
Lord of the Universe.
Am I to blame if He
couldn’t take a joke?
6. Woman in Tree Escape
It’s hard to credit that a man
could pursue a woman
with such single-minded dedication
out of sheer desperation
at the thought of his intentions,
she’d climb into a laurel
and stay there so long
it became impossible to tell
which was tree,
which was woman.
But who knows what a man will do
when struck by Cupid’s arrow?
Persuasion is no antidote
to this infection, nor reason.
There is no vaccine to kill such fever.
This man is bent on my destruction
in the name of love. So here I’ll stay,
the breeze mingling my hair with the leaves,
the river grumbling around my feet
(something about a son-in-law, grandchildren)
until he tires of gnawing at my bark.
7. A Stalker Laments
Why do you never answer, pretty boy,
why do you never answer to my calls?
are meant to tell you that I love you.
I love you
as I hold your perfect body in my dreams.
In my dreams
our bodies tumble till I come with a thunderclap,
to rock the Halls of Hell. But nought from you.
Nought from you
but silence, or a sneer at my devotion.
need not be a singular attraction.
can be mutual if you let it.
draw you from your mirror, pretty boy.
we could be lovers, should be, must be,
lovers, or I’ll die of grief without you.
I’m a shadow, a fantasy, an echo,
that will never leave your mind.
with apologies to Judith Weir
One day while walking
in the mountains
Confucius saw a monk swept away
by an angry river.
“Are you drowning?”
asked the sage.
“No” replied the monk,
“I’m going with the flow”
and disappeared down the gorge
and over the falls
Or so Confucius said.
So rich a voice
needs no reward –
how can you pay perfection?
Yet how dull
our city streets would be
if the poor took to
How we love our horses!
How carefully we pare their hooves,
comb and braid their hair.
What clever tasks we set them
- hauling, carrying, racing.
How much happier they must be
than running unshod over frost
pursued by the wind –
as the trees rejoice
to carry our words.
If a fish can learn
to fly, filling the horizon
with the spread of its wings
how much easier for a butterfly
to generate a hurricane
A Letter to Philip Larkin
Just a line or two to say hello,
I’m home again.
Too many years of life ‘down South’ can throw
you out of kilter with this world – resign
you to acceptance of self-interest,
a disregard for family and friends.
So here I am, back where I began
on the edge of nowhere, not quite depressed
but feeling low, ready to make amends
for years of silence, making out in London.
There’s not much new about arriving here -
the same wide sky
blurring to a distant, watery smear
over a grey, slow-drifting estuary.
There’s the bridge, of course, unmissable, a skeletal arch
of steel: ‘Bridge for the Living’ you called it, lying.
But no more smell of fish, no ships up streets.
While I was skipping round the world in search
of life, you watched this city’s dying,
the trawlers gone, the docks filled in. It waits
now for some fresh beginning, resurrection,
a change of luck,
anything to stop the creeping dereliction
of a city without purpose. Coming back
to this reminds me why I left. And yet
you stayed, caught in this unpoetic place
and found it tolerant of verse. Perhaps
I could have found the same, become a poet,
no mere versifier, learned to express
some feeling for my roots among the back-to-backs.
Maybe I chose the wrong pub to frequent –
drank in the Tiger
instead of the Duke, in the lounge where you spent
your lunchtimes. Would I have seemed too young, too eager
to interest you in my schemes? Such are the might-have-beens
that make us what we’re not. Too late now.
You’re gone and all I can do is follow your trail
around the city streets and village greens,
the churches and the cemeteries, and wonder how
my life would be if we’d shared a jar of ale.
Best not to think of that – what might have been.
We are what we are.
You said yourself there’s no escape. Dream
as we may of flying off to some place far
from present tensions. So here I am, back
where I began, on the edge of nowhere,
ready to rejoin the world I left behind,
seeing through your verse the poetry in this bleak
terrain. Perhaps this time I’ll leave aware
of what I missed, instead of flying blind.
The Meta-circular Postscript Interpreter
Oh! Arpanet. Oh! Econet.
Oh! global-spanning Internet.
Why must you remain opaque?
Reveal to me your rich mosaic.
Give to me your netscape,
give to me your world-wide web.
Oh! Archie. Oh! Gopher.
Oh! glorious Veronica.
Bring to me your zips and tars,
bring to me the moon and stars,
bring to me your gifs,
bring to me your virtual love.
Leave me free to roam your wan,
tell me truly, I'm your man,
that my backbone's what you need,
that your protocols are freed
by the presence of my concise
Let me stroke your optic fibre,
let me scan your hyper-links,
let me softly decompress you,
let me lovingly undress you,
let us ride the super-highway,
let us fly to Xanadu.
Here be Dragons
“Poets have overlooked the goldmine of inspiration offered by science”
Richard Dawkin “Unweaving the Rainbow”
1. Red is the Colour of Magick
Red is for Magick, for Mars, and for Blood,
Yellow for Gold, for the Sun, and for Good.
Green is the Forest, for Venus, and Love.
Blue is the Sky, Realm of great Jove.
White is for Virgins, Diana, the Moon,
Black is the Grave, for Kronos, and Doom.
These are the Colours my Magick will Blend
As I seek the Elixir of Life Without End.
2. The Last Testament of Giodarno Bruno
Roast my broken body on your pyre
and feed my guts as offal to your hounds.
Tear out my limbs and throw them in the mire
and set the rats to gnaw my naked wounds.
Show me no mercy. Gouge out my eyes.
Rip out this tongue from which the sounds
that so offend you rise. And from the skies
call down the crows to gorge upon my bones.
There are no tortures genius can devise
will change the motion of the Earth. As stones
must always fall, so will this planet spin
about the Sun. So as you listen to my groans,
hear them as the death-cries of your doctrine.
Think where lies the guilt of mortal sin.
3. Galileo Meets his Inquisitors
Let us introduce you to the humble
thumbscrew. Note the sharp precision
of its spikes. With just a few rotations
of this lever, we can break any bone we choose.
You might consider this an appropriate moment
to reflect upon the wisdom of your views.
Let me introduce you to my views
of Jupiter, whose spinning moons should humble
any critic. Consider them only for a moment:
see how they move - such heavenly precision
cannot be denied. How can you ask a man to choose
to disregard the fact of these rotations?
Perhaps instead a few rotations
of the strappado will clarify your views
of the heavenly motions. Or else we’ll choose
the rack to stretch your mind to humble
thoughts. You’ll appreciate the fine precision
of its gearing, the power of its turning moment.
The phases of Venus are at this moment
disputing your logic with their rotations.
My telescopes are made with such precision
they can provide the most astounding views
of other worlds, and though I am your humble
servant, science is the master I must choose.
And fire the method we must choose,
that master of persuasion which in a moment
can reduce the proudest men to humble
compliance. God has decreed the heavenly rotations.
His is the Truth, whatever the distorted views
seen through your glasses. This precision
you claim is nothing compared to the precision
of Creation. You have no option but to choose
renunciation of your views.
For it would take us just a moment,
our instruments a few rotations
to render you forever humble.
4. Charles Darwin at Tierra del Fuego
The fury of this place destroys all thought.
Sky, ice, sea, rock beat
us without mercy. Our prayers to whatever god
rules here are lost in the wind that rips our sails
and tears the breath from our lungs. Imagination
cannot conjure a Hell more suited to the damned,
a land less fitted to the needs of Man.
And yet among these dark forbidding rocks
there lives a race as near humanity
as might be seen – a race of troubled spirits
from another world, naked as in Eden.
They mock us from their cliffs, hurl down
whatever comes to hand; on close encounter
ape our every move, echo our every
sound. Their laughter cracks the air, their whooping
clatters down the barren valleys. By what
devices they survive among such merciless
terrain I cannot tell, though heard it said,
in winter they devour the older women.
Such brutes as these defy the notion of the rise
of Man to civilised estate, make nonsense
of the thought: “If apes make men,
do men make Angels?”
5. One Small Step for a Man
Wingless we fly nearer to the Sun
than Icarus, yet feel no heat.
We listen to the stars.
Their music is silence.
The Moon measures time in landscapes.
Death is a heartbeat away.
We plant our nation’s flag.
Windless, it holds.
6. Hiroshima Heritage
Here in this shadow lies the proof,
if proof you need,
that e equals mc squared.
August morning and a woman –
mother, daughter, sister, wife –
in mid-step turned to silhouette.
Here in this shadow lies the Swiss
the coffee-house haunt
of a violinist,
dreaming spires and ivory towers,
a squash-court in Chicago,
crisp mountain air
of New Mexico,
a sudden heat in Alamogordo,
condensed in a single flash,
silhouetted on a pavement
for tourists to snap.
7. At the Edge
After a journey
that seemed like a life
we arrived at the edge.
To some this was the end.
“Here is Truth”, they said.
“There is no more”,
and settled down to die.
Some looked out at the void
and dreamed of a flight
into the unknown.
They felled the lightest trees,
began to construct
a flying machine.
Others declared we had reached
the Kingdom of God.
They felled the tallest trees,
began to construct
For our part we made no comment.
Instead we unpacked our ropes,
pulleys and crampons
and slowly, carefully,
began the long descent.
The Bricklayer Apologises for Walling-up His Sister
I ask you, dear sister, what else could I do? It was my job. It was how I lived. I built walls. The boss said: "Otto. Build me a wall. Build it from here to there. This high". And, brick upon brick, slapping on the mortar, tapping into line, I built him a wall. I built him a very good wall. So I grant you, this time he ordered a pretty unusual wall. But that's a boss's privilege. And I'm not the only one to blame. Even I can't wall off a whole city district in a single night. I did have a little help from the rest of the comrades. I wish I could have seen your face the next morning, when you realised you were surrounded by so many kilometres of bricks, breeze blocks, and barbed wire. What a shock that must have been. It had to be done, though. Even you must have seen that, for the greater good of us all. Or so the boss said. But you know, I cried for weeks after, when I realised what I'd done. Walled up my own sister on the other side of town, walled up all the joy in my life, bricked up the colour and the music, rendered you deaf and dumb. So I'm sorry for all the years we lost, and now I'm knocking that wall down, letting in the light, opening up the space between us, resurrecting our buried lives. Seeing your face, all those faces, shining through at me, listening to the roar of freedom cheering me on. I would have understood if you'd been less than pleased to see me. But this is what I do now. I knock down walls. The boss says: "Otto, go knock down that wall. And brick by brick..."
To My Hungry Love
It would have been the best you ever ate,
a meal to celebrate, a consummation,
a carnival of flavours, the Amazon in flood,
perfection of gastronomy, homage to Bacchus.
To start, gazpacho cooling the heart
in case we set too hot an early pace.
A grouse apiece, a fricasee of sole, and then,
aristocratic splendour, chateaubriand,
pot-roasted to a pink melange, mouth melting
flesh slithering in aromatic juices.
Sweet tansy follows, than at last, fulfilment
in a crowning bowl of blood-warm syllabub,
eulogy to the virgin queen herself.
All this you would have known, and more, good love,
if only, just for once, you'd kept your word.
Instead you sent me foxglove and the briefest
note to say you could not come today;
not feeling well, it seems, a touch of flu'.
So here, for you, a small bouquet, to wish
you well, a simple bunch of asphodel.
How she hated those blank walls,
the monastic furnishings;
how cold he seemed
in his monochrome world.
So she gave him an African Violet,
instructed him in its feeding and watering.
She brought vases,
filled them with carnations, narcissi,
whole gardens of freesias,
perfume filling every corner of the house.
She made of her body a fruit market -
oranges, pomegranates, water-melons
What else could he do but eat his fill,
until the juices turned his beard to a rainbow,
and only the pips remained,
to worry his flesh as he slept?
Window-Shopping in Amsterdam
They looked like specimen butterflies,
those women on display,
posing in their bright-lit windows.
They wore their wings as see-through dressing gowns
draped about the variety of their forms.
From time to time a pair of wings would rise
as if to fly, and the cold light would flutter out.
We young braves, drifting from case to case,
gorged ourselves on the colours and shapes
imagining the flights we would make
with each radiant specimen, until at last,
exhausted by our own bravado, we stumbled
into a crowded bar, there to make our excuses
and our explanations, to display our outrage
at the barbarous practice of pinning butterflies.
Goodbye, Mrs Haut-Sinclair
Oh! How we loved you, Mrs. Haut-Sinclair!
Drifting round your Algarve swimming pool,
playing all-night hands of solitaire,
dreaming of less tranquil times in Goole.
You entertained us with your Northern wit,
fed us charcoaled sardines and Sangria
as we danced to the samba beat by a moonlit
beach, and talked of sex and Kampuchea.
Now you have left us, Mrs. Haut-Sinclair.
Your pool is dry, your Bar-B cold, your villa
dark and silent as the hills. The air
you breathed has turned to stone, yet there is still a
faint aroma of your musk, and by your chair
a half-drained glass, a travel-guide to Anguilla.
A Fine Property
in Need of Some Attention
Miss Havisham might have walked
these floorboards as they rotted
under fraying carpets,
or strolled the garden
as it sprawled back to nature –
she or any other pale mistress
whose man had left her for the war.
Smell the air. Some thing has died here
unattended, a cat perhaps
or a small dog, trapped
as the last owners fled
the bailiffs’ knock.
Years peel from the walls
in floral strips, all that’s left
of portraits are these grey rectangles
where they hung
from crumbling picture rails.
Who knows what eyes surveyed
these corridors, what hands
caressed the polished oak
of stately chairs, raised a glass
to King and Country,
or held the throbbing breast
No more than names on title deeds,
or signed inventories of property
sent to auction.
Beyond the meadowed lawns
a waterless lake reveals
the rusted mechanisms of extinct
fountains. Where once sprang rainbows
and a timeless music –
unpicked brambles and the hum
We sit, we men, silent
in our cave of mirrors,
while through the open door
the avenida plays,
a home movie
projected on a wall.
We sip our bicas,
black, sweet and hot,
like the women
in our wettest dreams,
determined to forget
the rowdy kids,
the stumpy fish-wives
we leave at home.
is an office, account book,
clock and calculator,
boss and boss’s wife,
and filing cabinet,
waiting on our attendance.
But that’s another life away.
Only here is our reality.
A cup of coffee, a cigarette,
a Constantino on pay day,
and dreams of being
In the Tavern
This man with the broken teeth
and one eye closed is Jorge.
He doesn’t complain.
Buy him a beer
and he’ll tell you his joke
about the two prison guards.
He’ll sing you his song
of the emigrant’s life,
and tell you soldiers’ tales
to make your blood run cold
until you laugh out loud.
His mother, he’ll let you know,
with tears in his eyes,
was the finest woman
in Christendom -
her rabbit stew
the food of Paradise,
where she surely now resides.
But ask him how his teeth
or why his eye is closed,
and he will fall into a long
broken only by the sound
of rats scuffling
under the floorboards.
The Emigrant’s Song
Take off in the night and don’t look back
at the love that you are leaving,
or the deep brown eyes and the hair so black.
Take off in the night and don’t look back.
Just sing this song as you follow the track,
for I see no point in grieving.
Take off in the night and don’t look back
at the love that you are leaving.
Song in a Barber Shop
Song Li from Kyongju addresses my hair.
Slender fingers flicker, pick and snip
at damp sea-weed.
Somewhere about her face lives a smile,
just a slight curve of the lips,
and a soft light in her eyes
as she dreams of Korea in Spring,
of a garden and a cherry tree,
and music that hangs on the wind.
Behind her mirrored image,
drizzle washes a London street,
and evening lights the afternoon.
She makes conversation,
as barbers are paid to do:
‘Are you Christian?’ she asks,
‘Did you read bible?
I’m learning to be Christian.’
She’s proud of this, and accuses:
‘Why you not read bible? Bible very interesting.
Why you say you don’t believe?’
and is silent again as she draws my head
into her body.
I feel her breast against my cheek,
smell the air about her flesh,
and somewhere deep inside me
stir these ancient lines:
‘But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.’
Soon the telephone will flutter.
I'll pick up the part that's like a cold
yellow bone, hold it near to my head,
and a sound like the sound of your voice
will echo faintly in my ear.
It will ask me how I am,
enquire about what I've been doing,
and I'll tell it, only partly lying,
of the events of the day.
Of how I walked out on the hard
white ground, and saw the dyke
at the end of the garden
running black and full
from the storms. How I felt
a pale sun on my face.
How I ran my palms up the rough
iron stalks of the last sprout plants,
and watched the solid green marbles
tumble into my basket.
How the colony of rooks
still squabbles over real-estate
in the spinney. How I saw you, young,
striding away across the fields.
And how in the night, listening
for your footfall,
I heard the bark of a fox,
like a dying cough.
They tell me that’s my father
lying there, but what would I know?
The hair I knew was never chalk,
the hands not spider crabs
(though when I look at mine
I see the way it goes..)
There’s a voice,
wind through a fractured vent,
but now as ever
what it says passes me by.
Last night I dreamt he was young
again, me on the pillion, him yelling
Who’s a gradely lad then?
into the slipstream.
For Old Times’ Sake
My father came to visit again last night.
We stood in the kitchen, a couple of bores
at a party, hacking lumps of bread and cheese,
snapping cans of beer, playing musical farts.
At dawn he led me into the street,
began singing ‘Nessun Dorma’
in a high, cracked voice,
dribbling an old MacDonalds carton as he went
- this dry, fly-fisherman
who’d never used two syllables
if one would do.
When the neighbours began chucking old shoes and things,
Innovations catalogues and Yellow Pages,
the Book of Common Prayer,
he said: ‘I think I’ve outstayed my welcome’,
fell silent, disappeared.
He'd known, in his eighty odd years,
every vehicle with an engine and gears,
everything wheeled or tracked,
that a man could wish to know.
He'd delivered Model-Tees
from Hull to Old Trafford,
driven tanks from Cairo to Carthage,
serviced buses and bull-dozers,
tractors and trolleys, taxis
and fork-lifts. He'd trucked
from Nome to Santiago,
rallyed from Roos to Monte Carlo,
raced against time
across the Bonneville Flats,
greased and ground,
thrashed and dragged
around the highways
of the world, finally
to end his days belting
a wheel-chair round the shrubbery
of the Castle Rest-Home
So no-one was surprised when,
en-route to the crematorium,
he slipped behind the wheel
of the hearse, and took us on
a Mystery Tour of the North
Yorkshire Moors, complete
with commentary on all
the passing delights, before
finally dropping us off
outside the White Horse
by Kirkbymoorside, and heading
off over Helmsley Moor,
where once he had coaxed
a Stanley Steamer
on a night haul
Red biro scores my progress
over the English countryside
in those long-gone days
before the legs out-walked the lungs.
Once measured in miles and hours,
now paced in yards and minutes,
here marked in inches and years,
a spider’s web spins over the pages.
Here, a week of youthful hikes
on Dartmoor, there a line that snakes
from Fowey to Polperro, fulfilment
of a tryst. Everywhere the red marks
wander across the contours of green
and brown, skirting the edges of the blue.
Now the OS Atlas of Great Britain
rests on the bookshelf beside
Fodor’s “Guide to Portugal 1974”,
“A Hundred Walks Round Budapest”,
and “Travels Through the Hindu Kush”.
Today, if I can make it
to the library, I’ll borrow
the “Atlas of World History”
and spend tomorrow
travelling through time.