16 October 2013

October : On the Beach

Beach Garden

At the edge of the curving beach
where shadows give way to sun,
is a modest sandy garden.
Tamarisk with long fat fingers
of a hundred tiny pink flowers,
late budding santolina, cotton rich
with yellow button blooms, while
purple globes of sea holly stand
proud above their pebbled bed.

Herring Gull

Close to a feathered corpse    
lying high-tide stranded beneath
the milk-white cliff, he tosses shells
and bladderwrack into an October
sky.  Curved beak agape, his long
harsh cry lingers on the wind,
proclaiming that he the king 
seeks a new mate, while the first
lies not yet cold on jagged rocks.

Lost Dog

A brindled dog lost, tail wagging,
pretending not to care, darts 
about the pools and alien paths.
Whining quietly, brown eyes sad, 
he lies nose on trembling paws, 
close by the water’s edge. Tries to
to join the playing children, but
rudely banished, he shivers, sighs
and pads sadly away into nowhere.


They are all gone now, flowers
shrouded in soft evening mist,
herring gull with his new queen
up to the nest high on the cliff,
lost dog found again, warm again
in the clutch of the boy who had
wept through the long afternoon
for his faithful old mongrel friend.
The beach lies deserted and quiet.


As the pale gold sun gently slips
into the arms of a dark bronze sea,
the faint echo of an invisible bell
is heard above the whispering
of small waves lapping on shingle.
Once perhaps it was a summons 
bidding the faithful to prayer, 
tonight only the hoot of an owl
responds:  ‘Sleep now. All is well.’

Illustration by Liz                  Naomi                              

04 October 2013

September : The Château of Saumur 1416

September : The Château of Saumur  1416 
[On looking at a facsimile of the Duc de Berry’s ‘Les Très Riches Heures’]

Commanding the landscape from its place on a hill,
the chateau lifts into the sky slim turrets crowned by
golden fleur de lys, symbols of privilege and power.
Intricate invention of white stone and dove grey slate,
a castle sugar-spun by a master patissier’s art, with
a quiet about it, shimmering in the noon day as if it
were enchanted, goblin made in silvered thistle down.
Ladies eat honeycakes, their lords make games of war, 
the empty tiltyard echoes with whispers of taffeta and
silk and the thud of steel cold lance on leather shield.

Lords joust, ladies play, but peasants all must work.
Servants, baskets on head, climb the gatehouse path; 
in the field below a woman rests, apron lifted high 
by her swollen belly; a hungry man, seizing a bunch
of ripe fruit, eats and takes his ease as best he can. 
Bent double over bloom coated purple grapes, grim 
faced gatherers, muscles aching, joints protesting  
toil on, while meek panniered donkeys rest patient
beneath their heavy burdens, and gentle eyed oxen
draw high stocked carts through the hot afternoon.

Subservient to a lord, whose great château itself 
mirrors his royal rank and wealth, but accustomed 
to their lowly appointed place, beast and peasant
mutely submit, helpless in a divinely ordered world.
Their lord’s free men now - but poor menials still, 
they must ever labour in another man’s vineyard, 
serve at another man’s table, dreaming of the day
when every man will make his own wine, his wife
bake her own bread. Dreaming is cheap, but hope 
is sometimes blind and freedom may be a burden.

There is an irony in this masterpiece of vellum, lapis 
and gold, this holy book of devotions made for the 
brother of a king, who nightly whispers his reverent 
Kyrie, eleison to his ever forgiving God, while peasants 
weep in the darkness for their dying children. 
Men may be free but not evade the serfdom of poverty;
a rich man’s self-content may divorce him from his
Lord’s command ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
The king’s brother enjoys the sleep of a virtuous man,
poor men lie awake and pray for a better life to come.
Lords rest for eternity in their white marble tombs,
in the bleak church yard their peasants lie forgotten.
The castle remembers rebellion and revolution, canon
shot and the rattle of musket fire, while the captives
were broken on the spokes of Catherine’s cruel wheel.
The dark red blood of the dead ran like a river through
shattered streets and dreams of a new world crumbled.
What chance now for the coming of that longed for
community of a bright celestial dawning, when love
for one another should at last become the only rule?

Naomi        Donkeys  by  Liz