A mother closes a door in a holiday cottage
having listed in the Visitors’ Book sightings of buzzards;
leaves the key, turns the ignition towards main roads,
comfort zones. Days away were caught on camera:
people in view, as if needing proof of attendance;
shawled figure in a wheelchair on the Roman Wall,
five children by the sea; everyone thumbs-up,
and grinning by a trig point on a bouldered summit.
They leave quietly, like people after a funeral,
keeping their memories warm till nearer home.
‘Do you remember the flavours in the ice-cream shop
with the plastic cow outside?’ The mother, rather,
thinks back to the hill she climbed alone
that quiet end of day when a bloodshot sunset
tinted fell tops, and she met the woman artist
who had come in case strewn curlew summoned moors’ song,
but heard the wild bird call her, and stayed on.
No chisel marking gravestone; unlettered rock
left to speak for itself without date or name
as a wet bootprint becomes the boulder it stencilled.
Instead, scatterings: one willed to a skyline field
with its point of view translating bay to firth,
a standard bearing beech almost levelled by gales.
Another handful broadcast in a chapel’s shadow,
just above shingle with its always, always murmur
of changing tideline, and quick pipped radio notes
of news clarified by oyster catchers. And following
miners’ tracks to fells through early and lantern light
a portion under scooped boulder in a barrow’s shielding.
Left-overs strewn as gift to curlew country,
preferably in Spring when she is choosing nesting;
and in silence after her rippling a cast, Northwards.
Instead, for the moment, seed-bed after night of rain,
weeds eased out, and a packet rather than urn,
clearing of glacier stones, the patch made plain,
and once tilth’s damp and fine a shaking loose
of seeds sieved fine as dust, livelier than ashes,
aimed to rise flowering, with a crop of bees.
Villages at evening draw today’s historians
to tick another veteran off their listings,
from regimental records, shadowed lamps.
They tracked down graves of Waterloo survivors,
those who outlasted cheering’s slippery carnage,
came home with ragged flags to memory’s landscapes.
They note how each was given length, and stone,
their name and time recorded, unlike the mounds
earthed up over the thousands, later sown.
Quite why, and when, they came defeated others.
Perhaps they found peace, in dusk’s creak of rooks,
and those returned for shearing, and the barley harvest?
Martyn Halsall is a poet and journalist, living and writing in West Cumbria. He grew up in Lancashire, and studied in London, before becoming a reporter on his local paper. After working on regional newspapers he wrote for The Guardian, based in Manchester.
His poetry collection, Sanctuary, (Canterbury Press) reflects on his year as the first Poet in Residence at Carlisle Cathedral. Recent publications include the pamphlets Coronach, (Wayleave Press), and Borrowed Ground (Cylch Cerrig Press).