If yew go down to the woods today …

you might be one of many who are celebrating the centenary of the Forestry Commission, created after the First World War and which leads world-class research while actively managing over 250,000 hectares of forests for people and nature. These guys have called out for a writer in residence to help them promote this milestone in their history; someone who would be able to spend time in England’s forests and create poetic work that inspires others to connect with trees and woodland wildlife.

Sounds interesting, does it not?

Yew

In search of yew in Borrowdale
that shared the sun with Judas,
I walk a rutted path,

aware of twinges, snares, rocks,
carrying your paints and easel
along with this bowl of words,

no longer fit for consumption,
mold festering in knots
from sour touching fruit within.

And if these words were berries,
gardeners would stand disappointed
at the canker in the bark below.

And if a perching blackbird,
sang this song from any tree,
on any perfect spring morning,

it would jar, taint the air
and cause the world to frown
at such discordant notes.

We’ll find a place to stop, you and I,
and you will paint this landscape,
my eye drawn towards a blemish

where a loose neglected sleeve
was dragged across wet canvas trees
in one careless movement;

a moment you might come to know;
as discarding the bowl by this footpath,
I swallow the words and wait

till the bitter aftertaste subsides,
resolves in time to soil and dust
with Borrowdale’s ancient yew.

(Published October 2018: Riggwelter Issue #14)

cunswick2

Coming Home

I wonder if, like me, the winter skies at Cunswick,
swathed in low cloud, above old scars of crag
and frozen garlands of brown bracken,
anticipate the welcome return of African visitors;

if underfoot, limestone bones ache for warmth,
dark fissured slabs buried beneath grass paths,
quietly longing for early May’s trick of light,
tired bodies aloft after months of migration.

Do these hazels shiver with the birch and gorse,
recalling dog days, the fall and rise of darts feeding,
the speed of mameluke sabres cutting air curves
with absurd precision over woods in full leaf?

And below, flowing through Kendal’s grey canvas,
does the Kent reflect colours of summer expectation,
thoughts of days spent bird watching with you,
on the long return alone to a Cumbrian terrace?

(Published October 2018: This Place I Know … Handstand Press Anthology Of Cumbrian Poetry)

Forty Years On

Walking in snow towards this young ash
triggers memories that surge and well,
overflowing as uncontrolled gasps of breath.

This scar deepens with every visit; a vicious erosion,
an abhorrent river coursing down the trunk,
heartwood exposed to light perceived as shameful.

Eyes burn, assaulted by a metre of slashed hate
inflicted on poorly defended and tender bark;
some stranger’s loathing of beauty.

Victim and witness to the effects of inadequacy,
I am drawn to repent for assaults by others,
tarred by kith for resurrected screaming deeds.

These clouds know it. These birds are aware.
This tree understands no amount of contrition
could erase the mark of Cain upon its body,

still striving to push blackened buds out
into a world five years after such violence;
still walking with scars forty years on.

(Published September 2018: Barren Magazine)

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