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