Born again

 

A man botched up from sticks and bone –
all angles, elbows pointing out,
and one leg twisted round its mate
like ivy round a tree.

As we come abreast of him, I see
the sleeveless denim jacket, skinny arms
pale and freckle -spotted, his white face
wet with effort, clenched like a closed fist.

“You’ll walk with me,” a child’s voice
slurred around the edges,
a statement, not an invitation.

We stand still.

He finds a solid anchor for his crutch
then drags his tangled limbs to follow it.
We move forward just an inch or two.

His name is Tim and he was born again
ducked in the winter river last December.
Three crucifixes hang round his neck
like winners’ medals.

The square is transient space , where every hour
a thousand different purposes collide
and split away. A place to walk across
or cycle through, which only takes a moment.

It takes us half an hour to get across.

We pause.

“ Born again” he mutters , “I’m born again”
over and over.

A child cries out – a yelp of pain –
head -high above the flinching crowd
pigeons whirr like shrapnel.
I watch them swing a circuit round the sun.
“Born again …” Continue reading

York

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When I am dead I shall come back
to this place
and watch
Tom’s black cat leap from the roof line in King’s Square
and curl in the baker’s doorway, purring.

I shall come back
to this place
and listen
to the trees in Dean’s Close
applauding themselves;
to the flat pavement slap of feet at noon,
to the tumbling drunks at midnight
to the Minster bell.

I shall stand
with the long dead
listening to wild geese pass
in the darkness.

We shall wait in the shadows
for the first gleam of sunrise
to tip the Minster tower.

When I am dead
I shall come back
to this place
foregoing heaven.

Ex Libris- David Hughes-review

 
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Sometimes I think poetry is a small world- there are the legends, of course- Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney – and the modern greats – Armitage,Carol Ann Duffy,James Nash and after them there’s us – the wannabes and has-beens who keep on struggling to produce something that is better than mediocre. You rarely get a poet who comes out of nowhere and blows your socks off.

David Hughes, however, is such a poet. He taught English Literature in York from 1975 to 1991 – a career ended with a climbing accident in which a friend and colleague died.PTSD put an end to his teaching career, though not his writing.

His life became intertwined with a troubled young man (also called David) who was also a writer and poet. The two of them became a writing team – Young Dave and Old Dave. In 2008 Young Dave was sent to prison for an assault and sent poems to David Hughes for comment for comment. ” Young David and I,” he wrote, “wish them to be attributed to both of us.” A lot of his later writing is part of this project.

What does he write about ? Climbing and landscape figure in the early work, and he writes with immediacy and verve.

“Ice across our faces till our breaths begin to freeze
into our hoods, snow goggles glaze, becoming masks
Of plated frost, and compass needles disappear

He writes about war, including a stunning response to Edward Thomas’s ” Adlestrop.”

His technique is unobtrusive, controlled,making the structure reflect the meaning.

Without doubt his best work comes from the collaboration with Young Dave. In one of the prison poems – ” things I miss” -Dave (Which one ? Does it matter?) writes ” the smell of traffic in a queue” and ” the touchdown hiss of settling snow on leaves.”
Look at that last line again…isn’t it perfect ?

The two most successful poems reference the Bible,and the division of souls into sheep and goats.They examine the nature of charity. If you do something good, something charitable, should you be praised for it ? If you receive charity, should you be grateful ? Or is charity something that just happens – an exchange of energy between two souls ? These are poems which leave an echo.

“Ex Libris” is the first hardback from Valley Press. It is beautifully produced, with head and tail bands, and even a ribbon marker.

There’s a man’s life here, and his thoughts, and David Hughes is a man worth listening to.
You can buy it here:

http://www.valleypressuk.com/

College Green. 6.30pm. Urban fox

Bone white stone bleeds
shadow on the grass.The air dulls.
Outside the coffee shop, a girl
is stacking chairs. A scooter putters by.
The tourists have gone back to their hotels.

A shifting of the light. A slur
of movement, and he’s there,
trotting past the sundial.

No Reynard in a red coat.

Ash grey, sandy flanks
all smudged with mud,
his eyes ink black, cautious.

Rat-back snapper, chicken slasher,
worm chewer, sparrow splitter,
knocker down of bins,
lurking in the shadows
by the pub’s back door.

He stops there in the sunlight,
eyes me over.
Resolving I am neither threat
nor promise, trots away
down College Street and into Minster Yard.

Bedern. Midnight geese

A place of alleyways
and turnings back,
each blocked
with drifts of shadow
black as soot.

Moonlight streams between
tall cliffs of brick,
paints windows slick
with silver.

Caught in the city’s underglow
a dozen greylags flicker overhead,
no higher than the housetops.
They call into the night –
a husky, booming note
like a blown reed.

Wier asta bin sin ah saw thee ?

Yes- this is English, Jim – but not as we know it. It is the opening line of “On Ilkley Moor”– the nearest thing Yorkshire tykes have to a national anthem. You may not have heard of Yorkshire. It is the largest county in England, and lies in the north-east of the country.
Together, Yorkshire and Lancashire are the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom, with the rocky spine of the Pennines in between them, the long arms of Wales and Cornwell to the west, and the fat bum of East Anglia and London to the east.

The song is long and repetitious, so let me outline the story.
A young man goes courting with his girlfriend on Ilkley Moor ( a pleasant country walk) – but he makes a fatal error. He forgets to put on his hat. He is “baht ‘at”, and this minor forgetfulness will spell his doom. Yorkshiremen still tend to wear a hat, or rather , a tweed cap for most of their lives. Many never take it off at all – even in bed . It keeps off the blistering Sheffield sun in the summer, and you can use it to bat the snow off your coat in the winter. It is the mark of a true Yorkshireman.

Hatless, the young man is struck down with illness and dies. The worms eat him. The ducks eat the worms. His friends eat the ducks. His friends take delight that they have got the better of him. Logical ? Don’t ask.

But this song ( sung to an old American hymn tune by the way) is a prize example of Yorkshire dialect. We Brits don’t all sound like BBC newsreaders (or David Beckham, for that matter.) Despite the homogenising power of international communication, dialects are still alive and well- and changing to accommodate a rapidly changing world. Southerners may pronounce “ hat” as “het”, “government” as “ gavernment” or “house” as “hice.”
But Yorkshire is a foreign country. We do things differently here.

“Hat” is alway “ ‘At”; “government “ is pronounced “ them buggers in London” and “ house is always “Owse.”
And we have our own vocabulary as well – “fettle” means “ to fix, to repair”; “crackin” means very good as in “ Crackin’ cheese, Gromit.” The list could go on and on- “laikin” means to play, a “lop” is a flea . Two words which have a similar meaning are “ claggy” and “clarty” – they both mean sticky- as in mud or glue. “ Frame yersen !” means “ Get a move on ! Get going !”

I could go on for ever. I knew one man who did just that. He managed to stretch a PhD in Yorkshire dialect out to ten years. It meant that he spent ten years going round every pub in the county, listening to “owd ‘uns (old ones) nattering away. What a sacrifice. He was nursing his pint and listening to a couple of elder statesmen in a pub outside Skipton one day. They were having lunch.
“Harold ! said one, “ Why dosta leave yer peyes ?” ( Why do you leave your peas ?)

The other shook his head. “ Nay,” he said, “Peyes give me bellywarch” (Peas give me stomach ache.)

Nuff said.

Threshold

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I’m lucky enough to live in York, one of the oldest cities in the country. It was founded by the Romans in 61AD and the ground plan of the inner city is still based on the two main roads of a Roman fortress. There are buildings of every era – medieval, Elizabethan, 18th Century, Victorian and modern. It straddles the river Ouse and is a place of narrow alleyways and open squares.

I’ve been writing a few poems about the place where I live and this is the first. The building in the picture is a medieval church, and I just wondered why it had been bricked up a couple of hundred years later…

Threshold

No door, ajar, like a smile
to offer welcome.
No sloping shoulders
to lean on.
Just an archway ghosted
into the stone wall, blocked
with thin brick.

Time was
time flowed
over the step
stranding babies, strangers,
lost dogs and lovers.
Corpses went out on the ebb
with bottles, musty clothes,
and broken benches.

Now it’s nothing.
A memory of itself.
No crack in the brick
for life to seep through.
The hinted arch
a fossil rib of some
creature, ancient, vaunted.