Despite the chimes and fireworks, Despite the cheers and resolutions, New Years start off slow – As continuity, not revolution. The banks begin on holiday, The schools are easing into term – There aren’t too many early birds, But then, there aren’t that many worms. The world is in need of a lie-in, Before the problems start to press. Even I am barely trying, Slurring rhymes with extra esses.
The sudden shriek of a seagull Takes me back to the ozone, back to the seaside – To those Summers of sand and Ninety-Nines, Where the fish is fresh and the Sun still shines. From ever since I was knee-high, Be it Bournemouth, Paignton or Ryde. The seagulls were my holiday guide.
But these days, the seagulls are ev’rywhere, Yes, even in Winter, even in the bleak – When gloomy days in gloomy suburbs See dozens pecking kebabs from the kerbs, With ev’ry beak in a mocking shriek. Well, go ahead, gulls – for a second there I was back on the prom without a care.
Only July, and the first acorns down, Here and there on the lawn. Windfalls, surely, they don’t look mature – Hard to imagine an oak will spawn From these early-birds I found. They look too lean, too small and green To be a mighty giant’s dawn. Only July, and the first acorns down, The tree advances a pawn.
Though now I look upon around, I see An oak with its first grey hairs – Of little concern, but a leaf on the turn, Like unattended Summer repairs On an old and lazy tree. And there on the lawn, the start of a yawn, A warning from up-the-stairs – Only July, but the prep-work is the key, To start to order its affairs.
I love to grab a handful of holly-leaves, Pale and tender in the Spring, Before they’ve darkened, hardened, sharpened, Tanned their leather good and bent. I love to hug a branchful of holly-sheaves, Ere each shoot has gained its sting – To shakes its hand with good intent, To thank it for last Yule well-spent.
In Spring, I can sniff-out the sap as it rises, And comes overshooting the branches and twigs Of the cherries and lindens and suburban figs – A streets full of pollen – my nose recognises That Spring has returned to the gardens again, In the asphalted forests of wychelm and plane. My hay-fevered neighbours are rather less happy, But I scent the chestnuts, the sweet and the horse, And the avenues of the acacias, of course ! Municipal headiness leaves me quite sappy – The syrups of sycamores, weepings of willows, That’s wafted by birdsong in sugary billows.
It isn’t a frost – don’t fret, But it is a cold morning – Notice is given, we’d better take care, It’s merely the first of the nips in the air. It isn’t a frost – not yet, But it is a fair warning – It won’t come tomorrow or next week, it’s stating, But Autumn is old, and the Winter is waiting.
The clocks have changed, the dark has grown, The evenings have started early – Even as I leave the office, Day has gone and night is surly. Gloomy hordes of wrapped-up figures Cram onto my flood-lit train – It’s come at once, this blackening, As Winter leaps out once again. Trudging home from the lonely station, Beneath the unexpected stars That just last week were veiled in dusk, I see Orion’s back – and is that Mars ? It’ll only last a few days, this, Till early nights are nothing strange – It’s just the sudden shift, that’s all, When the dark has grown and the clocks have changed.
All the Summer, she shelters in her studio, Under the North-sent light, As she’s painting a curlew, a bird of the Winter, That, like her, flees when the Sun gets bright. She starts in April, starts from the tail-quills, Nothing but browns and creams – Slowly works forwards as evenings grow later, Until she can hear its call in her dreams.
At five-times life-size, her bird is a monster, A beautiful giant of the fens – With every barb of every feather, More real than in any photographer’s lens. So unlike the shy things they are, them and her, Avoiding the seaside crowds – They to their moorland, her to her studio, Waiting for the safety of the huddle’ing clouds.
By the late of May, she’s mottling the wing, By June, she’s glinting the eye By the height of July, she starts on the beak, As the burning Sun is stoking-up the sky. Inch-by-centimetre, longer and still longer, Polished to perfection as she goes, Longer than a godwit, longer than an avocet – This beak is magnificent, and still its black arc grows !
All through August, she’s stretching it out With the windows wide-open from dawn, Bringing-in the songs of the blackbird and the goldfinch – But the curlew cannot sing until its bill is fully-drawn. Till finally, finally, it tapers to infinity, Just as the September cools the air. She locks up her studio and heads out to the marshes, As the North-sent breezes blow the cobwebs from her hair.
This poem was inspired (but is not directly about) this painting by a friend, Anna Clare Lees-Buckley. She specialises in birds, but unlike the subject she doesn’t master in reclusivity.
A T-Rex guarded the first hole, As we played a round by the beach – Over the hump and round the bend With a club and a scorecard each. Fibreglass limestone hemmed the links With fossil ammonites – While bubbling streams built future cliffs As they laid down chalky whites. Triceratops was present, of course, And deinonychus too – We admired her feathers as we let Another pair play through. The rough was an abandoned nest – The eggs gave a tricky lie. A pterosaur looked-on unimpressed, As my ball refused to fly. The sauropod was a juvenile, The size of a family car, And the microraptors were suitably cute, As I came in over par. But the twelfth showed the first sign of trouble, With a draught through the plastic swamp To shake the early magnolias, As I teed-off with a whomp. The fifteenth had a river of lava Splitting the fairway in half – I was so busy taking my shot I forgot to take a photograph. The seventeenth was watched by several shrews, To no concern. They looked-on patiently as we played, Content to wait their turn. And then, crowning the final hole, Was a crater upon the green – Only a metre across, but still, Here comes the Paleogene… As we finished our round at the end of the world, It felt like the nick of time – Then back to the seagulls along the Prom, And an ice-age ninety-nine.