It’s all more or less alphabetical in England
Ash is our spearhead; preservers, survivors,
we pass our children through them, hollow trees
that make us whole, ward off evil, can save us
from everything but God. Ash holds the keys.
Barrows around and beneath our estate
are threatened by bright cables, where the dreams
of five thousand years are drawn into light
entertainment, and no ghost of honour gleams.
Clay pipes rise up out of the clay like bones;
their flesh was years behind the plough, their blood
was stemmed by a dying empire. Here were blown
smoke-screens of peace, while the hunt view-hallooed.
Deserted villages, shapes under turf,
the tofts and crofts, a mill-tump, a torn-down
church and at evening, as the blackness curves
across – see, there, below the sheep, a frown.
Elm hateth man and waiteth, but it’s been
too long: it will watch you rot in the earth
before it comes back and restores this scene
to Constable’s taste. By then, what’s it worth?
Fords unmake cars; they lap at the electrics,
despise bridges, conceal a troll, an ogress.
Their music’s cattle hooves; their game pick-up-sticks.
Myths inhabit them; they inhibit progress.
Green men greet you at the locked church, the pain
in their expressions foliating to words,
we know what has been lost, but these remain.
Something bursts into hush: endangered birds.
Hundreds, where the free men came each full moon
to meet by tree or crossroads. From this tump
try spotting the mosaic: hundred stone,
moot hill, landfill, refrigerator dump.
Ignis fatuus or will-o-the-wisp
still has its way in the Fen, on the Level.
Its AA sign belches yellow as you gasp
at its blue lamp swerving you to the Devil.
Jay thinks it’s a scream that so many birds
have gone quietly; he’s looking for that oak
he buried for the future. Nothing is heard
of his taste, only how he kills a joke.
King Arthur will return when we have need.
By-pass, hypermarket, airport-runway, mall.
Camelot and Cadbury have both agreed
to sponsor the table. Who’ll make the call?
Ley-lines. England’s palm laid flat to divine
her way forward. The pendulum traces
a serpent swinging down St Michael’s line
from profane to banal to sacred places.
Maze, mis-maze, Troy-town... Drive the Devil out
with a game of Maiden’s Bower, Shepherd’s Race, chase
him into circuitous coils of doubt,
he likes the fast lane and a straight fair race.
Nuthatch, masked and sinister, sidles down
sequoias, tapping the network, violence
in the whistle that says his cover’s blown
to that closed-circuit treecreeper’s surveillance.
Oaks bend their knees, their stag-heads mocked by jets,
their arms raised. Micro-chips fly off our axe,
a forest of plastic. Only lightning lets
itself thrill furrows into heart attacks.
Ploughing, you found a way in. With the team,
you walked and looked and picked gems from the clay.
Now here’s High and Mighty: your mould’s a dream.
He’s European, ears capped; you’re in his way.
Quoits, cromlechs, dolmens: the mushrooms appear
overnight. Are they good or might they kill?
Myth picks them up to taste. Not now, not here,
irradiated, tinned. In time, they will.
Rape means something different in the country.
Assault on the eye; thick yellow pollen forced
down the nose and throat; coarse affrontery
to your rights that says spread this on your toast!
Springs well from faults, like art from a neurosis.
Anon, deep at her water-table, dreams
a string awakening of rivers, composes
our shires in chords of downfall, modal streams.
Trespassers will be Prosecuted: the right
to roam is not where all roads lead; it’s to
the game all landowners play and will try
to win – that asks not where you are but who.
UFOs above us ; crop circles below.
The process of sowing and reaping goes on.
A mystery. A life of black holes. We know
nothing even of the wild flowers that have gone.
Village life: on the edge of darkness; a slice
of moon; touching all four seasons; your bread
growing and ripening; watching the price
of silence rise; seeing more of the dead.
Windmills want to catch what’s in the air; sails
jammed, broken or missing, they try to be
marketable properties; when that fails
farm themselves out with renewed energy.
X in a country churchyard. Prefix, sounding
as if it means what you became here once,
insisting on such flowery-grave surroundings.
Excitement then exit with experience.
Yew knows more than ever you will, as old
as Zeno’s aim, dense as toxicology,
keeping its black humour even when spoiled
suburban, its runic etymology.
Zodiacs across the landscape. Draw lines
between dark centres and, look, there are stars
wheeling their prophecies. Study the signs
beyond route constellations, shooting cars.