Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Country Music and the Sky

Ashford, Shoulder of Mutton and Stoner are all hills in Edward Thomas country in Hampshire.

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I wake to my neighbour’s country music
And the urgency of radio news.
They are treacherous things
For before you can look out of the window,
Or begin to think who you are,
They have stuffed you into pockets
Of unnecessary pleasures,
Bogus and irrelevant worries,
And put a grey hand on your brow.
I make an effort
And go out into the garden –
My blood sits up in its veins.
Dew tumbles across leaves like skiers on slopes,
Spider-web sparkles like lemonade;
The marigolds and alyssum
Crouch in their nightclothes.
Already the late rose is cuffing the wind,
Grass leans over to hear its own gossip,
And runner beans struggle out
From under the overcoats
They have piled against the night.
The sky blushes with gold, pales with white,     
It whispers of distances,
Almost echoing to the single bell
Which tolls the new day
In Alpine passes; its blue
Is that of a canticle.
A first hand of warmth
Dabs lotion on my gooseflesh,
And I am thrilled into life –
Not a feather’s flick
On the shillings and pence plumage
Of a tottering starling,
Nor the wine-gum stumble
Of a beetle on the path,
Can escape my wide attention –
The world grows through me like a root.

But toast and coffee crackle in the kitchen,
And my tie waits for the working day.
The country music pounds through the wall
Like a long-distance runner under punishment;
It mumbles again and again to itself –
“Inanition, inanition of inanities”.

I thought of a morning below Ashford Hill,
Tip-toeing through fern and nettle
To reach the edge of Ashford Stream.
The water was low,
Scarcely enough to shiver the cress,
And the flat mud of the bank
Revealed the delicate paw marks of fox,
Glistening beneath a film of water.
Freshly, they re-enacted
Its wary approach,
The hesitant sipping,
The chestnut glare over shoulders,
And the triumphant trot
Beneath the banner of its brush
Away into the undergrowth –
The water wandered on
Like a girl in a trance
Absent-mindedly waving its hands at me...
And later, on Shoulder of Mutton Hill,
Looking across towards Stoner,
A fox rushed out into the cornfields,
Pausing only to light the bonfire of himself
And turn his nose to the wind.
I watched him through field-glasses –
A stone in gold,
A brick-red sunspot
Exploding across the fiery face of the field.
He snickered along the hedgerows
And sat a long time,
Sniffing the corn.
From where I stood
Perspective and distance disappeared;
I looked over the blue of scabious
Into the blue bowl of distance beyond
And seemed to be safely upon a sea,
Lulled by the green-and-gold-reflecting water...
That morning was a pearl of great price:
I hold it to my skin like a charm.

In the city the sky is thinking
Of the day ahead;
It points upwards into zero
And sideways into doing –
I am ready to rush for my train.
Country music punches holes in my walls;
It snivels like a child over his knuckles.
Another day, O Lord, another day.
The sky smiles and says nothing.

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© September 1979/ Revised April 2012

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