RETURN


Hourglass


Ur of the Chaldees was there in the dawn,

when, as the light grew, man stirred in his sleep

and knew he was naked.


At that instant, the hourglass, which shows

that the past and the future

are equal,

inverted.

The sun  rose.

The cock crowed.

The path lay before us,

but Ur of the Chaldees was lost in the sand.

 





It is said that Ancient Greek sailors found the Black Sea to be ominous and threatening. It drains through the Bosphorous to the Sea of Marmera and the Aegean, but below the strong surface current there is apparently a deeper current flowing the other way, presumably driven by salinity differences.


Black Sea


The Greeks wept when they reached here,

pulling their way up the hard straight of the Bosphorous.

Did they know, as we do, that in your depths you are lifeless,

or else fear the false joy of a southern shore,

even though in places

groves of hazels and walnuts reach down to the water?


Did they know that under the surface

a powerful current returned to your welcome

and all those who found it

smiled as they entered,

eyes glowing like moonstones

as they turned and departed

in diverse directions?





Young gossamer spiders spin a strand of fine silk which is caught up by the morning breeze of early autumn and takes them down-wind, a process known as ballooning.  At least one account states that this is their first action after hatching.





One-way ticket


Gossamer spiders

drifting down on their birthday.

No happy returns.




Archeaologists working at a Neanderthal site have unearthed a bone flute capable of sounding a diatonic scale.



Late Quartet


When man was Neandertal,

even then he had a noble soul.


When the young first felt pain as a friend,

he would wipe tears from coarse little eyes.


If four, gathered together,

found music profound

as Beethoven's wonderful cavatina

would they not be equally moved

even though Christ had not hung on his cross

for them,

who died

for us.





Riddle


I walk alone,

yet single I have never been,

my dark twin

walking behind.


When my hand reaches down

he appears,

but when he comes lumbering by

I have gone.


When little ones cry in the night

it is him they will name,

but me they should fear,

for I am the first born

and I walk alone.





Night Music


If I could, in these narrow confines, write

words that are sweet as any siren’s song,

I would escape the broken dreams that throng

like ghosts inside my head and banish night.


Or if my fingers plucking on such strings

found notes as pure as any piper played,

so might I rest and think that I had made

profit or gain which would cast off my chains.


Then, like some minstrel yearning for his love

beside some stronghold where he knows she lies

in thrall, waiting for him to find the keys

that will release her; sound the chords that move

his heart to cross the bridge and storm the keep

of that dark place and drink the cup of sleep.





Winter Jasmine


You come like a ghost

from a world that is not your own,

a phantom of summer

haunting those that remain,

to bloom through the night,

as though the moon were your true sun.


When storms walk,

or the sun casts white shadows

that last through the day

behind bare hedges,

after the pink rays of dawn

you will still be here,

but when life returns,

you are gone.






The buttercup flower recalls the custom of holding a buttercup under someone’s chin and deducing whether or not they like butter from the intensity of the reflected yellow.



The Buttercup Flower


Yellow, the colour of laughter

and good yellow gold

certain enough to be spent,

and yellow the smile of a buttercup flower

under the chin,

because,

if you love butter,

someone will know it,

but gold will return to the earth

and laughter will fade,

though never the light in the spring

of the buttercup flower.







The foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines….enigmatic words from The Song of Solomon 2:15



Miracle at Canaan


Two souls becoming one in Palestine

with love that was prepared for hardship’s share

when Christ was changing water into wine.


The sacred olive groves, the earthly sign

of every man’s brief stay, still sanctify

two souls becoming one in Palestine.


Yet were these branches from each ancient line

more blessèd then because they first embraced

when Christ was changing water into wine?


But now, as circumstances undermine

all they have made, we wish to see again

two souls becoming one in Palestine.


The foxes that have come to spoil the vine

must not erase the joy that once was there

when Christ was changing water into wine.


But who can, in this land of the divine,

restore the burning spirit that foresaw

two souls becoming one in Palestine

when Christ was changing water into wine?






The Reconquista  was the long process of recovering Spain from the Moors. The last battle was fought on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevadas, the scene of  one of the great Christian miracles where the blood of the believers and of the  non-believers disdained to mix. Rebels from the civil war were later brought to the same place for execution.



Red Sea Parting


Blood is accustomed to the hardest way,

that is its life.

Its very redness shows

how it strives against the dark descent,

until the reconquista

charges it again and makes it surge.


This dual nature most miraculously shown

when the last Moors fell.

Their blood poured down,

while blood spilt by the Glorious Christian Dead,

flowed up,

each cell unsullied by disdained belief.

Proud still in death,  

it dried across the hillside like a jagged folded blot.


And what does this remind you of?



It reminds me of the raging jaws of war




It reminds me of the Red Sea parting




It reminds me of the step from darkness in to light






and men who, vanquished in the no less glorious cause,

were lined up here,

then shown their promised land.





The windhover


Only he among all

is rooted in air. His dead lie in state

forever above ground. His Deutschland

embroiled on sands, does not sink.

Waves crash down,

but these five race out, charmed and unharmed.


Curving up, they pass over the reef; lost to the wreck,

but they will not make land.

This is not their aim. His world,

sliced through, is fine air

and cold fire and nowhere

does it contain any place

to entomb him.






Verdi


He was an old man,

but that does not mean

he was old all his life.

In fact it was possible

to be as young in 1893

as it is now.




A nice day in Caithness


Do not think that a nice day in Caithness

is less than any crumb

fallen from the rich man’s table,

where they so gorge themselves

that tastes pall.


But, beyond the green horizon,

where clouds are the sun’s gate,

and place and distance are indistinct,

under the blue and brown,

distorted by time and space,

is a dark croft,

or a giant’s home.


Who, perplexed

as he senses us

and dreams of what he can not now find,

covers the pale land

in seven times seven strides

but sees only the wind

and the broken stall.


But the footfall,

that races over the green corner,

both fast and slow,

is clear as the wind’s call.


He looks down,

seeking the lost dawn

and eyes are filled with the empty stare

of the blind man.





Cavalcade


Magic roundabout.

Spring, summer, autumn, winter.

What goes round, comes round.






Valentine’s Day


She, that is you,

had eyes that were blue

and a smile that was sweet,

as she walked down the street.


He, that is I,

was standing close by

and saw her, that is you,

turn to join in the queue.


They, that is we,

climbed on the same bus

And sat side by side,

that was them, that is, us.


He wanted her

to be his Valentine,

that his hand might hold hers,

that is, yours might hold mine.


But she, that is you,

saw someone she knew

in the seat just behind.

And all hopes turned to dust,

that were his,

That is, mine





Tom Hunter, born in 1896 is travelling to Edinburgh in 1996 to receive an honour for his service in the first world war. He describes to his niece an event that happened to him in 1915, and which stayed with him for the rest of his life. This is his verbatim account:


I was third sentry, my guard duty between 4 am and 6 am in Ripon Yorkshire early in the year, about the month of April in 1915. My duty was to look after the horses, some tied to a rope, some in a barn. About 5 o’clock in the morning the horses in the barn became wild and nervous. I was standing there, I didn’t know what to do about it. There was a kind of twilight, with a peculiar tinge to it- I didn’t know what it was. The sun was about an hour below the horizon and its rays were hitting a bank of dark cloud, The ground behind me was open farm land with the hay growing in it about waist high (he indicated)  The horses started to pull away whinnying and kicking each other on both sides of the heavy rope- they were attached with halters of rope. The horses in the barn- oh they were just going wild, banging the sides of the barn with their hoofs. I looked around and at my back I could see in the distance the grass bending over, like waves on the beach coming in. You’d think somebody had taken something and pushed it over. Everything was dark except for a twilight gleam in the sky. A terrible whooshing noise came past and around me, cold and eerie- I thought it was a ghost. The horses went wild. The hairs on the back of my neck went up as it passed me.

I tried for a long time to find out what it was all about. Then one day a man heard me talking about it and he said “you saw a false dawn” I said “ Do you know anything about it?” he said “Yes, it scares the life out of you!” He explained that the rays of the sun normally go up high, but if there is a low cloud ceiling they are trapped under it. The rays heat the air directly under the cloud, expanding it, and it pushes down on the cold air below, causing a cold wind and an eerie experience.


The language is so vivid that it leaves no doubt of the reality of his experience. However, what he describes is not typical of other  accounts of the false dawn phenomenon, which is normally a passive event and seen as a cone of light 2-3 hours before (or after)  sunrise under a clear sky (see the cover picture), giving the impression that sunrise is imminent. It seems that here the sun was illuminating the cloud-base and the explanation that he was given was indeed the correct one, but the author has discovered no other similar accounts and no explanations for the eerie pressure changes, or what disturbed the horse before the wind arrived.


To a greater extent than any other war of the 20th century, the first world war was welcomed by its protagonists as ‘ a breath or fresh air’;  a chance for renewal that would dignify all those took part and, ot so much set old grievances to right, as to remove barriers to the forward march of humanity and abolish forever the myth of the golden past.




A False Dawn


On guard, a boy for the Western Front,

who answered his country’s call,

and training now on the plains of York,

before tasting the tears of War.


The ‘ War to end Wars’ for men who dreamed

of the hero’s thundering charge,

and the sleek horse and the blooded sword

and rest on the wide green verge.


Awake alone through the long night watch,

the sun an hour to rise,

but the bird calls die

and the naked clouds glow with a sickly light.


The horses fret, then rear with fright,

are they dreaming of the wire,

of the green gas and the black earth

and the gun’s cruel fire?


Though the fields are still, do the shadows creep

like wolves on the Asian steppe?

Is the faint drum-beat of an ancient dread

draining their hearts of hope?


At the skies dark edge, the grass, waist high,

bends like a rolling wave,

or a regiment of men who charge

to the silence of the grave.


It passed like a rushing bird of prey,

leaving cold fear in its wake,

and nothing beyond was ever the same,  

though the day had yet to break.


Long years have passed, long years have passed,              

he hears dead voices call.

What horses died, what heroes fell?

May Christ receive their souls.

 

You saw false dawn, like birds that skim

cold waves before the storm,

when the ghosts of men whom the sirens lured,

return, despairing, home.


It was all no more than a waking dream

of days that were yet to come;

how the light that was sent to arouse men’s hearts,

chilled to the very bone.



North Yorkshire is the setting for the Lyke-Wake dirge.




King of the Scots


If I were king

and could choose my own,

I would make my crown

of thistledown,

because even the paper hats

of Christmas time

oppress my brow

like a metal band.






Winter Sun on the Appian Way


Blue winter sky.

The sun casts frost shadows

that last through the day.

Over the street,

walls stream with a yellow light.

Doors burn red and green,

but those who live under the hill

see only the opal fire.

They wait for the spring,

when day will break for the first time.

You might well ask,

what is in it for them?

Why do they continue to live in the land of shade

when they could walk on the frozen path

and make dry sheets of ice

break under their heel,

and look at the grass that is neither alive nor dead,

as we did a long time ago,

when we walked in the winter sun

on the Appian Way.






Limestone


These are the fields wherein our forebears

laid their bones and disowned clay,

as we are not allowed to do.

Yet would we not prefer that,

on the rough surface of this limestone vineyard.

our remains

could sanctify the sounds

of shuffling boots on stones

and broken earth.






Solstice


Although the light is not nearer,

or further away,

we have tumbled towards the dark

and are taking our first steps back.

So if Pilate had once seen what the shepherds saw

and if Christ had been born at this time,

when some think that he was,

he might not have died, but lived,

and reigned here on earth,

and Christmas come only once,

and holly not bleed again.







Now


The other day

I looked out of the window

and saw now shimmering across the world.
It was moving, but seemed to be still.

A bit later I looked out and saw it again.

I thought that it should have moved on,              

but it hadn’t.


In memory of Chris Buckley, a victim of neuromuscular disease.  






Leakey’s Bookshop in Inverness is in a delightful converted church, yet the interior seems to have some of the qualities of a cattle byre. There are hints of an association with some of the darker events after Culloden.



At Leakey’s Secondhand Bookshop In Inverness


Books are as grass

growing on lawns,

on which we lay all summer long,

and then cut down,

becoming sweet brown-yellow scented hay

bundled in byres

each at, or near, its own appointed place.


Packed like a silent congregation,

not sleeping,

but the light of each soul

waiting for the Christ-child

and a second birth.


Of the many called,

these are the few,

chosen with love

and sure and certain hope

of resurrection

and new life on earth.





Moment of Truth


He was old, with a little flat cap,

and I feared that he could have reversed into me

as I nosied between the ranks.

I looked back;

he had crossed over the gap

and, inches from impact,

slammed on the brakes.

His wife lost her impassive expression;

dismay and disdain surfaced in rapid succession

but his face was unchanged

and a silent


I-told-you-so


rose up

and echoed as loudly as metal on glass.



Nosied’ is a variant of the word nosed and is used by at least one Glasgow taxi driver.





King of Kings


I peered into the mirror in the morning

and saw Tyrannosaurus rex there.


It wasn't all of him I saw,

only his red eyes, satiated grin

and primitive expression;

doppelgänger from a land

twenty billion days and nights beyond this window.

Bipedal pioneer,

extinct as half-a-crown.


Now

 

here he is again,

in the garden

hopping from earth to stone.

Looking for something,

which he seems to find.

His tail,

that used to balance the ferocious head,

cocked at a rakish angle.


As far as time goes,

lone and level sands stretch far away,

but

Tyrannosaurus rex,

(T. rex, to you)

lives on.


After  Shelley’s Ozymandias.




Grecian Women, by Russell Flint


Soundless ladies in Ionian blue,

please explain, oh why are you so languid?

Is there no way to leave your marble world,

no more endure the endless afternoon?

You know that we can never join you there,

being, in all ways, incompletely true

to the ideal form, but fear that you

may find the key to the forbidden stair,

where every night the stream of falling gold

becomes, not your young god, instead a crude

and vulgar, swarthy man with greasy hair.

His breath may smell of garlic while his bold

and lustful limbs entwine with yours. His thighs                        

accounting for the look that haunts your eyes.    






A prose poem echoes the spirit of The Peacock, a song by Ravel to words by Jules Renard.



Lift-off


Tortoiseshell butterfly breaking its hibernation, lying in a patch of sunlight with its wings stretched out and waiting for, exactly what I don't know, but the moment of lift-off might come today, or else it might not. Because your brain slows down in the cold, you probably remember summer better than I do. Perhaps it's all summer to you, but you've been through a lot. Most would not expect you to live and there is a chance you may not. All the same, thanks for whatever you did. I expect you'll get by. Pity about your wing though. You've lost part of the top left corner.






Wall of darkness


‘What was that you saw in the night.

so far and so close; so vast and so small?’

‘I remember it still;

Camels and tents,

night fires in the sand

and wind in the desert.’

‘But how did you see it?’

‘Alone in the darkness and facing the wall.’






Hourglass

Black Sea

One-way ticket

Late Quartet

Riddle

Night Music

Winter Jasmine

The Buttercup Flower

Miracle at Canaan

Red Sea Parting

The windhover

Verdi

A nice day in Caithness

Cavalcade

Valentine’s Day

A False Dawn

King of the Scots

Appian Way

Limestone

Solstice

Now

At Leakey’s Bookshop  

Moment of Truth

King of Kings

Grecian Women

Lift-off

Wall of darkness


A false dawn

Many of the poems in this collection first appeared in Storm in a Teashop. However the central poem of that collection, an account of a strange WW1 encounter with the phenomenon of a False Dawn, did not attain the dominance it deserved in that setting. All of the poems in the current booklet describe, in one way or another, false beginnings.


Before the phantom of False morning died,

Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,

When all the Temple is prepared within

Why nods the drowsy Worshiper outside?


From The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Edward FitzGerald.