Six Ashdown Forest Poems by Siân Thomas

Goat Cross, 22nd March 2016

 

I’ve come back with Mash, my brother, to walk

where he, our dad, our Dalmatians and I

used to play, almost every Sunday.

From the car park, we head straight down

to the stream, where one winter’s day

I held in the water an icicle as long as my arm

and said, ‘Daddy, I’m going to make the water turn to ice.’

Our dad smiled: ‘It doesn’t work like that,’ he said.

Later, downstream, we made a dam.

It’s still here.  Mash shows me the bend

in the water and the trace of its former course.

He says work stopped when one of the dogs

went missing and we called and searched

till we found him or her raiding a dustbin.

 

I remember that morning, scraping a trench like a moon

through the mud; the water pooling in the groove as we cut.

We piled logs and leaves till the old channel dried

and the mucky water pushed through

and clouded the stream, then ran clear.

Now we stand side-by-side.  I say, ‘We did this.’

‘Thirty-two years ago,’ says Mash.  ‘Maybe longer.’

We linger.  I find a piece of paper, Mash hands me a pen.

I write while he fidgets, climbs a tree, sits for a bit,

but he wants to get going, my forever-on-the-move brother.

The sun comes out.  It’s spring again

and of course the icicle melted.

 

 

Ashdown Scurry

 

Driving back across the Forest

from Crowborough to gorse

is a tankful of petrol

to the past.

 

From Crowborough to gorse

is a few minutes’ journey

to the past,

meeting Anne and walking Barny.

 

A few minutes’ journey

through Pound Gate,

meeting Anne and walking Barny.

How old was I?

 

Through Pound Gate

and past the Crows Nest.

How old was I?

Barny’s black spots, his white, bulky body.

 

Past the Crows Nest

and the police place and pylons.

Barny’s black spots, his white, bulky body

careering through the heather

 

and the police place and pylons

and the wind screaming,

careering through the heather,

blowing the dogs’ ears back to front

 

and the wind screaming

from Kings Standing to the Downs,

blowing the dogs’ ears back to front,

blowing my dad’s comb-over straight

 

from Kings Standing to the Downs,

two families, two dogs,

blowing my dad’s comb-over straight

as a scots pine.

 

Two families, two dogs.

I can’t have been more than eight,

a sapling scots pine

tramping the sand

 

and from Sharpthorne to Wych Cross,

driving back across the Forest

my memories slosh

in the petrol tank.

 

 

Duddleswell, 18th June 2014

 

When I feel invisible and have no hands,

no tongue to write with and the passing cars

seem more alive than I am it begins to rain

 

not hard, just talk of it among the birds –

talk of me too that I don’t understand

but I don’t get much today:

 

the pale path, two women in dusty clothes, a dog,

rabbit shit and the tea-pot spouts of bracken.

I kick dust on the path: each step is like a bomb going off.

 

It coats my shoes till I taste grit.  The talk of rain pipes on,

stippling my page, but the pine cones

aren’t listening, they stay shut, like me.

 

I want to cry for no reason, or because I’m alone or

it’s summer and soon we’ll pass the solstice and

the good greens will be gone.

 

It makes no sense, least of all to me.

Give it to the sand and gorse and the grey horse

who just turned the corner.

 

Ride it, walk it out, or leave it hanging on a branch

for someone else, one of the successful people,

someone with a pension, a well-paid job, children and a dog,

 

one of the movers and riders.  Not the forty-year-old

who kicks sand for a living, who hasn’t washed her hair,

whose writing is improved by the wash-away rain.

 

 

Gills Lap, 2nd July 2014

 

There’s been a short-toed eagle here for weeks

though he hasn’t been seen in two days.

Still people wait on deck chairs or lumber about

with telescopes, binoculars.

 

I speak to a couple who’ve seen him.

The man gestures to show me his wing span.

His wife says I should come back with a chair.

She nods to the grass by her side.

 

They’ve sun-lined faces, patient smiles.

I know nothing about eagles: I’m a child to them.

I skip off, beneath the cirrus and cumulus

and a blue that’s so blue it makes me want to fly.

 

I skip off in the opposite direction, through crickets,

grasses, meadow browns and the midday sun

on the point of the world, this bit that sticks up,

the highest place on earth.

 

I think of how quickly I fall in love.

I want to be everyone’s daughter, lover,

whatever.  It’s probably no good:

I have to go before I show how much I need it.

 

The point of the world.  It should be a lonely place

but it’s home.  An aeroplane has left a trail that stops

half-way up the sky.  Wind’s combed it into teeth

like a zip.  Around me gorse seeds are popping.

 

Everything could open today, be lit up:

the ground’s hot enough.  We could all bake and split,

come undone.  Even the bracken’s in stitches.

I too might burst, scatter myself like an old god.

 

From here it’s possible.  We could roll

down the side of the world, start it again.

The eagle could carry it, drop it,

fly away and leave itself behind.

 

 

Chelwood Vachery, 29th October 2014

 

We’re all a-drizzle today: the trees drip

but it’s one of those confusing mornings

when the birds sing and it could be spring.

 

Blue tits scatter from the gorse to the pines.

Grass stems are orange deer fur.  I stop

to sniff gorse and find a spider, spotted

 

on studded legs, in a web that’s every bit

the shape of my palm. The web shivers.

The spider tests a leg, points it like a finger.

 

There are other webs, each has its spider.

Given half a chance they’d eat one another.

That furry grass is a spider’s pelt.

 

Hairy black-legged birches.

Prickling knees of chestnut leaves.

My cupped and crooked hand.

 

 

Hindleap, Ashdown Forest, Christmas Morning 1982

 

My name is Sussex.

These things I tell you are a map.

 

My dad and I

walking the dogs.

Light in brown bracken,

grass heads.

 

Winter light comes

from the insides of things,

the heat they’ve been collecting since spring

like turning on an electric bulb.

 

Wet ground light, mud light, sand light.

My dad and I walking

while my mum stays at home,

cooks the turkey.

 

My mum’s hated Christmas

since she was sixteen and her father died;

even now it’s a blood light inside her,

it burns each December

 

but my dad and I love it

though he does it in secret.

We sing carols, singing the sand

through pine-green, stark-black gorse light.

 

Between us it’s holy.

The ground’s Christmas, a flowering of light.

You could cut us straight down

from our heads to our feet:

 

among the earth and stones of our bodies

you’d find the light.

 

 

Siân Thomas holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Sussex and is Poet in Residence for Ashdown Forest.  Her work, both fiction and poetry, is rooted in rural Sussex and has appeared in various publications, including Agenda, Poetry WalesSwampThe Daily Telegraph, The Rialto and the anthologies London Rivers and The Needlewriters.  Her first pamphlet Ovid’s Echo is published by Paekakariki Press.

Photograph by Helen Bardsley

2 Comments

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Helen Bardsleyreply
April 30, 2019 at 6:48 pm

I have been on these walks with you just reading them. Inspirational love them. Helen

Lawrence Wilsonreply
May 1, 2019 at 9:38 am

Fine storytelling in exact, evocative language. Just lovely.

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