This wonderful image is a photo taken by Phil McMenemy, and posted with his permission. He has a Gallery in Dumfries and Galloway. He has a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/GalleryAtLaurieston/) which I strongly recommend you visit. I found the gallery by chance in mid Winter a couple of years ago and my partner and I found ourselves staying for a couple of hours, being plied with coffee and biscuits! This poem records our meeting and our conversation!
Reed Lines at Laurieston
Two men, discussing serious business
Come to Freud, and a question about line.
From where sprang the fascination with reeds
Standing tall in image after image?
Were these the soft echoes of a lost past
In a world of steel girders, hard drinking,
The rule of muscle over tenderness?
The reeds may have expressed a turning back –
None of the images grappled with steel,
Concrete or engineered blocks of matter.
But they spoke a deeper truth about strength:
How the feeblest things in Nature survive,
Bending before the Autumn winds, at ease
In the anonymity of the crowd.
More, they speak to us with their hushed music,
Like soft brushes on the drum skin of life;
They work together to provide shelter,
They bow their heads in the rains and they weep.
For you, an origin – a beginning?
No; more than that. Not just a plain ‘kick off’;
A softer discovery of new life,
Or an opening of a new universe.
From here though, it prompted reminiscence.
A rediscovery of the lilies
Intoxicating in their abstraction.
For you, the leaves shone under grasses
Bowing down in maternal reverence;
Sheltered by the soft curves in still embrace.
From here, the motionless blue held the scene
In the infinite space, timeless, away
From the destructive boot print of events,
Beauty’s companionable stillness.
Fairy Loup 1
One enclosed, trees like cathedral arches
Creating a windless
Damp thickness of air
On which the rich redness
Can float in magical celebration
Drawing us onward to the gilded brightness.
Opening out, trees leaning back
To allow the light
To paint a textured
Green, glistening with moisture
Across the woodland floor,
To provide a bed
For all kinds of magic.
Looking up across the rubble and straw
Of a landscape abandoned to the winds
The compact and quietly contained brother
Waited, softly shaded beneath the dark skies.
Up ahead, the gnarled gristle sinews caught
The force of the sun and stood defiant,
Proud, thorny branches pointing, decrying
The worst abuses of the faceless Gods
Then night came; the older sibling softened
Before the shining immensity; stars
Rested on the canopy, quietening
The fearful rage. Below, caught by the sun’s
Last hurrah, the young blood shone in the glow
Basking in the brilliance of creation.
Beech Tree Twinkle
Who would have thought this ecstatic
Outbreak of colour, this dance
Of wind and leaves, this cascade
Of beech litter, was a flurry
Of life passing.
The trees rejoice in completion,
Fling their clothes in triumph
To cover the seed beds of the future
And we can only gaze on, dazzled
In our small world.
In the glister of sea and sunshine
Nothing human stirs.
Here we can drift with the breeze of Summer
And become Nature.
Can we be sure though that this will do?
We like the idea
Of beauty staring lined and wind burnt
At the old stories.
We stand on the shoulders of suff’ring
Held above the tides;
Survival no longer has to be hewn
From ungiving soil.
We can shelter beneath eves, bloodied
By interred sinews;
No more do we watch the tides with fear
For lost livelihoods.
Perhaps it is in the angry skies
Reddened with outrage,
In the salt stained ragged rock outcrops
And the swirling froth,
In the dark wind swept trees – that we find
It is just as it is –
The mindless flow of forces
Rolling in from nowhere,
Meeting land where shifting surfaces
Cover a senseless movement
To a timescale beyond sense.
Mineral against mineral
The thin sliver of moon
With the rock’s undulations.
But we wear no white coats
And carry no clip boards.
We are warmed by the sun
And shiver before the winds. We are moved by life
And touched by the empty bench
Of lost companionship.
The scent of the sea
Covers the scene with memory,
The constant motion
Holds our heart beat
To the endless rhythm of change.
The sheltering bay and the sea’s roar
Comfort us with the rich
Patterns of irreconcilability.
And so we give beauty
To the bare facts of Nature.
Proud Little Boat
Alone, grounded, sea miles away –
Should I be here, or on some quiet
River, drifting gently
Whilst your man hangs a line
Hoping for some action?
Still, I am ready
Should the moon’s rush
Bring the flood upon me,
Or that cold front
Tries to blow me to the scrap yard.
Platelets floating on the sunlit stillness,
Brush strokes caress the blue serenity
To rock us gently. The water puckers
Its lips to kiss the rims of the heart shapes
Gathered in quiet communion. Each one
Holds its space, some circled by fellowship,
Touching, holding hands, facing the same way;
Others fastidious, alone, private.
All blushing in the afternoon sunshine,
Their skin leathering as the year decays
Whilst at their core, the vivid yellow burns
As a life force braced for the Winter snows.
We are guided through the boglands
And the bracken by trails of stone
Meandering over contours
Hidden to our elevation.
The walls’ ramshackle endurance
Attest to the unknown labours
That create and sustain this view;
To men and women who stride out
In the face of blizzards and gales;
Who plunge arms into frightened ewes
To haul new life into the world;
Who hack and hew in the woodlands
To save the habitat’s balance;
Who drive fence posts through rock and marsh
Whilst clouds of insects suck their blood.
This glory of texture and shade
Is their and our reward, given depth
By the moving mantles of mist
Burning off in the morning sun.
The evening light
Over the water
The world’s last breath
Long ago rippled
The surface, now
We are drawn
Towards the black
All that remains
Are the colours
And shapes on the iris
Of the closed eyes,
Brilliant and shocking
So long at
Glare of life.
We see the colour; perhaps it blinds us,
As we stare open mouthed at the poppies
Massed like a great army, each flower dying
But their numbers still overwhelming us.
Take the colour away and the pattern
Is no less miraculous, with the shapes
Hiding simplicity behind tumult,
The shading calling out delicacy
And movement, all speaking to us about
Mysteries: strength behind fragility –
Within mankind’s uncounted millions –
The wonder of a chorus of voices.
Behind these heralds of mortality
Stand the stone walls asserting permanence,
Claiming power to withstand disorder,
To crush all tenderness, deny weakness
But they fail; mortar is dissolved by rain
And stones cling in decline to their scaffold,
Or they are overrun by surging life,
Interred in the vibrancy of Nature.
Chocolate River – Even Flow
The rich cocktail of nutrients
Moves steadily towards us
Barely moving through a bloody
War torn guard of honour
Windless in the last fires of the day.
The green sward of new growth
Is out of reach, over the fly blown
All is fire and destruction
Where we stand becalmed.
Turn aside though and we see
The hidden life force rushing
Past our earth bound gaze,
The brown peat turns white
In the thrill of the chase.
It sweeps past destructions’
Epitaph, too full of its own flow
To notice these remains
Of old tragedies.
And we absorb the vigour,
Inhabit the fresh green of new life
And give ourselves over
To the rhythm of the current.
We look out, facing a distant army
Gathering, glinting white across the bay,
Harvesting the winds and ready to march
Towards us, modernity in their sails.
The sanctuary across the causeway
Leads the defence of our forgotten pasts,
Pointing like a sting ray, alert, ready.
The Rheged citadel in which we stand
Is just a faded memory, a bump
In the rocks and heathers. Modernity
Was its past, preservation its present,
But ill equipped to ward off the powers
The soldiers across the bay are fighting.
Collateral damage in that just war
Is the fate of many places like this.
So while we can, we shall breathe the sea air,
Listen to the oyster catcher’s shrill call,
And smile in the wealth of our heritage.
Fairy Loup 2
The woods open their arms
To draw us in, alone
To where the Springtime charms
And the breeze makes soft moan.
The velvet forest floor,
A verdant fairy loup
Half masks a hidden store
Of magic as eyelids droop.
Then conjured from the shade
Loups a lush whirligig
Of colour and shape, made
Where spirits skip and jig.
Flat on our back, looking up, do we see
A distant world of light and shade, whispers
Seducing us to let our eyelids droop
And our minds soar into the canopy
To join the rooks in their raucous freedom?
The romance of the canopy calls out
To us and touches our dreams of escape.
Men of science however see Nature’s
Practicality and function. They ask
‘How?’ They look up to measure light’s wavelengths;
They calculate ‘leaf area index’;
They find ‘eddy exchange co-efficients’
For heat and water vapour; in the heights
They see turbulence and change. The filtered
Light may charm our eyes but canopies are
Serious business. They conserve water,
They improve the air, relax our brain waves,
Slow our heart beats and shelter us from wind.
We don’t need romance to look up in awe.
Wrapped in the cool green shade,
We are at the country’s core.
From here we conquered seas;
Here were metal works’ cribs;
The first State ownership
Of resources reserved for Kings
Were these canopied spaces.
In this shade, the deer run
Free and the badgers frolic.
Beneath these buttresses
The poacher sets out his traps
And the shy goshawk bursts
Through unseen highways
Which our eyes cannot fathom.
This is the place for myths
Cocooned from the everyday,
Raised from the everyday
By the uprush to pattern
And light. This is the place
For secrets, dark thrills, lost loves,
Midsummer night’s dreams.
They can grow in thoughtful disconnection
Shining their light in sunshine or in rain.
They belong in untamed patches of land
Standing in majesty above the sea
Of insect rich green in heath and hedge bank.
Here, their statuesque solemnity holds
The exuberant pink frivolity
Of the sweet scented honeysuckle, in check.
Let the shackles go when the stone croft house
Has for too long endured a Calvinist
Restraint, and now in the Summer sun, shouts
Its relief through a blazing radiance.
Whilst yellow for foxgloves suggests poison,
Echoing Van Gogh’s ocular distortions,
Here they scatter the canvas with delight,
And spin us outdoors to ride the warm winds.
Chocolate River – Even Flow 2
Back to the torpid stream
And the evening draws in.
We can rest, the mature
Green beneath our feet
And the fire of the day
Receding towards the night
As the colours fade
Absorbed by still waters’
Fathomless brown depths.
We turn to the monochrome;
The need for texture
And touch, the wish to let
Ourselves go into the white
Sensuous flow below
The weir, where we may be swept
To who knows what Paradise?
Tree and Bluebells
The woodland floor shimmers, like the shiver
Of bows across the violin fingerboard,
Busy, soft, scurrying with life.
The new day is full of expectation,
The promise of honey in the perfumed
Coolness; the start of some epic drama.
Above the whispered harmonies, the birds
Declare their presence, wrapt in the moment,
Flitting out of sight in the dappled light.
In the distance, a warm echo chamber
Of rich brass chords draws our eyes to the sunlit
Clearings growing closer through the morning.
The scene is completed by assertive
Forms, the characters for the day’s dramas –
Beech trunks, fern triplets, and the old tree stump.
The day warms, the volume grows, harmonies
Darken until all the detail explodes
In a fanfare, a blizzard of colour.