Warriors

All the men are there,
their eyes like photographs
of eyes for a gaze
merely to rest upon,
even the old man,
the blind clarinettist,
blinded at Ypres,
all sat in a line
on wooden chairs
pushed back against the wall
as if for a dance
that never happens.
There is a buffet but
the food remains uneaten.
Nobody says a word
or makes a move,
their minds made up
of what little I know.

The faces of the women, though,
are less familiar: insemination
carried with it rights
to memory. I must surmise
the Mme Lemarchand
who gives birth to an English son
seen standing with a field gun
in his pillbox hat and buttons:
there is a risk he might
be gored to death by Zulus
or blown to pieces by the Boer
but at least he gets to wear
all that 1960s,
Carnaby Street gear.


(c) Sackerson, 2019

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Gibbon Hill

At 543m, Gibbon Hill is one of several high points on the rounded ridge that separates Apedale from Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. I walked up it once before, many years ago, when I first moved to the area but, although I’ve often been out on my mountain bike on the tracks around  it, I’ve not been to the summit since.  The idea of revisiting it has been at the back of my mind for a long time. Walking over hills is a very different experience to cycling over them. Walking is obviously slower, one is more in touch with the land and there is more time to take things in.  Cycling brings with it a whole different set of attractions. I enjoy both but for some time I’ve been thinking of going for walks through the places I visit on my mountain bike, as I often see, when cycling, intriguing features of the landscape that are often inaccessible on a bike and which cry out to be explored on foot.

Gibbon Hill is a case in point. I often find myself cycling along a Land Rover track that contours its north side. It crosses a stream, Grovebeck Gill, just before it comes to a shooting lodge. On the uphill side, the stream vanishes into a steep-sided cleft. I often wonder what I’d find if I dismounted and walked up it. Perusing the map the other day, I was fascinated to see that it leads to a disused lead mine. The mine workings and the stream bed run a good part of the way to the ridge – and the summit of Gibbon Hill.

As I didn’t have a whole afternoon to devote to the walk, to save time I parked half way up on the road that runs over the hill from Grinton to Redmire. I made my way across the moor, knowing that if I kept walking west I would soon intercept the gill and the mine workings. It didn’t take long. Once at the cleft (known at this point as Kay Hush), I clambered down it through the heather to the stony bed of the gill and made my way up it. It gradually became less and less deep and I finally found myself stepping out, back onto the open moor. The ground was rough and had obviously been mined. Here and there there were spoil heaps. There were long stretches of peat devoid of heather, sometimes covered with a scattering of shattered limestone fragments. It was at this point that I came across the first of several tiny skeletons laid out on the peat. I saw few signs of life on this walk. I saw a couple of geese stood by a pool. Later I saw them as they flew over my head. I saw more signs of death. Several times, as well as the skeletons, I came across a scattering of feathers that, from a distance, I mistook for cotton-grass (which, of course, is not in flower yet).

Here and there, as I made my way through the workings, I came across pieces of wood. I was curious to know where they all came from. Finally, to my surprise, I came across a pit, full of pieces of wood. I was put in mind of Cornelia Parker’s exploding garden shed.

rocks

It wasn’t far from the wood-pile to the ridge itself. Distances on rough moorland can be deceptive: things that look a long way off can actually be quite close. Add to this the fact that in the absence of well-trodden paths one moves quite slowly and one can see how one can quickly get demoralised. Walking here has to be unhurried and philosophical. Put one foot in front of the other, then the other in front of the one – and so on. It is good that the ground is a pleasure to look at. The grass grows in tussocks. Each blade, green at the base, dwindles to a white, straggly tendril that drapes itself over the heather that grows around it.

skull2.jpg

In no time at all I reached the wire fence that runs the length of the ridge and turned right. All of a sudden I could see into both Swaledale and Apedale. I was surrounded by hills, although it was difficult to see far as it was quite hazy. I made my way along the fence to the summit. Although, as I said, I had visited it once before a long time ago, nothing about it seemed familiar. I sat myself down in the heather and ate an orange. A fence used to run away northwards from this point. All that remains of it now are a few decayed wooden posts.

When I set off back down, I decided to take a closer look at a tree I’d seen not far from the summit. I wondered if, perhaps, someone had brought their old Christmas tree to this remote place and planted it. Surely not. I can only think a bird dropped a seed. There are no other trees for miles. Being in such an exposed place, it’s grown into the shape of the prevailing wind.

tree

I toyed with the idea of simply retracing my steps back down Grovebeck Gill but decided to follow the ridge instead. The sun was getting quite close to the horizon and I thought I’d cover the ground more quickly if I went that way. All I needed to do was walk along the fence until I came to the prominent cairns on the next named summit, Height O’Greets. I’d made my way down from there many times. I set off and on reaching the cairns, I turned down into Swaledale towards the road. Then, on a whim, I changed course. I could afford to do this, as I was now making good time. As I said, I knew this part of the route well and, as so much of this walk had been completely new to me I didn’t want the sense of discovery to end. I veered off towards Grovebeck Moss, where I found myself weaving a path through flat, bright green patches of ground. A small pool seemed to glow, completely filled as it was with a gelatinous mass of green algae.  Fortunately for me, I decided, it hadn’t rained much recently.  If it had, I’m quite sure I’d have ended the walk sodden from the knees down.  I got back to the car not long after sunset.

wood1

 

 

 

 

 

Pickerstone Ridge

I’ve been meaning to make my way to the top of Pickerstone Ridge ever since I realised it existed. At 565m, it’s the highest point on the horseshoe of hills that encloses Apedale, a remote spur of Wensleydale. It’s not even really called Pickerstone Ridge – the name properly applies to its southern flank. It just happens to be the nearest name to the summit printed on the map. It sounds odd but it’s not an easy hill to see from the valley, which perhaps accounts for its nameless state. However, viewed from the hills around Gunnerside Gill to the north, it takes on the kind of prominence one might expect.

I approached it from Whitaside Moor. on the Swaledale side. I parked on the minor road that runs from Grinton to Askrigg and set off on my mountain bike up the loose Land Rover track that runs from there up to Apedale Head. It was hard going. It was a bright, clear day but a cold wind was blowing in my face most of the time. Half a mile up I took a slight detour, turning left onto another track. I wanted to find a waterfall I’d not visited before which is marked on the map on the flanks of High Carl. Following the map, I then took a right turn onto a less well-defined path through the heather. I’d been having an easy time of it on the Land Rover tracks. This took a little more thought, especially in the wind.

I soon came to the waterfall. It’s only a few feet high and not spectacular but it’s a pleasant spot. One thing I like about exploring hills is how, when you do, you discover  features not visible from a distance. I certainly wasn’t aware of this small valley until I came across it. The path round the top of the waterfall was very narrow and I dismounted, lugging my bike around it and up the steep ground behind it. I stopped to peruse the map. It’s a very popular track but, just for a moment, it wasn’t entirely clear which way it led.

It wasn’t long before I regained the main Land Rover track.The approach to Apedale Head from here always reminds me of the top of Ben Nevis. It’s a bit fanciful, I know, and it’s a sobering thought to reflect on the fact that the piles of stones and the gravel deserts here are the product of human mining activity.

A wire fence runs across Apedale Head along the watershed. Turning left along the fence would soon bring me to the summit of High Carl. Turning right takes you, after about half a mile, to the summit of Pickerstone Ridge. A faint path runs along the side of the fence. I stopped riding the bike at this point, pushing it along the path and, once out sight of the main track, leaving it by the fence. I continued along the fence until I arrived at a point opposite the summit, then struck out across the moor to the summit itself. It’s always hard to see where the exact top is on a gently rising dome like this but, wandering around, you often come across a point where you suddenly get the feeling that all the ground around you is falling away, albeit gently. I walked around for a while and took a few photographs. The wind had dropped. In the late afternoon haze the surrounding hills were reduced to shades of grey, their ridges to distant, undulating lines.

 

Two Poems

Wild Thing

It was here: I didn’t imagine it.
Look at the marks on the ground,
the paw-prints where it paced around.
It’s an inscrutable beast but I don’t think
even it knows what it’s looking for
until it finds it. When it does
the significance of things is made
manifest and everything seems to make sense
just for a moment. It was here.
It isn’t anymore and so
the trees/the sky/the earth/etc.
once more conceal the secret.

 

Fragment, 6am

Right now you’re sleeping and
I’m writing this by torchlight.
Soon it will be morning and
elsewhere in the building
people are already moving –
I can hear the dull sound
of their footsteps as they hurry out.
Then silence almost. There’s just
the sound of breathing
and the birds outside.

 

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Pennine Chain

IMG_20190130_155137I’ve been putting this poem together for some time. A couple of sections have been posted here already. Another section appeared in the Breathless Anthology as far back as 1994, although most of the poetry is more recent. I read the whole thing for the first time this evening at the regular Le Mondo Bongo poetry evening at Sip Coffee and Eat in Richmond.

 

 

Pennine Chain

1.

The labels are confusing:
this is no longer the corner
of the street where I live
although the signs are still there,
the mental Post-It notes,
and the feeling that if
I want a pint of milk
I must walk that way,
turn left, turn right –
two minutes at the most.

The whole is overlaid
with lines of thought
that reassert themselves unbidden.
The park across the road
where the children used to play
while I kept half an eye
‘s still there as is the man
(much older now) who walks
a different dog.

I never knew his name
and it strikes me now that
things on the periphery
are easier to reinstate:
the man, the park,
the corner of the street,
these things remain in place
whereas it is impossible
to visualise a version of oneself
shaped by so many small decisions
that never came to pass although
perhaps I catch a glimpse (back view)
of a man about my age
(his hair’s beginning to turn grey)
dressed in an overcoat,
who walks away.
He could be anyone I never knew.

 

2. Tubular Bells

Time was, when you had
to lower down the needle
slowly, wait until the point,
with a crack, engaged the groove
and set out on its spiral journey
to the centre.

I remember how (it seems
so real) we sat around,
drinking cans of beer,
all couples, and how we felt so old.
We were in love, perhaps,
but underneath it all
lay desperation, fear.
The piano starts to play.
I watch her look into his eyes
and (cliché or not)
this is the memory from that time
I feel most intensely
as he slips a ring onto her finger
(so conventional, yet so sincere).
That was before the Fall,
rebellious jukebox,
o’erwhelmed us all
with floods and whirlwinds of
tempestuous sound.
Sometimes even now
I wonder what became of them,
although I’m not sure I ever
even knew their names.

Years later, driving North along
the B6265,
the hills are invisible
in the darkness.
I’m peering down
the headlamp beams
to see the bends.
Bebop plays on the cassette
(Thelonius Monk
stabs at the keys)
and in the back
two small children
strapped in kiddie-seats
are sleeping. There is
so much for me to do,
so little time to think;
certainly no time
to press the rewind button
and reflect.

Today, same place
but driving South,
there’s none of that.
The audio system’s set
to shuffle-play.
The choice of track’s
determined by an algorithm:
it’s just a case
of wait and see.
And so it happens that
the piano starts to play
just as in 1973
and I find myself wondering
yet again
what lay in store
for the girl and boy I hardly knew
back then.

 

3. The Barns

Joseph’s Barn

His cow and calf
overwintered there
and often Joseph, too,
spent the night
after a skinfull,
dreaming in the straw
that his wife
might lay him down
a son, there,
in the manger.

William’s Barn

He liked the feel
of the stones
in his hands.
He built the windowless walls
higher and higher
shutting out the world
and creating a darkness
for himself.

Susan’s Barn

She still inhabits the cage
of her lover’s bones.

She still treads the paths
around the place
his heart used to be.

She still works
what they had:

the barn, the cow, the field.

Sarah’s Barn

In summer,
when the rising sun
shines through the empty door,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing.

In autumn,
when the wind blows leaves
against the outer wall,
although the barn’s now filled with straw,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing.

In winter,
when the snow falls through
the blue-sky roof between the beams
and one more stone falls from the wall,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing.

In spring,
when water runs between
the stones and weeds find root
and sheep find shelter by the wall,
you’ll still hear Sarah singing,

although there is no pail to fill
and the mouths to be fed
are now closed.

Peter’s Barn

is now the home
of a television producer,
who sits before the fire where once
a lamb fell to earth
between the legs of its mother.

Michael’s Barn

Three gold coins
he found in the earth floor.

He gave them to his son,
who left to find work
in the town.

Barn

I remember my making –
a growing shadow in a ring of stones.

Since then, a stone
here and there, a rotting beam, the slate
that slips by inches every year:
the light creeps in. It seems to be
a universal principle.

Stone is my mantra.
Solid ground my only reassurance
that I’m part of something bigger.

One day I’ll be full of light:
a field of stones
for people to pick over
in search of artefacts.

 

4.

My favourite hole in the ground
is on top of Harkerside Fell.
It’s not very big but
you can lie down in it, just,
so you’re out of the wind.
If you look over the edge
you can see for miles
only don’t get too comfortable
or one of the straggly nettles
that live there
(vicious bastards that they are)
will bite you on the arse,
even through your trousers –

so take care.

 

5.

My imaginary flying machine
lifts me just high enough
to clear the garden fence
and carries me silently
through the darkness.
I control by telepathy
the invisible engine:
I tell it to follow
the line of the streetlights
along the empty streets
that lead out of town.
Once over the fields
I steer by the stars
until I hear but can’t see
the water flowing over the stones
of a stream-bed.

This I follow,
plunging with the waterfall,
leveling out
as the stream joins the river,
startling an owl
from its tree on the river-bank.

Sweeping under the arch
of a bridge, where all is invisible
and where the water
echoes for a moment, I emerge:
and here the river widens, merges
into the dark mass
of the sea and I turn
up into the sky,
banking to follow
the curve of Draco’s tail
as it weaves between the Bears.

(c) Sackerson, 2019

Draco_and_Ursa_Minor

Invisible Journey

A flock of pigeons spends its days
sitting on the roof of the hotel.
Most of the time I can’t see them
from where I sit but I know they’re
almost certainly there,
sitting and thinking about
whatever it is pigeons think about,
because every now and then
they take flight en masse,
swooping down the alley,
round the square and back
and when they do
they fill my window
just for a moment
as with precision
they reach their apogee,
pulling out of a steep dive
towards the cobblestones
and heading up again
to disappear from view.

 

 

Copyright (c) Sackerson, 2019

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The Little People in my Head

 

I wrote this song the other day. I recorded it this afternoon. These are the lyrics, for anyone who would like to read them:

The little people in my head
are listening to what you say
and making notes so I’ll tomorrow
recall what you said yesterday.

The little people in my head
are watching every move you make:
they know I’m feeling hungry,
they watch the way you cut the cake.

The little people in my head
are wondering what I want to do:
they’re tired of doing the same old thing,
it’s time to think up something new.

The little people in my head
are whistling a song:
they’re asking me to play it,
don’t want me to get it wrong.

The little people in my head
are telling me to go to sleep:
they close my eyes, turn out the lights,
the little people, counting sheep.

The little people in my head
are tucked up in their little beds:
they dream of even smaller folk
asleep inside their tiny heads.

Copyright (c) Sackerson, 2019