New town, old country

Princess Anne Park was a thousand bulldozers flat,
open country sculptured into municipal perfection
between low-rise housing and the hypermarket.
New model districts had numbers to hide the past,
their tenants re-aligned along roaring tarmac leylines,
post-war dreams made concrete in youth theatre
and jobs in cars, chemicals and R&D for the NCB.
In the rose-beds too, in solid work by decent people.

It all got old so bloody fast. The concrete got cancer,
the theatre went under and the recruiting sergeant
reports the youth would stab the moon if they could,
the heritage plaques to remind people who they are
no more relevant than a royal wedding, elections
or the trolley in the boating lake, playing at Excalibur
as a lonely walker trudges out around the water.
Those who stayed bear their memory like a wound.






Quick! Off the path, run low
in the glare of a winter sun
behind a threadbare hedge,
panic up like bile, hunted limbs
too slow for cloying earth,
lungs screaming for the copse
where leaves disguise flight
as brambles claw at thighs,
no pause to the rasping chase
as the hue and cry arises
and the greenwood falls
down into a gully’s snare,
desperate until sleepers
pass over howling blackwater
and help haul in the skyline
where with a frantic left and right
fear finds the outlaw seconds
in which to breathe and plan.

Now stalk a cloven animal trail
in ploughed and pesticidal fields,
old boundaries ruptured
and land stripped of meaning,
too open for a fugitive, it whispers
          you’re not supposed to be here,
beside a ditch, running for a oak,
          you don’t belong here,
anxiety jerking at an engine howl,
          get back where you came from
and ease your fear in a soma dream,
          stay in your lane.
Although when the keepers are loose
there is always someone watching
so vault a fence and look honest
on the corner as a gun dog snaps
but the plaid shirt sentinel nods
and all is well in England now.






(for Richard Llewellyn)

Autumn is the best time for lonely passage
between the dark and far-off kingdoms
where we should really not be wandering
but it was New Year when I washed up
in the ailing slush below the ski centre,
condemned by letter to five days jail-time,
a purgatory to endure in a concrete playpen
grafted onto the shoulder of something real,
drinking in overpriced and depopulated bars
to confirm each one as too remote to flourish,
too far removed from the fashionable haunts
of their more ideal demographic: spoilt youths,
the freshly single and manicured ski instructors,
not garrulous geriatrics and passing wayfarers,
not one exceeding the requisite pint per hour
until at nightfall I would emerge to study
the receding promise of the mountain skyline
and know I should be out there, up there
where the wind and the rain are real
and where I could find more meaning
in the violent heart of a Hogmanay storm
than in a thousand air-conditioned nightclubs,
and so to murder hours I conjured moorland,
summoning mind maps of perfect wasteland,
unfurling new worlds like Arctic tundra,
perpetual wilderness save for the railway
where geese rise with day above the track,
that snow-strewn line as reassuring and as holy
as firelight blue in the dark of midwinter,
and all this while the charm was passing,
those inaccessible mountains still my skyline,
the shoreside path still submerged and frozen
and still I waited for the elusive company
to drive away that sense of sour complicity
which can come with too much thinking
of the world and how we move within it,
that same feeling of helpless disconnection
which once caused an exhausted Welshman
in the fields of cold and distant Patagonia
to perceive that, sadly, people everywhere
are seldom more than far-flung parishioners,
still confined by the all-enclosing walls
of whichever distant slum or valley
they dreamt they had slipped free from.


[Laurence Morris works in academic libraries and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. His poems explore perceptions of landscape, and have been published in 192, Confluence, Ink Sweat and Tears, The High Window, Scottish Mountaineer, Snakeskin and Spelt, among other places.]



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