Absent Friends.

Ghosts will come if you stand by an autumn bonfire. They will slip along the edges of your perceptions – those you know that you have and the others – and stand, just beyond touching distance behind your shoulder. It is not alarming; they are friendly now as they have always been. While the flames do their burning thing: throwing sparks at the sky trapped stars and smoke to the winds. Crayon the lawn, the hedges, the walls of the wash house in blazes of shifting colour and darknesses. Warm the side of you that is turned towards it, while the turned away half gets colder.

And it is not that the ghosts are summoned by the fire. It has absolutely no power over them. Maybe they do not even notice the flames and shadows that turn and twist: who knows? If it helps you can believe they are called by your memories (though this is not the case). And they are not just in your imagination: you are really not that good!

But, to keep them there,  you have to concentrate on the flames, the heart of the burning. Glance them only from the corners of your eyes, at the edges of your understanding, where your senses run to haze and recognise nothing other than blurred images. If you turn to look closely, fully at them, they just will not be there. As if they had never made that first approach. For they do not crave your undivided attention.

… and you cannot communicate with them. It is not important for you to do so and they cannot talk, they cannot hear and will not answer your questions. Why should they? Why would they?

But their presence, if you allow it , can be mutually reassuring. Be its own reward. You clearly need that company; why else would they come? And they too take something from the encounter. They understand that they are not neglected; that they remain unforgotten and still play a part, however small in the rituals you carry on.



He’s choppin’ at the strings

With intelligent-blues hands

Swappin’ up words ’bout

Love, the Devil and autumn

But beneath all the fury –

Raised voice, clenched fist;

Beyond the witch-gypsy mask

He still picks vegetables for

The local church harvest.

All The Colours


One pretty evening’s

Never-to-be-repeated shore.

Autumn-beginning’s sunset

Casts her bronze folded nets of waves

Against the welcoming pebble shelves.

They break into scattering strings

Of brief-life jewels as

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Darker Than of Late

Equinox-near morning

Is darker than those of late.

The tack-carry walk passes

In glorious, spiritual-dawn silence.

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Looking To Settle

Along the Fawn-Run Brook

Mist peels off

The autumn hedgerows

Where flies September-sensation

Sunup butterflies; swing-tottering on

Tattered flag parasail wings,

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Vixen Territory

October, birth cave of my soul; the tipping point of the year. When nights are no longer gently drawing in but rush-pushing and pressing harshly on retreating daylight, moving it along with a bullying sneer. The month of big moons, clear cold-pattern stars, new flight paths.
A month of trying to keep summer alive, burning candles at both ends, old pullovers, new fleeces and ornamental weeping acers becoming fountains of candy colours in pewter mists. Fall. Car headlights sweeping the ceilings and ghosts of the smell of smoke on the now-alien outdoor air.
I am resting after an emotionally draining day at work. Timetables switched, challenges met with a smile. Shortened dinner break, intensity. But satisfied. I can still do it. New music in the car on the way home. Still : enjoyed the lyrics and musical partnership. But the spill of light from the corner uplighter and the warmth of the gas fire are welcome. I huddle up on the floor, TV on for the sound, if not the news. It’s not company but it helps. Beyond the leaded windows the garden looks dark, mysterious and … something else that I have no vocabulary for, something dark and faerie. Enticing, but not.
Later, while at the keyboard (upstairs) I hear the vixen. I have watched this beast so often this year, admired her fluid agility as she scales fences, rolls tail in tongue and fang-filled mouth on our lawn, walks atop the brick wall, disappears at will. But now, for the first time she is intense, keening. I know of no verb for the sound that foxes make; it is unearthly, sounds to be coming from a mythical beast, a larger, more threatening animal, or a haunting, damned spirit – in tortured pain. It sounds on both the out breath and the in, seemingly physiologically impossible. She is following instinct-blood calls. Denying those closest to her, casting them out with this scream-choke coughing mantra. Obeying the ultimately foolish need to claim territory, to stake it out, make it known. That which drives her may hasten her demise, but she simply cannot do otherwise. It is the sound of frustration. Forlorn, hopeless yearning.
She is crying, as she and her sisters must do every year, for what she has lost, what has been taken away from her. Maybe she senses them this evening, those proud-to-be-crazy forebears on this same crazy-to-be-proud ritual. She may wear the skin of the rabbit stealer, hen thief, but is so much more this evening, because she recalls. Seer-like, she recalls the past and the future, travelling the kaleidoscope between them with careless-dance, black-socked steps.
She is crying for what she wants, needs, what she must have, yet cannot find. A mate, security, a day gone to be brought, magically, back and lived again. For memories, so clear they are yet to be lived. For her children, her own mother, her dances in jealous moonlight.
For the things she can never have … and never be; the glory of life that is yet to be; that will be taken from her, weeping away, maybe tomorrow, maybe in the depths of this, or next, winter.
Her song is meant for her own kind, but we would all do well to listen. And think.
11th October, 2012

Windfalls and Froglets …

England: the land of lawns. And with so much rain this year, lawns have become monsters, constantly in need of attention (read: cutting). Now, it is fair to say that I am not a great lover of lawns, they represent something of a monoculture and it is also fair to say that our back lawn is dotted with grassland species and stray plants from the flower borders (that’ll be daisies, hawkbit, dandelions, clover, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, self-sown ox-eye daisies, amongst others and – sphagnum moss!) – so not your standard/stereotypical English lawn!

But, of course it needs to be cut, so last week I exhumed the lawnmower, which is buried behind and underneath far more interesting bits and pieces in the double-door timber garage that serves as a shed-for-all –purposes and sometime-workshop and attacked the lawn with a grim let’s-get-it-over-with determination, give some definition to the edges and the new-this year bed for butterfly and bee-friendly species.

No surprises then, that while emptying the grassbox, I am easily distracted. The first signs of autumn: apparently-fragile but genuinely tough, the early leaf fall from the mountain ash tree, fine shades of orange, ochre and blue-green, the latest fall of apples from our tree (not a good year for apples, either here or up at the allotment) – now turning ugly light brown as the rot sets in. Last year the fallen apples were the temporary foodstops for wasps, but not many of these either this year.

The statuesque, but occassionally painful dry patch of holly leaves that gather up against the fence, having fallen unsuspected throughout the year from a neighbour’s tree. And the tiny,  crazily energetic, frantic struggles of pale yellowish-green, froglets between the blades of grass. Perfect miniature copies of their parents with jewel-shiny skins. The shaking, the noise and the earth-moving vibration of the lawnmower approaching has the poor mites struggling through their close pressed leaf vertical leaf and stem habitat.

These are the ones that have made it so far. From our plastic pre-formed liner pond, that have been the subject of much discussion (“When will they lose their tails?”) and have escaped the attentions of the fish in the pond, by hugging the space, I suspect between plant baskets and pond liner where the fish cannot get, and the depredations of the hedgehogs and cats that patrol the garden in the hours of darkness. In awe I watch them wrestle, climb and tumble, making sure they reach areas that I have already cut (albeit cut in random fashion). Grass is a good habitat for these little amphibians, it has all of the qualities they seek, offering protection from the many predators and opportunists that will snack on them and small minibeasts for them, in their turn to eat.

Good luck to them: after hibernation, they will be mounting a full scale, fuller-grown assault on the slugs and snails that I have little affection for – but first they must survive the punishing campaign of – at least – one more lawn mowing. I am doing my best for them.