In The Oaks

In The Oaks

There are thorns tangling a briar
round the ricket fence that is the border,
the place where this Britain, this fiction
runs out,
a border sketched by refined
and civil servants,
a conjuring trick.
The only place in sight
where it is identifiable,
the rest just fields and trees and sky.

I fell to earth
and cut my hand
clearing the gate
from the summer tide of the wheatfield
onto the dirtpath,
wet as sculptors clay.
Inspecting the wound,
watching it run and pool
with secret childish pride,
as the birds perch on the telephone wires
like musical notes on lines
between the ditch and the sky
between the ditch and the everlasting light.

The sun shone on the black water ribbons,
the glistening cobbled stones.
Insects skirting on the surface,
performing miracles like tiny messiahs.
And there is no solace for a troubled soul
except the river tumbling on
and the birds singing
and the bull stalking the field
and the wheat swaying unseen.

As the rain clouds churned and toppled eastward
I took shelter in the woods.
The crackle of footsteps upon the pine needle floor
set it off from stillness into life.
Something, somewhere sends thoughts
to the mind, or they are produced
from a hidden hoard,
by chance, selected like tarot;
the Brothers Grimm, Rousseau’s tiger
gone mad in a tropical storm,
Blake’s deathmask.

As I leaned down by the bough of a fallen tree
there’s a skirmish of wings high overhead
through the splintered light of the canopy,
a chorus of disapproval to some trespass,
that’s been detected.
I hear the radio chatter before I see
the trees become figures
secreting in formation past,
a patrol of brits in camouflage,
more ghost than men,
slow as ships
with broken masts,
each step, each breath weighed,
What are they doing here? I think,
What are you doing here? they’ll ask,
Where to begin and where to end?
I lower further, keeping them still
within my sights.
The mind sends images,
Forest Brothers, a roe scuttling through
empty forest classrooms in Pryipat,
scouts on the Ho Chi Minh trail.
They do not see me and pass,
and in my young deluded mind
I think One-Nil.

Outside the rain hurtles down
and the wind ploughs furrows in those treeless fields
and the white granite bridge darkens
as the deluge rolls in.

On the hills a coven of mountain ash
stoop and huddle as the skies darken
and the ripening clouds burst in all the air
and the rain comes down
on every inch of that sacred place
where informers have knelt in trembling prayer.

A gate creaks up by the farmhouse.
There are scatterings of berries
by the roadside
each one baptized with a drop of rain.

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