A Wild Inhabitation

John Gibbens

Somewhere among wires and chimneys, the skill
of a songbird starts. His practice is to fill
his gizzard with flies and sing all he knows.
His song is a game played with stones, the play
of water over water-polished stones.
Now is the twilight of a working day.
Brick is dry, rich and absorbent like bread.

I sing a few small drops of rain burning,
big river-stones gleaming black through wet, dead
grass in the walls, in the flood of night-wind turning.
As I walked out on New Year’s Night, my head
was a bone-pale prow like a seabird’s lifted
on the clumsy swell, my heart was a gifted
needle flickering in a gulfing sea.

II Creatures

We tested our new heads, grey in the early
immanent light we saw come back slowly
like memory gathering. The clouds tore
over the thorns, spilling and thickening
a tally of glassy droplets. Before,
still in the blue dark, birdsong notes, quickening,
had splashed on the glass. All night long, in fawn
electricity we’d smoked and jived, shucked
our husks and laughed. The birds floated up, borne
to the nets, the tree-top twigs. The wind chucked
rain that scuttered like gravel for a dawn
call. We plunged our heads in cold water’s scorn.
The ten thousand things had clear outlines drawn
in water. We were empty vessels, daft.

III The Northmen’s Cross

They grounded their beast – and bird-headed craft
on Braystones’ milling pebbles, at Silecroft
overlooked by dunes, on a beach of suave
slick mud up an inlet at Ravenglass.

A summer day. Standing on a green grave
watching a breeze slowly heave and then pass,
stifled among yews, looking at their cross,
carved rust-red sandstone honed on hot blue sky.

The fells mount up, Atlantic pitch and toss
and swell of rock. Their mark is the long I,
five yards tall and ten centuries across.

They made land in ships of dust. When the heart
describes itself, its pride is raised in art
and stands by lies though all of time’s denial.

IV Armorel

You always seemed to move free, in floral
wide smocks. I saw a lifting, dancing style
learned from the light. That house was made of glass,
the light of water, and the grass of flowers.
I remember tight jeans on your full arse.
A stripped-pine clock opened its hands. The hours
chimed in wrought iron and glass. The current
you sailed in full sail, like a clipper ship
on a polished leaden sea, was rampant
delight in your design. Each rounding hip
bred it and bore it on, loved, content
in your trades of husbandry and childbirth.
You wove grass and printed flowers on earth.
I have found you, Lady Lion, hot and dark.

V Outcomers

My Mum tucked her nightdress across her dark
red, riddled and swollen breast, painful, stark
bag of curds that suckled me.
                             In the warm
fog, as I walked the road towards her, I saw
the lights of Windscale – glowing, ordered, calm,
like a city-sized battleship come to moor
alongside the fields. Then I stopped to watch
an intermittent blueish fire flutter
and chirr on a pylon’s power lines. Such
a soft, fatal sign I thought the mutter
of moth-wings frying.
                       The red, fat-fisted clutch
of an appalling, fist-faced baby, cancer
is an affection I cannot answer.
Smile at me, hold my hand, hide it from sight.

VI On Acid – 7/7/77

That highest summer I’d listen till midnight
to the airwaves’ flutter, hot as summer’s height.
I hitched around the roads under a pall
of dust and dark leaves, a green boy at play,
fair-weather visitor. One date was all
sevens. Knowing Thomas had saved the day
to give me California Sunshine on.
The world in the woods was unscaled. We shed
our clothes, a pale stripling and a limber one.
Purple foxgloves clung like flies’ tongues in the red
clay banks. Dun calves grazed the greenleaf in the sun
and looked on. My balls were like pink sea-urchins
in the cold beck. Straight gold light was searching
along the buffed railway lines, in the reaped hay.

VII Snakes

In the Snake House, over scummed concrete, they
raise their heads and stare point-blank past those who pay.
Some lie thick as tyres, asleep. Inertia
doesn’t exist behind their glass. They dream
no dreams. If we tried to live there, pressure
would smear us thin as our reflections seem,
margarine-yellow and with hollow blue bruises
for eyes. Their wills police their whole bodies
and their heads are hard. One green one cruises
lithely from a pool, its eyes regardless
as split-shot. They move so slowly, time loses
heart. We fidget in coats, thinking we’ve spent
our money well, only later to relent.
‘They shouldn’t live there and die and not kill.’