Sheep are praying
on the brow of the hill
high on the moor above
and behind us
as the soaring buzzards lament,
Autumn’s weft of webs
weave a way through the passes of our dismantled dead.
Ancestors are grumbling underground –
how they keen in moorland winds,
cackle, plead with us.
How could you lose our words,
how, they howl,
how on earth
let them ebb away?
We make to walk away from the Lych-Way path
but under the foul of their breath they remonstrate,
whilst gorse’s once honeyed spikes
littering peat’s bed
like the hiding pixies –
as though imminently terror struck.
You clamber over her,
lambs on the exhausted ewe,
she tries to feed you with the last of milk’s dregs.
The year before, her rivers began to run dry.
We splash in her streams, hurl water onto her rocks.
We park in her hidden curves and fume her out.
We scale her heights, giggle as her granite crumbles beneath our agile bones.
We zoom along her criss-crossing artery-maze.
We dispose our fag-ends in her secret crevice.
Her pulse is dangerously raised.
She cannot bear your weight.
She gasps for air
and with that blast of Chinook terror her larks are soaring higher
blueing distance into quintessence.
Are those archetypal meadow-pipits
stones because of us –
those fescue grasses on Moordown’s edge
brushing wind’s prevailing flow –
Ash-buds arrow rooks’ black nests
criss-crossing a skeletal moss-shaded stone shell
and above the branched roof-tracery of stygian thorns
ivy’s wreathing the tree.
That black jet on exercise is
a warring dart of fate.
We are in its cage.
Was there ever a boat lapping out
in the estuary over the green-
hill to the south and
slopes layering green chunks of time?
Once they’ve had
their fill of carrion and carcass
chalk a sign,
make a white pact with lambing ewes
to return to the blood of the old sagas.
The lady stands proud at the bow,
wind in the sails of her white-chalk cheeks
not knowing the unknowing
of future and hour-time
will keep writing her riding the Solway waves
and that in a moment
will stand sentinel
on the prow of historical futurity,
her forever fate sealed.
This funeral will continue
rooks will raucous over
from their hanging gallery in the skies.
Below the castle
waves preying from that last night.
Note: Mary, Queen of Scots spent her last night on Scottish soil, at Dundrennan Abbey, on 15th May 1568. She left the following day to cross the Solway Firth to England.
Julie Sampson is a widely published poet. She edited Lady Mary Chudleigh’s Selected Poems, 2009 (Shearsman) and has two poetry collections: Tessitura, (Shearsman, 2014); and It Was When It Was When It Was, (Dempsey and Windle), 2018. She was highly commended in the Geoff Stevens Memorial Poetry Prize, 2019.