Silver Branch series
Polly Oliver is a broadcast journalist and communications freelancer. The brilliant and varied Black Bough poetry community on Twitter is the main driver of her renewed focus on writing poetry. Polly has featured work in publications by Black Bough Poetry, The Wombwell Rainbow, The Tide Rises, Falls and Spillwords. She is Pushcart prize nominated and was Poet of the Month and runner up for Publication of the Year on Spillwords.
Other stuff: Mother of two, lover of coast, high places and woods. Yogini, blogger and violin-torturer.
Thin skin of heath and acid soil
stretched over metallic veinlets;
network of toxic treasures -
fortune for a few. Hewn out
by villagers lying quiet
beneath aligning church towers.
Under the blue arc of lark notes,
a portal crowned with gold ragwort.
Echoes ring here of playground warnings
of dropping dark fathoms, Alice-like,
to a realm of buccas, strange knockings
and lost ghosts.
Published in Black Bough - Deep Time: Volume 1
The edge of this land is not the shining granite of home;
That ancient mosaic of mica, felspar, quartz.
Impervious. These cliffs are made of bones.
Soluble; slowly stripped by endless shoals
Of flicking rain drops, borne on countless storms
Licking secret winding ways towards the core.
There, waves push and roar beneath my feet in caves unseen;
The challenge of a salt-bearded god to cloud-riding Thor.
There my washed wreckage
Can whiten in the barnacled black
Like the ancient bones of a seafarer
Ossifying in the echo of breakers.
Published in Black Bough - Deep Time: Volume 2
Gorse on the wind
that tends these old stones;
Sentinels on a time-swept ridge.
Below, an un-blinking pool-eye set
in September-browned moor counts centuries
in the husks and discs of an ageing moon.
Shallow-rooted as fire-tinted bracken
frond tips crackling in late afternoon’s breath,
I pause between sandstone and sky.
Published in Black Bough - Deep Time: Volume 2
Sea crossing to the best of places.
Those which hummed with magic,
exhaled gorse, sea wrack, iodine.
Dreams still of clambering anthropomorphic granite;
small feet on jagged noses
of gnarled beings gazing stern
on turquoise bays
shifting through navy or grey.
Lure of legends forged in rocky DNA
of glistening isles skirted by time,
patinated with memories.
Breath clouds into frigid mist.
Snap of frozen twig
Under finely-turned hooves.
Crown of antlers raised
You pause between beeches
Below tracery of boughs.
And sunrise spills silver
Through your silent church.
King of the winter woods.
All here is rankness.
Poisoned by noise,
muddied with lusts.
Thirsting for icy distance,
I'd lie on her frozen face,
make an angel's shape
in bone-white dust.
Soul washed in starlight
and the tinkling
of a silver-cold song.
Cocoon. Then move through.
Choose your green-veined awning.
Bind to stiff xylem your dun hideout.
Hunker down, drapes drawn.
Unplug. Slice though wires.
Digest the old, dream the new.
Imaginal cells spin in fertile dark.
To birth your imago,
Nourished in compost of what's past.
Shake the ash from your wings.
Elegy for a country church
Alone now, and stooped,
slower with shovel and broom
to clear autumn's sodden-leaved
treachery before the Sunday few.
Pause at the lychgate.
Rest on lichen-furred granite.
Under weathered pinnacles, rain
seeps into the belfry, pools in the nave.
The young no longer come.
No draw these days in humble praise
or gentle creak of ancient pew.
On a perch of dark rock
Eyes upon the sea.
I watched you poised likewise
Sea raven, onyx-backed sculpture.
My Jurassic reflection
Across the slow-swirling bay.
Had power to dive or fly
Three realms at your griffin feet.
Crunch of pebbles at the end
Of my scrambling descent-
Clumsy in just one dimension-
And I looked again.
Just a mercury skin ripple
Beneath where you'd been.
Too full of burdens,
the clouds’ sides tear.
Veil of tears dropped
To wash away the grime of days,
Dashing flotsam down drains.
A pluviophile lies listening
Thrilled by thunder,
Clarion of fresh starts.
Black fruit in a doomed tree
Corvids jostle for roosts.
Dieback curls more leaves
Than last time I looked.
Creeping into the living wood
Like the grey dread turning my blood.
Cathole Cave March Evening
The last of the dog walkers leave.
Disparate figures seek the gate,
hounds zig and zoom,
warm cars click open, suppers wait.
Shadow from the wooded ridge
edges towards the opened tomb
where stone lips welcomed
the dead to an earth mother’s womb.
Turn from the gravelled avenue and up.
Rising rush in the beech tops
urges the stranger turn and stop,
roar of gods; their furies once told
in lost words round equinox fires.
Wind shakes still-bare fingers
of dying ash, though Spring’s hand
over this brow of earth opens eyes
of wood anemone and celandine
that peep shy from shadowed green.
Climb to creak, knock and squeak
wyrd communications of ancient trees.
Below, an unseen blackbird shrills
sudden terror into dusk.
Soil-dank air from a limestone slit.
Ossuary-rank, the cave-mouth exhales
millennia cold on the cheek.
Always her voice would come to him at this time of year. When the cold dead light of a skull moon pierced the frost-sparkled night, when the foxes barked hoarse and the crows called hungry in the frozen dawn.
“You think we are only shadows and echoes? Of something or someone else?”
He’d half-listen to her. She’d stand near the edge with her back turned to him, her words a mix of sense and fragments like those of a sleep walker, brought to him through the dusk on the light northerly wind.
She was never scared, up there on the sheer ridge cresting the mountain that loomed over their town; clinging as it did to the lower slopes, beaten by knifing winds, burdened with unrealized dreams.
“How can someone fear death when they feel like they’re not even truly alive?”
She went this way sometimes, talking as though she were someone else, somewhere else. He was used to it. Besides, afterwards she would turn to him suddenly with her grey eyes uncertain, her smile clear and bright as heartbreak and it would be enough simply to have her back with him, light and rare as a fantastic bird.
Some strangeness was inevitable anyway, he had always felt it – with her mother and what had happened. Even so many years on, when the skinny child with the white-blonde hair and huge haunting eyes had grown into the most beautiful young woman in the town, people would take a sudden interest in something on the other side of the main street rather than stop to nod or say hello. Groups of women would pause in their chatter as she came by, their sliding sideways glances becoming full-beam stares at her back once she’d passed.
Young mothers would instinctively clutch their children’s hands when she was near and suddenly scold them not to rush on.
Over the centuries tragedy and the valley had become well-acquainted. Even before the mining that was now blowing its last black and rattling breaths into the decaying local economy had brought its own particular brand of loss – of boys and men from the same families entombed in now unreachable tunnels, of lungs gone black and failing prematurely, their owners confined, blue-lipped, to the beds they died in.
Even before mothers saw their sons brought up from the bowels of the pit, eyes bruised shut, coal dust and blood coagulating together, the community which spread outwards in wavy lines along the contours of the hill knew the leaden grimness of unexpected human horror.
Did it come on the wind that funnelled down between the bald hills that blocked out the day in that place until it had burned for hours over others? Was it in the soil spread thinly over mineral-heavy rocks that made outsiders rich? Did in run through the blood that sighed in the ears of the local people as the lay down at night, the crone of the moon peering though curtain chinks to make sure all were where they should be?
That’s where Kian thought it flowered. In the blood. He was not from that same soil and his wiry and fierce mother taught him things he would not have learned here. Things of the head, not the blood. Things of books and not of habit. But maybe it was because the vibrations from horror couldn’t dissipate in the same way as they could when there was more sky, when the mountainsides didn’t form two sides of a box, making your place a corridor.
Today I plucked husky, bud forms from what short weeks ago had been the blooming spike of a foxglove; it’s hot-pink velvet flower chambers irresistible to the low-thrumming bumble bees suckling their depths.
And I tipped numberless soft-brown grains into my palm, each one so tiny it could have been lost in the skin creases.
Haphazardly, one-handedly, I cleared the poor soil of neglected borders of root-map of ranunculus, new dead nettles, ground elder; each valuable, beautiful but domineering; and scattered hard-packed foxglove embryos into the dusty spaces.
Afterwards I stood outside the faded front door on the thinning square of gravel, hot to the side of our tabby soaking the stored heat into her bones, and studied ragged pots. Daisy-shaped blooms I’d inexpertly planted, (how long ago? Last summer?) had surprised me with their vigour, pushing out brown and yellow tie-dyed eyes, good enough for any Seventies-era upholstery.
Their ombred petals had dropped leaving fluffy spheres atop browning stalks. The earliest of these had grown the grey fluff of the elderly. I pulled it from their round heads and scattered the down-tailed plant blueprints in the same patches of cleared soil.
And once more, God-like, I snapped off crinkled heads, gathered and sent out into the earth the packaged DNA of papery orange poppies and snowy-bloomed aquilegia with a sweeping arc of my hand.
"I see poets whose work sets down beautifully their own experiences and emotions, their pains and their loves. Those poets come alive in their lines, and I love to read that, though its not something I can replicate."
"For me writing almost comes from “outside”; a string of words might ring in my head as my footsteps beat time on a wild walk. Or the melancholy of a cemetery or woods in Autumn might spark an image I can use."
"Usually the poem that emerges is almost completely separate from me. I hope it has its own about-ness; conjuring in image and rhyme-echoes both the fleeting and eternal, passing on a moment or a thought in abstract.
Although there is no “intention” to what I write, there are some themes that seem to crop up often -the pooling of time, the tangling of place and memory and our dormant shamanistic response to Nature."
Polly Oliver, October 2021