Doug Sandle





There were four hours of listening

to other people’s conversations

that droned and hummed like

velvet bees; or else walking the decks

we pinpoint distant ships and count

gulls dipping their furrowed wings

to the sea. We had timed the first third

by watching the gorse gold pale

into greying hills, until those thin mounds

veiled with sea smoke, vanished.


Entering the Mersey, our boat rocked the buoys

and shook the  sea stained beacons

that moaned and rang like omens.

Deckward we watch their passing

and trace a path between one flashing light to another –

their strange names and salt worn signs

fixing the flimsy grammar of nostalgia.

Our boat roped and gutted,

we leave Limestreet beneath copper

canopied domes, and eastward

we pass motorways in the making,

their tall cranes cradling the sky.  


Goalposts mark the journey;  

wrongly angled in awkward fields

that slope between glass topped walls,

placed in town parks

shadowed by sculptured heroes,

in factory yards chalked

on dark doors and iron sheds                          

and sometimes in neat enclosed

spaces, walled and gated.

We pass by those work places

red bricked and chimneyed

their rusted sheds torn at the edges,

and the crowded storeyards where  chains

and wheels are kept.

We pass the towns with towered clocks,

their grey ladders ascending

Nearer the Pennines,

the slag heaps and their slurried veins

slope into warm woodlands,

where moss covered trees

trail and track the lines.

Yellow stones and slated walls

mark the fields where horses stand,

and skylines rise higher and higher

until distant farms lie on the very rims

of tall chimneys.


Eastward, the windows flash with canals

to link the massive mills,

and nearer to Leeds, tall flats

with their flimsy trees scour the skies.

The city takes and shrinks our presence,

the North has passed us by.

The candy striped pigeon sheds

and empty churchyards lie lost

on sleeping lines that trail westward,

where the thin island hills,

veiled with sea smoke, vanish.



This poem was written in the mid 1960’s