Doon Hill

Doon Hill

One day as I stepped out from my house
Into the dawning spring morning
And smelled the fresh rain-washed air,
And heard the melodious chorus of woodland birds –
Blackbird and wren, robin and chaffinch,
And the curious gurgling call of the young rook –
High over the rough grass of the field by my house
A skylark warbled, unseen at a great height,
Like a singer direct from heaven,
Or a friend calling me from a distance.

Straightway I stepped from the warmth of my cottage,
From the home smells of cooking and the body of my family,
Into the rain-rinsed morning where the birds seemed to greet me
As some dear, long-lost comrade. I spoke back to them,
Called them by name as they appeared in tree and hedgerow and long rough grass.

There I met neighbours and other people of the town,
The early-joggers and dog-walkers,
The commuters hurrying along the track to the station –
I greeted them and they me, and the early summer sun greeted us all.

But as I strode on, only pausing to study a just-opened wildflower here,
Or stand entranced by the call of an unknown bird,
I was glad to welcome solitude, the fellowship of the empty country road.

The road was met by a well-trimmed farmer’s track,
And if solitude can grow deeper as you step from road to path
It did grow deeper, though only solitude from man:
A hare stood on hind legs and watched me pass,
And startled ahead, one deer stood from the corn,
Then another and another, a family of their own;
All naturally frightened of me,
They bounded high and balletically, melting into the wood
That I approached reverently where it stood,
A temple in the fields.

I climbed through the ruined fence where the deer had leapt,
Through hawthorn and under holly,
And under the ancient pollarded beeches.
The green was deep, and the silver trunks of the beeches
Were the columns of this temple and the canopy its roof.
Behind the sun shot through the hedge of hawthorn and blackthorn,
The rays touching here and there on leaf and branch,
A glittering array of dancing jewels the morning light seemed,
And no church more beautifully adorned before the sight of its god.

Above I could see and hear a morning breeze sway the branches
And make that sighing music
When tree sings to tree as bird sings to bird,
And all a great choir that no man heard but I,
Though they would have sung as harmoniously had I not been there.

As I walked, slowly now, greeting each tree as dear friend,
Rowan and oak, birch and ash, even the foreign sycamore I greeted,
An immigrant as I am an immigrant,
But more firmly planted in this land than I.
I was as glad to see them all as I had been glad to see the townspeople,
Regarding them as equal in interest and cordiality,
But freer too, to touch and caress and speak my heart softly to them.
For though I would like to be equally tactile and soft with my friends in the town,
The men and women whom I love and whose company I cherish,
Still I could not touch them as I touched that rowan,
Speak my deepest heart to them as I spoke it to this oak,
Nor lie as close to their bodies as I stretched out on the low branch
Of an accommodating beech.

Only one hundred yards long, and it seemed
As if that wood would never, could never end – and yet it ended.
Now an iron fence stretched across the track,
And with a wave and a backward glance I left the wood
To follow the track back through the fields.
It passed by a isolated farmhouse,
Its outbuildings huddled around for company under the wide sky,
And though I knew the farmer,
And knew coffee could be had for the asking,
I only cast him a cordial thought through the clear air and kept walking,
My eye set on the height of Doon Hill.

Up the track slowly climbed where the land climbed,
And a sudden avenue of trees appeared:
Tall ash and beech and oak stood as if to guard the field from the walker
Or the walker from the field, or the field from the wind,
Or because a long dead farmer was disturbed by the uninterrupted crops
And craved a friendly row of saplings to cheer him on a summer morning
Like this summer morning.
That farmer is dead but these immortal trees have grown,
Have put out sprouts and shoots and saplings of their own to fill the gaps,
And I am heartened by them all.

Now the avenue ended hard against the flanks of the hill,
And instead of following the path around to a mains farm
And more fences and cattle and hens,
I chose the wild ancient track
That traverses the hillside steeply
Through groves of gorse and hawthorn,
Breathing deep yellow gorse-flower scent
And delicate bittersweet hawthorn-flower scent.

Here rabbits scurried almost underfoot
Through warrens as ancient as the tree avenue,
Where their families have lived through countless generations,
A noble lineage, arriving with the Romans,
Another immigrant gone native. They nibbled grass and watched me
With careful eyes. But I did not approach them, only spoke gently,
And their ears twitched.

High I climbed as the sun now climbed,
And sweat slicked my arms where I rolled my sleeves back.
The track was steep and rough,
And though it left the gorse thickets and meandered under trees
Clinging perilously to the slope,
Their great weight and height in perfect balance – for now –
Still my breath came quick and my pace slowed with each step.
I stopped more frequently – to admire the view as well as rest.
But just as it seemed I could take no more, as if the hill and the steep climb must last forever,
I reached the top. The ground levelled off. There was another fence to climb
And I climbed it.

And now, at last, the wide world round opened herself to my gaze.
The sun was free of the sea and the land and soared overhead.
I felt the breeze that only the birds and the treetops felt before,
And it cooled my arms and face and made me laugh with gladness.
I heard my laughter echo across the hills, and down over the fields and through the town,
And I imagined the housewives at the market stall,
The commuter at the railway platform,
And the sailor putting out to to sea, hoisting his sails to catch that same morning breeze,
I imagined they caught that echo of laughter
As if a distant friend were calling them to look up,
And they looked up.

The life of leaves

The leaves on the trees they are budding
The leaves on the trees they are green
The leaves on the trees are the loveliest
That I have ever seen

The leaves on the trees they are full grown
The leaves on the trees they are strong
The leaves on the trees they are bursting forth
In silent summer song

Now the leaves on the trees they are dying
The leaves on the trees they are brown
The leaves on the trees they are letting go
And drifting to the ground

The leaves from the trees they are crumbling
The leaves from the trees disappear
But the life of the leaves of yesterday
Will rise again next year

Bitter Vintage

I should be warm up in my bed,
Instead I sip on wine.
The whirling spinning in my head,
My thoughts will not go where they’re led,
Desires wasting and unfed
Call out to their kind –
And go unheard, and go unsaid,
And wither on the vine.

January

January, cruellest month of all,
April’s but a babe to bawl
While January squats, ancient, at the door
Dark, despairing at its core
Ready to pounce on Christmas mice
Ready to punish harmless vice
Forcing us to look long in the mirror
Where our failings could not be clearer
Before we are allowed into the light
We first must pass through January’s night

Anticipation of loneliness

Anticipation of loneliness
Holding back the fear
Longing for early closeness
Brush away a tear

In a dim bed, embrace
Time disappears in dark
Soft lips on invisible face
A touch of tongue, a spark

It is enough, no more
Settle onto outstretched arm
Warm breath heats the core
Unspoken spell turns harm

Out there time’s storms rage
Against our barricade of age

Dunbar to Waverly, 7.50 am

Light returns, the eternal theme
5 deer playing in the field
Every day we see them
As the train gathers speed

Across the rolling hills, verdant
The lonely mountain rises by the sea
A landmark, it shows our place
As we read our lives

Its peak catches morning light
Like a minaret calling prayer

Dark

That time
you know that time
The dark time

You stay up too late
You get up too tired
Neck stiff with frustration

The dark time is drawing
Drawing you
In

Time best spent in bed isn’t
Time spent burning candles is
Spent time burning

The dark time is calling
Calling you
Home

All the little birds

In springtime a girl’s thoughts
Turn lightly to her swain
And all of the little birds
Sing their sweet refrain

Toor-a-lie-lay
Toor-a-lie-lee
Fly away up
To the top of the tree

In summer a woman takes
A lover to her bower
And all of the little birds
Sing of secret flowers

Toor-a-lie-lay
Toor-a-lie-lee
Fly away up
To the top of the tree

In autumn a mother rocks
Her little babe to sleep
And all of the little birds
Sing of promises to keep

Toor-a-lie-lay
Toor-a-lie-lee
Fly away up
To the top of the tree

In winter the grey lady
Forbids the birds to sing
So all of the little birds
Hide their heads ‘neath their wings

Toor-a-lie-lee
Toor-a-lie-lay
Close your tired eyes now
And dream of the day

Still the World is Blessèd in My Sight

Grey-drawn and grim the early morning light
The oiled egg spits and curses in the pan
But still the world is blessèd in my sight

Where blackbird sings to set the garden right
Honeysuckle drips on rusted watering can
Grey-drawn and grim in early morning light

Coffee black and bitter as a lonely night
While soft egg yolks trace golden where they ran
And still the world is blessèd in my sight

Rain patters, blurring colours almost bright
But ticking clock dictates the workday plan
Grey-drawn and grim in early morning light

Key turns in lock, then turns back to lock tight
I see on distant hills the soft rain fan
And  still the world is blessèd in my sight

I linger, one calm breath before the fight
Recall a kiss back when this day began
Grey-drawn and grim the early morning light
And still the world is blessèd in my sight