Poems for my father




We walk together you and I
Towards life's landmarks
You always thirty years
And thirty two days ahead
I, child of the spring,
Dancing my way through your footprints

As you approached fatherhood
And I swelled, kicked and burrowed
My way towards life
You stepped out of youth into maturity
Reaching the landmark of one score years and ten ...
And thirty has been our distance ever since.
Your birth in the ominous years of Hitler,
Facism and fear
And mine in the permissive decade
Of unfulfilled liberation.

At forty you considered, with melancholy, middle age
Whilst a ten year old cavorted at your side
Reminding you of a childhood long lost
To the memories of pond and wood.
And all the while your son flourished
In the gentle, earth-rich love
Of his hesitant, ever present god

On reaching twenty
I had returned to the place of my birth,
Repeating your western sojourn
In the city of trade and university,
Contemplating adulthood's uncertain scope
Whilst you researched retirement
From the clogging limitations
Of London and Camden town
In the shadow of your half century.

At sixty I reached half your age
And the fixed separation of thirty years
Seems to shrink
In the shared experience of adulthood.
Two lives so different:
Yours retired to the gentle folds
Of a downland valley
And mine wedged into the cracks
Of a concrete town,
Yet joined by the one inheritance
Of beauty, God and blood

As you come in sight of home,
Three score years and ten beckon
And the sad beauty of life
Is ever more present in our shared
Knowledge of suffering.
Age and decay whispers at our shoulders
And their fingers penetrate
Deep into feet and hip and ear
Returning all flesh
To the ground of being.

But now as eighty beckons and fifty calls
Change and transition stalk us both.
You have left the downlands rolling quiet
To walk once more on urban streets,
While I have left London’s noisy byways
For the deep, green stillness of the far West
And as time drags us uncertain through the world
We wonder, both, where in this unyielding age
Will be the resting place?

Thus have we walked these fifty years
Both upon the one earth
And both walking our own way but
Joined by thirty short years
And set free by a long established love

Song Of Father And Son

Down to the Forest where the Ash Trees Grow
Way back then, to the time which is always now.

Running in the cool woods
And jumping the streams
And everything alive
And everything youthful:
In the summertime way back when ...

     Dragonfly flies
     Skidding through the hot air
     Eyes all darting,
     Wings all humming:
     Hovers for an instant.
     The miracle of Science.

It was underneath the Downs
In the lee of the Valley
and the shadow of History;
Wealden lands, way back then
When Saxon slew and Angle settled.

And before in the Morning of England,
When Dragonfly danced
In the earliest dew,
Way back when, in that time
Which we remember still:

Miracle of Science
In the Arms of Creation
As the Spirit sings
And the Father makes
This miracle of all that lives.

 Perfectly formed
     Carefully drafted
     Gently warmed,
 Its pattern crafted:
 in God.

Down in the Forest where the Ash Trees Grow
The Miracle of Science:
Dragonfly singing
Its primaeval song
And we remember;
You and I,
We remember.

Leaving the Ocean

Now it is time to leave
To hold on would be the salmon
Refusing the perils of the spawning grounds
Sunk low in the sterile deeps of the anonymous ocean

I hear the call of the Healing
infinitesimal, ineffable
Like the invisible chords which draw the swallow
Over the curve of the green wide world

Now we begin
For the story of my city has been written
There are no more tales to tell
Except for the hunting down and the pursuit and the final despair

But on the lonely hill
Obscure and unimportant
Fitting only, so the great ones think, for a death
An egg may be laid, a fish born: oceangoing and sleek in its strength.

Where the Roads Cross

Middlecot by Winkleigh
In the parish of Broadwoodkelly
Rises at a crossroads
In the belly of Devon's wide farmland

It is not my home, but
I have lived here a few short weeks
And mixed my youthful sweat
With its concrete and heavy soils

And if there is somewhere I
Have breathed the same air
As the labouring, ancient Ashdowns
It is here

I picked peas, hefted bales
Fed calves with two fingers
In their greedy, slurping mouths
And slept in the shade of the screech owl

Now I visit the familiar farmyard
Where the son walks in the boots of the grandfather
And though the field names are gone
I still remember the pattern of its acres

Memories flood me:
Twinkle eating a rat and
The smell of the farmyard kitchen
And the old hen pecked to death in the egg sheds

Now friendship renews the paternal ties
Two wives find an immediate affection
Sticky chocolate binds children to
A new uncle and a new aunt...

And all this in a new era:
The threat of encroaching parkland,
The fashion for all things organic,
Disease and dysfunction circling

But there remains paths meeting
At the muddy crossroads,
Journeys intersecting,
Lives, people intertwining their disparate strains

The Old One

And what is this they build?
Jutting into me
Reaching over, down through me
Great hulks floating on me
And then holding, containing me:
They do not like my wandering
The busy little creatures

I remember their coming
Inquisitive, probing, searching
They catch the fish
Learn to float on me
Trees, reeds crafted into vessels
Clever creatures
But I do not mind
They are busy with me
But I flow on just the same

Then they began the building
Began to shape me
Not much, not at first
But nothing stops them
They take little damp bits
Marshes, reeds where I seep into earth
And alongside me build their shelters
I destroy them, many times
Sometimes swelling
Sometimes shrinking
Sometimes I change my path through earth
Rain, wind, sea are brothers
We change together

And they keep building
Building out into
And, at last, over me
Deep down into me
And the spans reaching over me
I wash it away
It was easy
But they grow cleverer
I batter, I churn but I can not shift it
And they grow bolder
All around me
They build
And in, and over and surrounding me
Sometimes my brothers give me strength
And I can wash them away
But they always come back
Stronger, cleverer
And they take water from me
Fill me with their filth
Strange things I do not know
I am choked
The fish die
I smell strange
And my sisters, they swallow them
Turn them into ditches
Choked with their filth
They hold me, I cannot move

I become old
Slow, weak
Year after year the same earth
I cannot wander, I cannot move
Then they become quieter on me
All around me buildings, yes
But on me, less
So many buildings over me, they do not need me
I think they forget me
Even the filth is less
And the fishes are returning

But maybe my time is coming again
My brother sea tells me he is getting stronger
He is swelling
And that one day he lends me his strength
And together we wash them away
The clever, busy ones
Wash away all their buildings, all their makings
And I am free once more



I come from mist
from air
from sky-damp
down on the stationary earth
I come
in wetness
in the fullness of air


I gather on blade, on stone, on sheep, on wool
seeping into earth
trickling into darkness
weighing the ground with the wetness
with soak
I come
into land
heavy, heavy, heavy
with the dampness


Out of soak
out of seep
I gather drop by drip
into tiny trace, into streak, into silver thread
I run
I gather faster
pace by pace
into rivulets
into stream
into brook
over rock
shining in sun
I come
into the breakneck gallop
of life, living


into darkness
into tree
into the tall place
I clatter
but shrink down into my blackness, into my wetness, into my fastness
hurry past
and I come
into light


I fall
Oh! through light
Oh! through bright
Oh! through air heavy
clattering on rock
into myself
into darkness


in the cup of earth


before fullness swells me
and I come
into the lip
of running
clatter splash
and rush
yet more


I am lived in
I breathe
Insect skips over me
drops into me
And birds swim in me
Dipper and
and Heron still as tree
and splash, the Otter chasing
The roots turning, turning, wreathing
All lives in me
I come
and bring life


I flow
I smooth
I run
and sweep around meadow
hedge and gate
the measured land
I come
into man's world


past road
under bridge
and race
and running fast
tangle of fence plunged in me
Then past brick
past building
(stationary and strange
no sway
no change)
but smell of man seeps into me
I cannot sluice it
but I come
clattering through village
through farm
through man and all his means


I fill
I drench
I flow
I suck stream
and ditch
and leech of land
I swell
I bend
I come strong and full and deep
dark watered

I am Irfon
I come
I flow
into gushing river
into sea
into ocean
into world
I come
I flow
and I am Irfon

Birth Pool

A dark pool, gloomy and grave
Nothing seen in its brown depths
Rocks or creatures hidden
Around it mountains loom

But on a hot day I lower into its coldness
Feet slip on slimy rocks
Buffet submerged stones, I gasp
At the cold, enveloping darkness

Then understanding its boulders
Feeling the pebbled shores
I slide in its slickness through luxurious waters
Know on naked skin: perfection

Together we share the dark pool
Skin slides pass skin.
As we dance in the cool darkness
We create another memory of love

This, of course, is a baptism
A baptism in the dark earth’s waters
Something began here and something ended
Here is the possibility of a new body birthing


Walking over fields
The light luminous, glowing
And glimpsed through trees
A blue lake shining

Further the field falls into sand
And beyond sea
Mauve, dark, restless
Biding time

It has stolen lands
Devoured cliffs
Scattered roots of huge trees

And leaves … this beautiful emptiness
The meer, not yet breached.

On the lake a Goldeneye dives
Wigeon hide beneath reeds
Somewhere, perhaps,
A Bittern creeps

And I have entered
A magic kingdom
Strung between sea and land
It glows with the holy presence

I desire to remain
To build campfires
Huddle against the wind
Eat fish between scalding fingers

But I must trudge away from Avalon
Change also
Never hold the present,
Let time slip into endless ocean


I love the idea of earth’s solitary places
Lundy, Sable Island, Rona
Rock and sand
Moated by the ocean’s hugeness

I imagine a house built there
Snuggling down into the earth
Like the beehives
Where the monks drank sweetness

Mine would drink energy
From sun and wind and earth,
Welcome a visitor or two on balmy summer days,
But in the wild of winter

Be utterly alone and silent
Frugal and uncomplaining
Seeking back through time to the Old Men:
Arsenius and Poemen and Moses with his old white beard and black, black skin

I have never been alone here
Though as a child, a friend’s boat would drop us on Tean
And left there we were masters of the rock and sand and blazing silence of the place;
Fishing shrimp and drinking lemonade.

And on a remote peninsula
My wife would walk and leave me for the day
Alone with the plunging gannets
In the last inhabited place before America

But I have never been alone with sea
Perfectly alone
On these rocks which God made for solitude
  and wild monks
  and as haven for the dwellers of the eternal city

A Hot Day in East Dean

The world curls into itself

At the midpoint of the day
The silence spreads

Children cease from their shrieking
Strimmers stop strimming
Tractors slumber
And the ubiquitous motor car vanishes

In Half Moon a kestrel's savage silence
Hunts among the breathless trees

And then up from Portsmouth a breeze blows
Sifting the quiet torpor of the valley

Children return to trampolining
A mower returns to manicuring
The big machines grumble back to life
And a motorbike wheezes up from Charlton

Jesus of the Downland

A shabby man walks over the brow of the hill
Stopping briefly he looks for a moment like a scarecrow stretched against the sky
Then he strides off into the dark woods

People say he used to come here often, was a woodsman,hard as iron, but gentle with the children
Used to preach in the old chapel before it was converted
Then he took to shambling into the back row of Holy Communion
Silent but neat as a pin

I met him once, hat pulled down in the wind
He talked to me of the woodcraft,
How they cut a stand and coppiced the young trees;
His hands gnarly and grained, but smile bright and I felt warm in the glow of the old wisdom

He was a shepherd too, they said, up on the hill with the sweet grass
Lived in a hut over the summer, knew all the herbs and the folksongs
Kept the sheep safe, taught the young men all he loved

And cared for the living things, that's what he did, year on year
Never used a gun, just knew the way life grew


To cross come
with limp, with limb dragging
with heart heavy, hard with sorrow
with memory mumbling, moaning

To cross come
sad soul, sore that you are
flesh flaky, skin raw

To the clawed cross
to the Christ beaten
battered, abused

in your gentle humanity
loved, delightful one
brimming with beauty

through rabble deaf
through bigots
through prejudice, poverty of thought, imaginations puny and pusillanimous

to the cross
to the shining cross
flush with forgiveness effulgent
miracle of mercy


To cross come
clean in the coming
A new babe bright in the burning