When you’ve lived all your adult life in one place,
you fell trees. You planted them too close
or blocked the view or some sickened. Like us
they go for height till they’re twenty, then thicken. That’s true
of the ash and the birch, but not oak: they’re
stunted. You never know how an oak will shape up.
You drop logs in the stove without regret, though
they’re recognisable still – that birch by the kitchen,
and even this length of eucalypt from the garden.
I’m still planting trees, though I know I’ll not see
how they’ll grow and can’t even imagine
the shapes they might make against winter sky.
Downspouts are busy, full of short vowels.
We’re burying my neighbour tomorrow, my birthday.
Ice is forecast, then snow. We’ll see.
When you’ve lived in one place so long, there’s someone
you know in every row. The way it’s worked out,
my friends are at the far side, by the wall.
The hearse has to go the long way, over the moor.
It’s nearer on foot, though it still feels removed from the world,
the church in its hollow, the stone walls.
When you’ve lived your life in one parish
and gather with neighbours for a burial,
you think the same thoughts as everyone else:
is that Tom? – still handsome, though that coat’s
tight on the shoulders. We polish our glasses,
hold hymn sheets out at arm’s length.
George is completely white now. Ruby is too.
One of us will be the next: what someone remembers
we said one time passed round and repeated.
Then all of us will be stories – just stories, no names.
A perfect fan preserved in the snow
where a pheasant pressed down its spread tail
for take-off. The grave’s right next to the footpath.
When you’ve lived most of your life with the same people
sharing your weather and power cuts and floods,
they start to pass on their tales that keep mortality at bay.
You’re supposed to remember the names
though even the teller forgets: who was it had the top field
above the graveyard in those days, Billy Morphet?
or his brother? anyway, he and the gravedigger
were having a smoke, the two of them up by the wall,
when Jimmy Read comes along. He doesn’t let on:
he gets in the hole and lies down and keeps quiet
– just think on it, laid there, listening out –
the gravedigger nearly falls in on top with the shock.
Mind you, he said after, six foot… it’s a long way down.
When you know a place lifelong, you’ve no need of maps;
every name has its shapes and its feel underfoot:
Helks, Jacksons Pasture, Perry Moor – even the fields
have names: Robins Close, Parrocks Meadow.
But who was Jackson? who was Robin? – you know nothing
of them, the datestones they set over their doorways
outlasting them as they knew they would –
but not calling them up. Just the year, just initials.
The one great oak at the top of the Old Wood
above the river – who planted that? Or was it a jay?
Since Ken laid the roadside hedge for me last year,
passers-by can see the trees I planted twenty years ago
as if they’re new and sudden. I’ve heard it called Ken’s Wood
– not Jane’s. They look lovely from the road,
strong trunks and straight and more beyond on rising ground.
I scattered foxglove seeds among them, and ramsons too.
JANE ROUTH manages an area of ASNW and new woodlands in North Lancashire. She has published a prose book, Falling into Place, on wildlife, weather and work in the upland area where she lives, as well as three collections of poetry and several pamphlets. Circumnavigation won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition and was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection; Teach Yourself Mapmaking was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation; and the title poem of Gift of Boats won the Academi Cardiff International Poetry Competition.
Image: ‘Night Trees’ a linocut by JAMES DODDS: www.jardinepress.co.uk