Three Poems

Simon Armitage

The Hard

Here on the Hard, you’re welcome to pull up and stay;
there’s a flat fee of a quid for parking all day.

And wandering over the dunes, who wouldn’t die
for the view: an endless estate of beach, the sea

kept out of the bay by the dam-wall of the sky.
Notice the sign, with details of last year’s high tides.

Walk on, drawn to the shipwreck, a mirage of masts
a mile or so out, seemingly true and intact

but scuttled to serve as a target, and fixed on
by eyeballs staring from bird-hides lining the coast.

The vast, weather-washed, cornerless state of our mind
begins on the Hard; the Crown lays claim to the shore

between low tide and dry land, the country of sand,
but the moon is law. Take what you came here to find.

Stranger, the ticket you bought for a pound stays locked
in the car, like a butterfly trapped under glass;

stamped with the time, it tells us how taken you are,
how carried away by now, how deep and how far.

The Golden Toddy

We hunted, swept the planet pole to pole
to capture a glimpse of that rare species.

Through a thermal lens we spotted a shoal,
picked up the trail of nuggety faeces,

then tagged the shiniest beast in the pride,
mounted a camera on its gleaming horn,
bolted a microphone into its hide.
A first: toddies in flight, asleep, in spawn . . .

After months in the field, the broken yolks
had gilded and glazed the presenter’s boots;
the sponsor’s lover wore a precious skull
for a brooch, out-glinting the best boy’s tooth.

Rank bad form. But the creature itself shone,
perched on the clapper-board, the golden one.

The Jay

I was pegging out your lime-green dress;
you were hoping the last of the sun
might sip the last few beads of drip-dry water
from its lime-green hem.

I had a blister-stigmata the size of an eye
in the palm of my hand
from twisting the point of a screw
into the meat of the house. Those days. Those times.

The bird was crossing the gravel path
in the style of a rowing boat crossing dry land.
Struck with terror when I held it tight
in the gardening-gloves of humankind, we saw for ourselves

the mouse-fur face and black moustache,
the squab of breastmeat under its throat,
the buff-brown coat and blue lapels,
the painted inside of its mouth,

the raw, umbilical flute of its tongue
sucking hard at the sky for the taste of air.
Setting it free, it managed no more than a butterfly stroke
to the shade of the unnamed tree, where we let it be.

They say now that the basis of life
in the form of essential carbon deposits
could have fallen to earth as a meteorite, or comet,
and that lightning strikes from banks of static

delivered the spark that set life spinning. It’s a beginning.
But the three-letter bird was death, death thrown in from above,
death as a crash-brained, bone-smashed, cross-feathered bullet,
so we could neither kill it nor love it.