Signs warn of Quicksands, Fast Incoming Tides,
Floods. It’s a landscape in flux,
hard to get a purchase on the sliding stones:
mainly limestone, grey under flat cloud
but migrant remnants of sandstone
are scattered, carried in by the waves.
Footsteps impress the wet sand but it smooths
itself clean, pushes them off. A strait,
silver in the trapped light, bars further passage.
Across it, oystercatchers pipe along their new
territory. Boulders covered in bladderwrack
guard the beach, make claims to permanence.
Up the beach a sandstone wall, crumbling
to pinkish powder, is reclaimed by tide
and weather. Steps climb towards a garden.
Shards of limestone, shunted by the sea,
cover the first step and litter higher ones
like signs left by a careless intruder.
A hawthorn pleads from the cliff-face:
stripped of bark, its hold so loose
a breeze will shift it. The first drops of rain
pit the shore. The yellow shock
of dandelions is out of place
and already starting to mark time.
The Blackbird’s Nest
At first glance the bird doesn’t look alive
except for its eye, like obsidian,
the shining black speaking of purpose
and deep faith in its chosen spot.
It almost seems part of the nest,
so still and snug in the perfect cup
of twigs and grass that is lined with mud
and built to last several summers.
I probably wouldn’t have seen it
in its leafless gap in the hawthorn,
but it’s eye-level with my seat,
as I pull into the usual place.
It’s May, the gravel carpark bustling
with tourists gathered loudly around
the info board, only an arm’s reach away.
Don’t let them disturb you, blackbird!
As I pass to and from the office, where
I’m less and less sure I belong, I cast
a quiet eye on the nest: so obvious
once you know. It grounds my days
as if its success in hatching and fledging
hold a reminder of what really matters,
but I’m careful to keep my distance,
leave a space between its world and mine.
Mare and Foal
I nearly stumble upon them as I emerge
from the lane: in the clearing by the field gate.
The foal can’t be more than a day old.
It seems provisional, a sketch
for a later self, each twitch of its legs
loose as water, startled
by its own hoof-beats on hard earth.
The mother watches its every move,
licking the ebony of its coat,
her muzzle pushing it back to standing,
firming its presence into something real
but her ears are radar-stiff, alert
to my boots on the ground,
blocking the path with a snort of challenge.
The purpose of my walk is to give myself
briefly to the moor and I’ve no wish
to cause mother and foal distress
so I back away, some strange need
pushing out my empty palms.
Once I’m gone they’ll forget I was here
but I want them to know I mean no harm.
Grey Squirrel at Hawthornden Castle
It’s my solemn duty to shoot them.
The gardener’s laughter drops like a rock.
We are polite, as guests are, and later
his shotgun cracks through the storm-wrecked woods.
Others seem gentler. The ranger
at Glenridding lays cage traps by oak trees
but only so reds, or birds, can be released.
Any grey found trembling in the mesh at dawn
is humanely dispatched with a gun at close range.
They are hooligans, undesirables, taking over;
strip the bark off trees that haven’t found their feet,
carry a virus that’s lethal to the reds.
In Ireland, wardens brought pine martens back
to prowl like policeman, slinking through brush
and the canopies of trees, so the greys
that survive migrate to other woods.
The gun fires again and a squirrel
leaps onto the window ledge, in close-up:
haunches like springs, fingers clearly
defined as a child’s, eyes watery, staring
through the glass as if seeking shelter,
Go and hide or he’ll shoot you.
The cook rattles the window to shoo it away,
risking becoming an accessory.
Glenn showed me how to cast, and the line
settled on the water like a hieroglyph
then sank, the float pointing straight as a finger.
We waited for the bite of chub or dace,
the slow current tugging my thoughts,
and when the float vanished, I flicked the rod
to secure the hook. Glenn guided me through
the give and take of reeling in, and I saw
the living knot of eel tie itself up
in a frenzied dance, colour darkening around it
from grey to black, long fin like an edging
of lace, eyes still despite its twisting body.
Glenn swore and grabbed it with an old rag,
trying to free its lip from the hook
while it thrashed and slipped through his fingers.
Back home I read about them: elongated miracles.
Born at sea they navigate upriver
for thousands of miles, climbing weirs and dams.
I sometimes desire the meditation of fishing
and can almost tell myself I imagined the blood
as the eel was hurled back like a twist of rope.
Andrew Forster has published three full-length collections of poetry: Fear of Thunder, Territory (both published by Flambard) and Homecoming (Smith Doorstop). Fear of Thunder was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and Territory was shortlisted for Lakeland Book of the Year. A fourth collection Field Book is due to be published by Red Squirrel in October.
Photograph by Lindsey Holland.