Ganning back to the Beginning
for Martin and Diana
HWAET! This is what we wanted to hear:
The floating one swings still among rocks,
hovering on hemp, the embracing boat
fast at anchor. The coastguard on horseback
guides them to Heorot the shining hall –
the loom of it lightens the heart of sailors.
They bend to sit on a bench, a bank,
the modelled metal in plates and rings
works on their bodies, distinctive creaking.
Their leader stands, the proud words flash
from the fire-hard helmet: We synt Higelaces
beodgeneatas; Beowulf is min nama.
The hall in the story, the hall of man,
rings with rapture. We have been waiting
for years for this.
as I chew the words of Anon’s masterpiece,
I read yours too, in your manuscript notebook
the faithful trot. The date there drops me
back where you wrote it, the room in the roof
above my head with no view of the quad,
no view of girls, the wound-givers
in light armour, distinctly creaking:
they would open their wordhoards under my windows,
on the red gravel, while you read and plucked
these words from a glossary and I turned blindly
to Aristotle prosing on the kinds of friendship.
That was Healfdene’s Hall, the House of Housman,
the lane of light where on lines of benches
scholars feast and warriors wait
with towels on shield-arms for the words of grace.
Turnstones on Lewis
Pale in the shade of a taller person
I have seen these birds before;
in the wintry black and white
of my father’s telescope
I used to watch them turning
the stones and spinachy weed,
guest-workers from the north
with an international job.
They search for something to eat,
the soft stuff lying under
in the wet space between languages
where solid and liquid fret;
they ask only for stones
to hide among and hunt in,
and dipterans (they love midges).
Today their colours show
for once, the tortoiseshell
feathers of summer. The birds
pose for a moment, characterless.
What are they? I don’t know,
forgetting even the word
turnstone. The manual tells me:
Arenaria interpres –
they are translators of stones,
turners of words, probers
of worn old surfaces
for meanings that live here
in the white fragmented-bone
shell-sand of the Hebrides,
a calcium of lost shapes
that will be eggs next year.