Silver Branch series
How to Grate the Moon
Take this shining truckle into your hands.
Peel back the waxy rind. Let each flake be
perfect, and dazzle the earth as it lands.
Let its curd lie like a yellowbrick road
on the sea. Sing its ancient psalmody.
Grate with care. The fickle bright will dote you,
your heart be snagged by astonishing light.
Skinny dog-fox, hungered to his bones,
scrap-merchant and wheeler-dealer
of other people's trash; and in this hot reek
of city, where there's no dark, no silence,
he's sketched on the dusk, russet traced
over neon, a drawing so delicately done
that he's almost not-there, a trick of streetlight
and rain. His bark is a stalled engine, his scream
the echo of a passing siren; his eyes gleam
headlamps of yellow. But when he keens
for the forest, how it catches in your throat;
like the memory of a painting, or the wild
in us, lost somewhere out of the frame.
Rooks spin like zoetropes in this autumn wind,
swing on the feeder's gibbet, hoist
a squall of light on gleaming wings.
Sun hangs them from the window of itself
so it can catch their dreams.
She's there, almost, in the hawthorn's shadow,
leaning on the fence, primrose sunhat tipped
across her forehead. Here, among the knee-high
thistle, she'd work the soil, clip ramblers,
flick back hair with fingers dark as loam.
I hear her voice in the bees' incessant chatter,
as she busies through petals,
buries herself inside their scented hearts.
The undertakers gather, in top hat
and tails, careful janitors of the dead.
Pre-arranged smiles hardly stir their lips.
Eyes blank, they stink of lilies and carnations,
usher mourners inside, hoist the coffin up
on well-oiled shoulders. They know just when
to withdraw, shuffle out in polished shoes
that don't quite fit. And when they lift their hats,
courteously bow to the departed,
I turn and see the gleam of shining skulls.
The Heraldry of Dandelions
These lions' teeth are couchant now.
But in the morning sun they stand on guard
like a terracotta army, or soldiers sown
from a dragon's mouth. And lying in the grass,
I'm dormant among this jangle of bright
doubloons, hardly feel it as their passant
roots pierce the heart of my armour.
All night the horses gallop the field, necks flexed,
muscles straining, ice-melt held on the scorch
of their breath. They race the runway of the turf,
then rise like herons, wings unfurling under
this winter moon. Pale arrows of light,
they part the clouds, soar to the dark communion
of sky, sparks streaming from their manes.
What fires might burn from their glowing hooves
suns blaze from their star-struck mouths?
Seeing it Out
The year is turning again, and we must learn
to love the new, burn the one that's passing;
edges torn, he's a crumple of festive paper
that we once longed to open for the promise
held inside. Months singe wings on his flame.
Sun is pale as an unripe peach, but I bottle
the syrupy shafts, sweet torch for rainy days;
anything will do to stave off winter's grief.
Light shuffles hours, wind first-foots into cracks.
So many years have broken on its bluster.
A screech. Night siren. Sky hooked on a fork of trunk,
stars flickering blue on snow. A scramble of badgers;
dandelion clocks flying backwards through the air.
Blackberries untangle themselves. Wreckage of celandine.
The owl in me nestles to a branch, watches the scurry
and bustle, forest heart beating out of rhythm. I wait, doze
fitfully in shifts, head tucked under wing, unfeathered by silence.
Owl takes to the air, his voice measuring the distance between
earth and heaven, wondering how long it takes to fly.
He's fallen out of life on a wet road in winter, flung
to clumps of bramble by a roaring mouth of speed.
I pass him every day, watch him diminish, stiffen
in the wind's grip, as earth rummages in its bag of tricks
for offerings of snowdrops. In Spring, tints of celandine
and primrose. Now he's sloughed off his flesh; blackthorn
brims a splash of foam above his slackened bones.
Tumbles of leaves in autumn rain, and he's risen
from leaf-mulch and grass. I see him box the waning light.
In the darkening sky, two glowing moons of amber.
He's cold all the time now, as though
his age is wintering inside him.
I bring him trade winds and siroccos,
cup his face in the palm of my suns.
Fire whistles up the chimney-breast
with gusts of Arctic flame. He whispers
in drifts; blizzards fall from his tongue.
I drape him with blankets, duvets,
learn to say a hundred words for snow.
With winter snarling at our ankles
we stocked up light, stoked the days to kindle
cold mornings into flame. Wore fur
like hair-shirts, huddled in deep caves,
moonlighting from this hibernation
for scraps of summer memories
to light the waning fire. And as snow
glazed the world to white, we snuggled down,
slept in a wrap of ice, not knowing
centuries would pass before it melted.
Walking in Snow
That year, I walked in others' footsteps,
afraid to venture from the path
they'd made for me to follow. Each side,
deep drifts, penitents of hardened snow,
cold ghosts that waited in icy spikes.
Our feet uncrisped the furrows, deflowered
starched altarcloths of field and meadow.
Spoor of fox zigzagged the track.
I wanted to put my own feet into theirs,
run headlong with the pack, and not be
blinded by this whiteout, unable to see
further than the single step ahead of me.
my grandfather as magpie
I knew for certain when I saw him shake rain from his coat,
that puzzled pause as he struggled to do up the buttons.
It was the arrogant manner, how wings beat the air
with a punch, and quarrels flew from the branches.
I knew when I saw my grandmother iron the creases
from his feathers, shrink away from his bluster;
how she cradled him tight, didn't flinch at the scratches.
She'd sing to him from the tree-tops and never complain,
place his tattered mind inside the nest, rescue him when
he toppled out, wipe a squirm of words from his tongue.
Extract from The Storm (short story)
Sometimes on a late summer evening I slip under the house where nobody can see me, lie there unnoticed, and watch spiders spin webs across the metal bolts of the corner frame. It’s as if I’ve gone to ground, like a fox or badger. I can hear the quiet tumble of acorns, the scramble of chafers on gravel, the churr of wasps bumbling round berries and spilt apples. But the earth smells only of itself: an old must scent, as if I’d dived headfirst into a chest of ancient velvets and musky satins. This, I think, is happiness.
We had bought the house for the pond. Nobody wanted a timber-framed house, standing like an uneasy heron on its thin legs. We got it cheap. The pond was large, clay-based, a silted pit of water that over the years had become choked with reeds and bamboo. Newts and goldfish fought for air through yellow swathes of waterlily and marsh marigold. It was impossible to tell where the water ended and the garden began. But we saw damselflies darting across the surface, starlings splashing its edges, heard the husky croak of frogs deep in its heart. It was as though the water had remembered us, had been waiting for our return, and we were thrilled and excited by its possibilities. No matter that the house swayed in the gales like a fairground Twister, or that brambles clotted together in a fist of clay. It felt as if we were coming home.
In January, the wind always snatches at this corner. A sea-wind, its breath sour with salt and blown sand, as if it has spent too long trapped in the frozen clench of winter. Released, it rushes up from the beach, gusting walkers off their feet, whirling armfuls of last hay into the air, makes straight for our house and crashes into the worn wooden slats and rain-stained windows. The house is not old, but neither is it robust. A self-build, it stands on its own land on four raised legs. So the wind can rush under the house, and the property shakes slightly as sudden blasts catch its edges and envelop it in a rolling swell of movement. It feels as if you're on the bridge of a ship and must brace yourself to keep your balance. It’s not just the wind that lays claim to that dry, dark space beneath the house. Leaves pile up in autumn, rustling gently at night, so it sounds as though a thousand voices are whispering beneath the floor. Mice and toads go there to shelter from December snow; insects and beetles overwinter in its warm, dusky lacuna. This particular January was a month of sudden and violent storms. The old oak was the first to go, bending and swinging across the grass until it went with a great crash, twigs and branches littering the garden, roots torn from the soil. I knew, of course, that it was coming. The rooks had been agitated, noisier than usual, and the sparrows were cwtched up in little brown huddles in the fork of the beech. They looked worried. And well they might, for none of us realized what this weather would bring. But for now, I looked at the way the wind direction had altered, how clouds scattered like frenzied sheep across the horizon, and ran to secure our doors and windows against the coming storm.