Skip to main content

A Long Passage


Looking at the banks and hedgerows at this time of year, I wonder how anything small – or even large – that lives there manages to survive.  Everything’s withered up or simply gone.  Of course, there’s no expectation of leaves or flowers, but where are the fruits and berries, the smaller creatures lower down the food chain essential to survival… just what is there to live off?  It’s a bare and empty larder, hardly even offering any shelter.



And yet, deep under layers of moss, beneath bark, beyond and out of sight, sleep seeds and eggs, cocoons, life in shells, little wrapped-up tangled bundles of creatures, even slumbering, hibernating animals tucked up to weather the winter.

It’s always been like this.  Many must perish, but a few – a select few – live on, to carry the colony, the tribe, the clan – perhaps even the species – into better times. Yet despite its regularity, predictability, even necessity, such a slaughter is hard to comprehend.

So, we tell our own stories.
For us, there has to be a reason.  Obviously, it’s somehow got to be our fault. Therefore it’s a punitive god that destroys us – starves us, freezes us, cooks us, wipes us out, drowns us – whatever he (it has to be he) chooses.  But not universally, for a special few are selected, through good behaviour, obedience or particular merit which may not even be clear.

With such thoughts drifting through my head, I walk along the edge of the field to our hives.

And here they are, just where we left them, having journeyed through the winds and the rains, some frosts already and probably snows to come. Stationary, but already well-travelled.  Simple squat wooden towers, little stacked vessels, revealing nothing of what’s within – the cluster that maintains its own warmth with minimal effort, that gradually moves the inner layer to the outer, that protects each as it preserves itself.

They’re well on their way, these little arks, but there’s a long passage still to come.  Nothing I can do can make much difference.  Along with those unseen seeds and packets of life buried behind me in the hedgerow, each in their own way, they’re all travelling through the winter.  They have no need of my good wishes, nor can I communicate them.

But here I stand, secure and powerful, knowledgeable yet ultimately impotent, ruminating upon the role of an Old Testament divinity, humbled before our overwintering bees. 


The Hive in January

Travelling through the winter’s storms,
the frosts and floods, the winds and snow,
this tight-lapped craft – no sails, no power –
continues on its way.  A journey like this
can only be measured in time
for no one knows the distance
and in the darkness who can tell,
when life has necessarily slowed?
How else can such a voyage be managed?
It is enough to float, secure,
to stay alive, and let time pass,
dreaming of dry land and fresh green worlds.

An extension of life has been granted
to the privileged few.  The rest all died.
Now mantled by warmth these must survive
protecting the core of their being within,
the source of new life, dependent on them.
No one speaks but all understand.
Little waves play on their vessel.
Outside, unseen, old suns burn out,
worlds are destroyed, the earth is transformed.
They spin out their stores in the darkness
and look forward to quickening, new flights
and full life after so long a passage.






Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A plague on all these houses

It's a great poem, Lowell's For the Union Dead.
I only recently came across it - at least, that's what I thought - but it's been grunting (I choose the word advisedly) away in my head ever since, especially that fourth verse.

Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steam shovels were grunting
as they cropped up tone of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

It took a little while for me to realise why.
Before (I thought) I'd read it, I wrote a poem about the new housing estates springing up round our little town. I was thinking about the various creatures that had lived on the field that was to be covered with houses - sheep primarily - and then those that were to follow.

The first were, well, a sort of dinosaur.

Here's my second verse:

At first it was the one-armed monsters,
set free within their caged arena
to trundle round, and gently paw
the ground, then pile up mounds of earth
accompanied by Lego men.

I was pleased with my trope, so muc…

The Cadence

He embraces the sheep
an ungainly bundle unusually tilted
now leaning back against the man
who bowed over, grasps with his knees
and left hand, to perform. Like a cellist

he knows how to play.
Fingertips splayed to tension the skin
right hand guiding across the bridge
a gleam of blades to separate fleece –
music from silence, wrapped up in wool.

The animal listens
accepting the prospect of resolution ahead,
resigned to his practised hands, grip of the thighs
the charm of the music
and caressing of steel.

He stretches his arm out
to reach high notes in third position.
Lanolined leather feet shift softly beneath.
The sheep tips back more to enable the soar
of melody heard only by them.

He lets fall the burden
accustomedly righting the sheep. He arises
to bow for a moment as if in acknowledgement
then straightens – the fleece being lifted
and folded, like music.

The performer resumes
with no pause for applause. He turns
to the next – there are more
many more waiting. So the music contin…

Viral Information

Viral Information




Virus - a word much heard not just at this time of year ('there's a lot of them about') but one that's spilled quasi-metaphorically into other non-biological areas, you might say succeeding virulently... gone viral?

 But that's what viruses do, and do very well.
Fulfilling only some of the criteria for qualifying for life status, here are strange creatures indeed, not that that's the right word at all - not organism, more construction, set of instructions or even just a programme.  So the use of the word in computer malfunction is hardly metaphorical...
Approaching this extraordinary - but so frequently encountered, so in a way not extraordinary at all -  thing (I find myself reduced to using this rather weak word) that may be represented in (admittedly astronomically colossal) sequences of numbers, with words - all that poetry possesses, however they may be presented - poses problems. 
So I thought I'd turn to a different sort of poetry: …