image (c) James Allan
There is a lane behind my house. It runs straight,
all along the backs of our gardens, a hedge to one side
of dense beech and hawthorn, garden fences to the other.
Today there is a litter of pace-egg shells; kids,
despairing of a slope, have hurled their treasures
at the high, thick, brown wood, and they have fallen
amongst a rash of tiny mauve flowers. The flowers dare me,
taunt me as a ‘nature-poet’, challenge me to name them,
and I can’t; the flowers win, and nod slightly to themselves.
I am no Janus. I confess I look outwards from the town,
never inwards; I can be found pent by the first barbed wire
when it is winter, clutching numbly with my fingers,
beside the prayer-flagging shreds of polythene,
gibbeted rags riven from their scavenged corpses,
making the only music above the wind in my ears,
harsh, a relentless clatter like the tearing of paper.
Now, spring, I strain to mark the place where dunnock,
finch, and wren give way to jay and woodpecker,
and that corsair southerner the magpie – curse her! –
where lawnmower is drowned in a sea of new leaf-rustle.
And yet at the end of the lane I am always surprised
by acres of caravans, so I turn right, looking to lose myself
in the wood, where one is always north of the road,
west of the golf course, south of the water tower,
east of the houses and one field of grass-keep,
and where in autumn I come across lost golf balls
as often as fly agaric. Today, perverse, I turn left
instead of right and wander where the phalanx of caravans sits,
silent, almost terminally silent; I expect a dog to bark
or a man to shout, but it is as though life is waiting,
as dormant as each caravan, as flat as the pale sheet of their sides,
the sky, the clouds, angled towards me in each window,
blind girls’ eyes, colours that can see no colours.
Behind me, diagonally across a field, it is playtime
at the school, the yard sharp and joyful with children –
here amongst these sleepers the kids’ cries are yips
and yaps that vie with the conversation of sparrows.
At the end of the very last row I could push through
a thin screen of trees to contemplate the brown furrows,
but why not, for once, sit with my back to a post
or perch on a metal step to look back? Find a vantage, Marie,
from which to gaze at this oblong promontory,
the imposition of order certainly, but left
to weather the seasons, tarmac pebbling at the edges,
grass high, dandelions asserting themselves,
crows wheeling awkwardly above, panels of pea green,
aquamarine, sunburst yellow baking to fade
in the Scottish sun. Along with caws from the tattered,
fragmented flight, the sound of the breeze
whipping a loose washing line, the clink of a tool
on an engine block, a hint of raucous diesel
from the mini-coach headquarters. The sight of roofs,
grey, grey, and pale pantile-red, slipping away to my right;
the insect-crawl of a tractor along the plumbline road.
I could sit here until night, when the dark is drilled
by streetlights, stars, and the red beacon atop the TV mast,
by the wing-tips of an old Fokker 50 in steady climb;
I could wait for owls; I could come back in autumn
and spy bats out of the corner of my eye, after days
spent brambling, the corners of my mouth hurting,
pie-hungry, my fingers bloodied and pricking;
I could mark the turns and twists of the year not so much
by the cold or by the rain but by the depth of the furrows,
the voices of the sheep, the ins and outs of the caravans,
the headlights on the tractors, the saltired contrails
on the blue flag of a Scottish sky. I could take root,
become a laminate print of myself, still as a Madonna,
and lean one-quarter-starwards as the caravan windows do.
I could become part of the debate that is this corner of my county.
Listen – is that the distant whip and pock of golf club against ball,
or a thrush anviling a snail? Is that a Romany terrier barking
or the cut-short cry of a gull, a child, the creak of a wind-driven hinge?
Eventually, of course, I will simply leave, go home;
but on the way I will pass a couple who have been
hand-in-handing it along the lane and, as always,
I will notice the young woman’s hair, conclude that it is
a cross between Baltic amber and that drift of old beech leaves
piled against the padlocked door of the shed I have never seen opened,
and I will rush to box myself in my house to write poems
to the Icon of the Angel with Golden Locks, striving
obsessively for the perfection that is never there in the world,
but without which we could not write, or paint, or sing.
The things which go on at this edge will go on without me,
as ignorant of me as I will be of them, because that is in our natures,
tenacious, just like cuckoo-spit on reed-grasses, oil patches on concrete,
the green of dock-stain on nettled thumbs; unlike my words
which stick in the mind less than the letters on an old, flattened can,
the painted number on that shed door, the half-buried
number plate of the old Vauxhall, and which, if read aloud,
are somehow less musical than the rattle of gravel under
slow van-wheels, the drone of a motor in low gear.
This box – home – is the inside of my head; out there
amongst the ranks and rows of trailer-homes is dreaming,
dream-time, another place entirely, conflicted with
the coming and going of images, unsafe, ambiguous,
flirting with the bizarre rather than fighting the familiar,
as though each was mildly irritated by the other
but neither could ignore the attraction, opposite poles
pulled together, magnetic lines compressed, penetrating,
alloyed, brazed at the edges, bitumen spilled onto grass,
grass spearing asphalt, weight and counter-weight,
blade and counter-blade, kiss and counter-kiss.
If there is a centre of the world, a true axis,
then the world will spin on an imaginary line
between two such places. The centre of everything
must be just that – the centre of everything, the bisection,
even the meeting of dreams and reality. And yet…