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Matthew James Friday
A nightingale for Gilbert White
April 5th, 1768
Buds and shadows fatten, but the garden’s lean.
A London smoke crawls west, and cucumbers
are tortoising across the sweat-sweet dung.
A nuthatch jars and clatters in the oak;
rooks get cocky in the Selborne copse. At last
the air is quick with bee-flies, kites and larks
and April falls across the parish like stained glass,
like rest for the broken-backed. The diarist
dashes off one word to stand for spring – Luscinia!
Colour blurs from every quickened hedge
into the woodsmoke hours. The nightingale
loops speechless syllables on every thorn.
Attention, after all, is prayer. Nothing goes unseen.
First published in Kith.
for the Reverend Gilbert White
The forest is alive today
and quick with wild devotion.
Bees hum, drunk on puffs
of pollen, censer-swung
and Queen Anne’s lace.
Ferns stir themselves
to nod and bow; they sail
a summer breeze. Open-handed
to the sun, each pair of leaves
is a single prayer in a reef
of fractal-patterned green.
Damselflies flash and dart,
a fever of electric grace.
In the shade a foal gazes,
still as any seer;
her flanks are polished silver,
her tail an aspergillum.
The body of a world
at worship cries out
to be seen. The beech leaves
whisper in a psalm
to everything that flickers,
foams and gleams.
Kathryn Bevis, Hampshire Poet 2020, was commissioned by Winchester Poetry Festival and Hampshire Cultural Trust to write this poem in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Gilbert White’s birth.
Still Life with Feathers
One bracing day, we watched them go :
leaving the nest box in strong winds.
Unable to fly in such a gale,
from off the ground I rescued one
and placed him in a nearby tree,
knowing that soon he would be found
by anxious, watching, parent birds.
Next day we saw that four bird brood
perched in the apple tree in line,
fluttering wings, demanding food.
Weeks later, from my laddered perch,
I freed the birdbox, took it down,
ready to empty, clean and paint.
The final stubborn screw unscrewed,
carefully I removed the roof
allowing daylight to flood in
to this dark space – the bluetit’s home.
A filigree of spider’s web
obscured the nest, catching the sun,
masking the contents from my sight.
Perched on a bed of moss and fur
with face inclined towards the hole
through which he’d last heard parents’ call
and watched his siblings take to flight,
he seemed complete. Perfect and whole –
as if somehow he’d been preserved,
saved by God’s taxidermist’s art –
waiting for tiny wings to grow
enough to take him to the light
and join his brood – if life could start.
Patrick B. Osada
From my collection : How The Light Gets In (Dempsey & Windle Publishers)
red and black
in the grass
(no skulking in twilight
shadows, no bashful
as dead leaf).
Cinnabar moth –
a brazen daylight flyer
for whom camouflage
is not the point. Don’t
even try, it signals.
Too ostentatious to trust –
is a shameless
collaborator. The name’s
a giveaway –
with old man ragwort.
First published in The Art of Gardening by Mary Robinson(Flambard Press 2010)
Streaked grey-green hindwing veins,
Orange Tip (female) at rest,
hiding from oppressive rain.
The Small; upperwings black veined,
forewings edged mid-grey,
The Large; a wider darker edge,
undersides a shared cream-ivory.
Pests, say the mean-spirited.
Marbled, Wood and Cryptic Wood,
rare migrants Black-veined and Bath;
yet some see a singular White
or worse still, just a guilty Cabbage.
I could’ve at a younger age…
set on a different path.
Wolf sense idles me
into a random field
take a brief break
from munching grass
to glance my way.
A black face dam fixes me
with Satan gaze, transmits a cipher
I likely misconstrue, watches
as I mount the stile, swing my leg across
as if the worn wood is the saddle
of an imaginary mare set
to canter me off
into a fae mist
Beyond the field
a path through the woods
petals open into a copse, incense
of wild thyme, garlic
tosses into a breeze
wafting the fantasy
of a cuckoo.
Dryads lean in, anoint
me with whispered
I drift in wonder at a tail feather
amongst the leaves
from the red kite
keening in the blue, flash
above the brook
of turquoise, shadow
splash of a heron.
The bridge’s vast arch is usually
A fermata hanging over silence —
Not a concert hall, as today, where two
Youths make its span echo profanities.
As I stand and strain to hear a blackbird
Pluck music from a distant sycamore,
An image of the virtuous White comes
Into view: head down, counting every
Charitable worm and hopeful emmet
As he ambles through Selborne’s Creation.
Keeping faith with all that he sees and hears,
He enters a mossed and echoing vale
Where a lively “polyglot” nymph listens
And dutifully imitates his words.
Rapt, he cocks his ear and calculates how
A jubilant dactyl echoes better
Than a heartsore spondee. He had a fine
Ear that served Nature and God equally.
As he makes haste slowly and progresses
From the mind’s eye, I too resume my walk
And leave lapwing quiff and hooded crow to
Capture a laughing, self-praising selfie.
19 Paths Through Rectory Wood
1. What’s not natural grows here: chimaera trees
each a grafted ring of years on rootstock.
While from the ground, what’s common rises.
2. Crow passes close & overhead,
wingtips ragging lime leaves.
We see it stretch out its claws, & back its wings
land in the shine
black shine of elderberries.
3. You move through this place as through a
painting, planting a future in
oaks. But how far ahead can we imagine?
4. Green alkanet flowers lapis blue in May and on
through soft October – commonplace,
5. Yews older than iron, older than churches, old
like the tumuli under the churches, the round
stones under the stones.
6. In woods we forget things.
At the wood edge we tell stories.
Our eyes are adapted
to canopy & vista.
7. We hold a knopper gall, learn him
crouched like an homunculus, riding
the shoulder of this green acorn.
Inside him the grub of the cynipid wasp
& inside the grub, a gall wasp egg.
The grub within the grub within the nut.
8. Magpie dip & flash. Witch cackle.
9. Lost in the woods this bristling lime is where
the path runs out in aerial thickets.
Here foxes earth in mid-air.
10. Or a path we might miss, a walk inside a lime,
a local rite, a passage climbed
by children, aunts & dogs.
11. We’re here to hear water, its tumble, its all-night
Town Brook’s many-centuried voice.
12. Beech compensates its lean, throws out
counterweights slowly into wind.
13. Box-straggle marks a once-clipped gateway.
A garden in a wood.
14. We raise the garden’s ghost, scare up old paths
like thinning bones through trees.
15. We shush our footsteps out again through leaves.
16. A passage of yews drink darkly from Town Brook.
17. Water runs down over rock, the sounds arranged –
High notes conjured from tumbles of small stones.
Bass resonates from slab.
18. A gravity of seven yews around a pool.
19. Still water by a Green Chapel.
Time’s shuffle. A way home.
(This poem was previously published in ‘How Time is in Fields’ (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019)).
Though I never employed him
to soundtrack my dreams,
this morning’s early blackbird
is back on his woodwind,
those expert glissandos,
the rises, the trills and chirrs.
And now he’s off on his
police siren impression,
not the modern wails and yelps and phasers
you might think he’d go for,
but the proper old-time two-note
‘nee-naw nee-naw nee-naw’,
as if he’s been watching those cop shows
full of corruptions and easy deaths
from decades before he was even an egg.
By Churchgate Station, 22 August 1997, Mumbai
This night is the wing of a crow. Black with the slick of
wet feather and skin. One beady eye following the surge of the
flood water towards Marine Drive, rushing to
meet the sea.
This night is a birthday cake. The lamp posts swaying, fizzing
singing with the whistling wind. Whipping and lashing raindrops
as big and round as cherries on top.
The revolving rooftop restaurant glows like a beacon. A lighthouse
blinking obstinately while dark clouds consume it
with unsatiated hunger.
The street is a ruby necklace – strings of taillights
disappearing into the storm-wrung horizon. Steamy breath
rising from its engorged gutters.
All sounds are muted by the pounding rain
except my beating heart,
that throbs in my ears, as I clutch my beloved’s hand.
This should have been a celebration. But we are shivering in a bus shelter.
The night finally breaks into a quiet dawn,
who knows nothing of the tantrums he threw earlier.
We gather our things and jump on a lone bus – sailing along this swampy road.
The sunlight seeps into our damp crevices.
We huddle together for warmth,
watch cars floating by like ducks in a muddy bath.
With Venus winking
at the pastelling sun,
the mountains smudging,
trees talking in shadows,
a frog sings
down by the communal swimming pool
recently cleaned of winter’s
green scumming by a robot.
A frog sings
while children clatter in the distance,
dragging dusk down an alley.
A dog barking at the arriving
the frog sings
the same frog
that sang for Basho
now sings for me.
The frog invisible
singing by the swimming pool.
I know what luck is.
Matthew James Friday
Smoothing flat a large sheet we plan to trace
your world, annotating and illustrating,
scrunching up, fraying edges, and ageing
in stewed tea before sanding the surface to scratch
a lost map of treasures. Beginning with home
we plot outwards, realising your domain:
the sweet shop, park, Brownies, friends’ houses, as far
as the eye – school nudging the paper’s edge.
A life contained. Here we rolled you to sleep
beside walls you’d soon be held on calling out to lambs;
here you first triked, biked, sledged, tumbled and fell.
Your cries echoing across this range. That now,
you populate with trees in leaf, daisies, snowdrops,
blackberries, lambs, and dogs off lead: your days
all seasons in one. Where we follow paths lain
continuously, each walking our own.
Criss-crossing dashed lines, other days, other lives,
past molehills, grass-flattened trails. Above us,
swifts swerve by where high winds and summer scents
cross this hand-poised space, each leaving some impression,
however fleeting, as when you’re here, but not.
The distant playtimes carrying over fields
to where we’d stand unseen, upwind, awhile,
watching the deer return home, your hand in mine,
the bats flying knowingly about our heads.
Bounding forward, you make your way, out of frame
chasing something, only you will find.
Leaving me trailing – until I catch
you, waiting, expertly tightrope walking –
arms out – balancing on the cattle-grid.
Map was originally published in Reach 2020