The Curlew

Paul Batchelor

Sighs & groans. As it crawls to a standstill
the train becomes a fortress.

Outside: pitiless silence. Emptied sky.
Snowbound farms. Ever-deepening blue.

The vulnerable economies of owl & fox.
Fields brushed, as by a comet’s tail, with winter.

No announcement. No sign of the guard.
We have reached the threshold, it is everywhere at once

in depthless white drifts unbroken
to the world’s rim: Everyman’s harvest …

I close my eyes. An automated voice declares
a range of light snacks is available. It’s airless –

scumfish – as the hide at Clara Vale –
the Primus stove, the stash of second earlies,

and who is this if not mine own George Fox
(for by his leathern trews I know him)

twirling the logbook on its string,
actual, talked-up, talking

in lines skimmed from his Penguin Classics Journal
where it rests in my hands: I had forsaken all

the priests, for there was none that spoke to my condition …
The world seemed but a briary wilderness

beset with men’s inventions: windy doctrines
blowed folk about now this way and now that

from sect to sect – O here were wells
without water, here was the cloud without rain!

From Clara Vale to Firbank Fell,
Dirt Pot to Sparty Lea,

my dream tour of hilltop outposts
where Quakers & hare-eyed Methodists dug in

for the love of clarity
high on the law, and the promise of salvation

abstracted in varieties of silence
above all. Friendly people

who would not come into no great towns
but lived in the fells like butterflies

numbering sins
clean as tumblestones, finding fences

where others saw open fields,
their inward light a sullen joy

in sun-slashed verticals, Irish weather
driving across the uplands, and the rained-out

curlew’s sob that might have been
a true saying: Be as a stranger unto all.