poetry diary

Poetry is just the evidence of your life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. (Leonard Cohen)

Category: Fortress and history poems

At Baddesley Clinton

Through centuries of Octobers’
windless days; quiet leaf falls
kiss and hold the ageing ground
like hands, that bind the earth and lake;
ancient lovers tired now, and still –
recalling (not yet awaiting)
Spring.

Trees like memories hold
this latest year a few days yet;
caught between times, now and past –
softening under autumn light
and silent as prophets.

Footsteps and words, like bricks
and lily pads – uncounted
but complete, and bringing shelter
these six hundred years, to priests
and artists, and now to you and me;
stirring gentle eddies in the air.

********

Baddesley Clinton is a moated late medieval manor house in Warwickshire, England. It has beautiful informal and human-scale grounds.

Shaman (at El Castillo cave, Northern Spain)

Before shock of pigment hits
warm skin against cold-always
rock within – deep – mountain she
from which all comes all goes all is all was all will be
soon and always handmountain.

Dark almost silent depths drip
distinct drip, drip, down colder
spliced life hand to stone –
look see hear listen now quiet.
Blow softly and draw back. See.
Cave dark. Earth wet – always hand-
marked mountain, in silence now –
shhh…sh…
a man,
I am.

******

At the El Castillo cave in Northern Spain, you can still see a handprint made by a human 40,000 years ago (and other cave paintings, although the hand is the oldest). When Picasso saw these, he is said to have said that after this all art has been decadence.

I saw them this week, and if I imagine the handprint as the discovery of both time and humanity, I think I can see what he means.

As an aside, and reaching back unwittingly through 40,000 years, the current ‘strap line’ of the City of Birmingham, where I often work, is “make your mark”.

Next to a footpath at Fuente De

Lives like raindrops falling into mud,
making rivulets of blood.

Unwasted, yet ungently blown; dashed and mixed and tossed and dropped,
then burned and baked to clay;
stretched tight in frozen screams.

Time, as in a century, will pass
and stir the mud; raise ears of corn
unnumbered like the raindrop lives
that cannot be remade.

A Modern Mongol

Dust falls from stones,
placed to please Genghis Khan –
my truck changes gear.

——–

For September Haiku Heights  – today’s prompt is ‘tradition’.

The end of the siege

Not the still-standing walls,
black and torn against the smoke-smudged hills;
nor exhausted men, most sleeping now with swords to hand
and helmets dark and dented –
none of these had failed him yet.

But when the cook left quietly before dawn,
the captain heard the postern squeak,
and knew it was over.

———-

For Catherine, with much poetic license (and hoping any similarities between medieval warfare and modern business are mere fantasy!).

Posted on dVerse.

Napoleon at Waterloo

One day the English will feel this too:
our heart beats blurring into drums,
that are no more than wave falls, like on Elba;
blue and breaking on the reddened shore.

Why lift our hands or eyes to smoking hills?
They all know what they do and why.
Long past feeling cannonballs and heads
rolling and falling; grateful only to be un-dead

a moment longer. And to hope. It was on the road
to Laffray this fight was lost: hope and romance against guns,
and love against logic. So now they fight
from deeper dreams, timeless and beyond defeat

in this world or the next. Nothing we can do
can kill that hope; the tactics of Austerlitz
and Jena known, the day undone. We know our role,
they know their place; the grass, and blood.

Clouds like lava, flowing from the West;
we must play our part, into that volcano sun.
This is our final moment, we cannot betray
future believers and our myth – all that remains:
to make an end, let it begin – forward our loyal Guard.

————

I’ve been feeling in a historical romantic mood this weekend.

Historical notes: Laffray was the village where Napoleon opened his coat to the King’s troops when returning from Elba and invited them to shoot him, and they changed sides. Jena and Austerlitz two of his greatest victories. The final (hopeless) attack of the never-defeated Old Guard at Waterloo is one of the great romantic moments of history (although not necessarily for those there). Napoleon’s strange lethargy on the day of the battle has often been commented on.

Posted on Poets United.

Against the hostile sun, a man (Al Fahidi Fort, Dubai)

Against the hostile sun, a man
came here once to shape this place,
while above the hawks circled slowly
and the sun burned.

With mud alone, and thought, sharp cries,
the fort rose, in the half-light,
while above the hawks circled slowly
and the sun burned.

Like a sandcastle, for sand men,
but standing, disturbing dust;
above the hawks circled slowly,
and the sun burned.

Under the hostile sun, strangers
sometimes came, even with guns,
and above the hawks circled slowly
and the sun burned.

After a while, they understood;
the walls were not to keep them out,
and above the hawks circled slowly
and the sun burned.

The fort still stands today, with men
on the ramparts, looking in.
Above the hawks circle slowly
and the sun burns.

—————

Al Fahidi Fort is now a museum in the centre of old Dubai.

Posted on dVerse and  Poets United.

The last stand

If now be the time, then let them come.

I see one among countless leaves falling; the serrated edge
and yellowing veins against the green.
I feel the tips of grass stems catch the leaf’s damp surface
and hold it, in the autumn light, above the hidden ground.

That same light on their spears, glinting and beautiful; precise,
and honed by craftsmen; strangers like me.
I imagine one among many, held up to the light – admired by the blacksmith
and his daughter; his life’s work, and love,
sharp.

I think of my children, at home, the lives they’ll live still,
laughing in the sun, which will rise again.
I think of leaves and spears and people, and the sun.

The buckle on my neighbour’s belt, dull iron across worn leather;
much used, and moving gently with his breath;
condensing in the air.

That buckle will endure.

Mist covers the valley, and their spears dissolve.
The leaves fall more slowly now.

If now be the time, then let them come.
If this be the place, then let me stand.
For now time stops,
and here I am.

————————

Running a small engineering business in England in 2012 is not quite the same as standing with Harold against the Normans in 1066, but sometimes it feels like it. Today was such a day.

Posted at Poets United.

Castle

My finger traces
cracks between your stones,
stirring mortar and memories.
It hurts, like these towers on the landscape.

Dust, like peasants, scraped onto my finger;
falling into grass and vanishing,
like all who feel this power
and maintain these static towers.

Death and decay;
slow and small,
like the sand
in my hand.

You stand still,
hurting my moving finger,
while dying.

I live.

Caer Caradoc

Like a grain of sand I cross your banks,
borne on Roman time and tides, too late
to stand and fight, with you, for life.

My feet scour and stir the earth you threw
upon this hill in vain; once proud
projection of your power, erect
(I imagine, at least) but now
soft and conquered, smooth mounds suckling sheep;
slopes made romantic by imagined pasts and feet.
A woman it was, I hear, who did for you at last.

Like a grain of sand I cross your banks,
and shape your fort, and feel your hands;
two thousand years have passed and still
I dream with you.

——————

Caer Caradoc is a hill fort and also a hill in Shropshire, in the West of England. It is named after Caractacus, the Celtic chief who resisted the Roman invasion of Britain in the first century AD, and is supposedly the site of his last stand against the Roman legions. He was betrayed by a neighbouring Queen and taken in captivity to Rome. You can read more about him on Wikipedia and about the hill fort here: Caer Caradoc.

I like castles and fortresses and this poem is one of a series which I haven’t added to for a while. I’ve climbed Caer Caradoc many times, and it is a good place for a last stand.