When it rains in the hills
the river churns its long tongue through the town,
brings with it stumps, logs, fence posts, the carcass
of a badger, torn fertilizer sacks.
I picture gaberdine cloud ripped on the moor’s edge,
heather shaking in hail, the quicksilver trickle
of sky through the peat, sheep, their rumps
to the wind, cattle ankled in mud.
Like lightning swollen becks flash hillsides, swell
the river so it licks shale lips, prises
makeshift bridges from their roots.
I hear your heavy boots slap puddles, your coded knock.
From beneath the bent peak of your cap, its screen
of drips, you wink – two trout
slip from the pocket of your coat.
There was a day you leant over our garden wall,
pipe in your mouth the wrong way up, enquiring,
neighbourly like, how long we’d be staying.
When it rains in the hills the river down here
sings a wild song, foams at the mouth,
twists its tongue on the messages it brings,
keeps us in our place.
Sparrowfat, wren’s bones,
broth of birdsong.
The weight of air
displaced by the cranefly,
Rustle of dried grass, a bark
from invisible deer, mottle
on the hatched shell,
sycamore keys spin-gliding,
guggle of a broken land-drain,
blueflash jay, buzzard’s mew.
The world’s fingers touching,
thumb and index making that
O just so mudra – and you,
you’re its built-in
sense of itself, feedback loop,
the twist in a mobius strip.
“I wish that I might be a thinking stone.”
Earthlump, gravity’s fist
with a lichened eye
the sky’s traffic,
for the dumb rush
of an owl’s flight,
or a distant drone
coming and going.
Unfound in a field,
nobody can reap,
to consider the exact angle
of a blade of grass
or the actual moment
throws it into shadow.
Knowing nothing of innuendo.
and pressure on the earth
to mark the place
you make your mark.
to know you from another.
Nor hear you
nor speak your name.
Above the ceaseless crash and suck
of ocean, the feathered
burins of grey wings engrave
the air’s bowl, a signature of grace
scored on something solid and unseen.
MIKE BARLOW lives in rural North Lancashire, on the edge of The Forest of Bowland but also likes to spend time on Scotland’s west coast, The Hebrides and Shetland. He has published three full collections, the first, ‘Living on the Difference’ (Smith|Doorstop 2004) was shortlisted for the Jerwood Aldeburgh Prize for best first collection. He has won a number of competitions, including The National Poetry Competition 2006. He currently runs Wayleave Press, an independent pamphlet publishing venture.
Illustrations by DESDEMONA MCCANNON, illustrator and Senior Lecturer at the Manchester School of Art. Desdemona’s artwork can be found here.