Afterwards we looked out over the freight yards
at the rolling stock rusting,
clumps of ragwort the sole fling of softness
across the acres.
It was no place to go,
brick sheds the only hint of living
and the mesh of rails leading inwards
to more rails and points
and sleepers in long perspective
like a puzzle with no way out.
We forget nothing, they say,
and our day had been forced into remembrance
as we cleared out after a death,
and our lingering was the interim
before the new order.
dispersed to another life
or death by skip.
To see the triteness of the drawers,
the files time-warped,
the in-between of the laundry basket,
the nullness of clothes poised in rows
made us feel like soulless apparatchiks.
Here was a life lived out,
and the tangle of stopped watches in a box
came upon us as an ugly trick.
History is an invention
and here it was on the spot
amongst the heaps,
a life made-up of bits and pieces
and closer to truth than usual.
The yards could not work up
their guttural sing-song of waggon shunts.
There was neither forwards nor backwards,
colonies of pallets unmoved for years
and a routine of nothing,
and it was the same elsewhere,
in cities, in suburbs,
in every mill town scattered like pepper
across the map.
The sirens howled in the hot Bradford night
to burst its blackness; from Daisy Hill
we could see dots of bright pollen
they had scattered across the city.
Valleys of estates were lit up by noise.
He had driven south that evening
through Pateley Bridge, Otley, Bingley,
ley onto ley as if following someone else’s mind
into old sounds and sights
loosed by the mile.
He said the final hours had been spent
burning stubble after the yield.
The fields became a battleground
ridden by wind and flame,
their stalks shrivelled to dust,
all minute life charred and gone,
and a new landscape.
The earth spread before the landmen,
their torches doused, smoke still drifting,
and stores to nourish a long winter.
Beyond the wall where the hazel grows
he had found untouched
pliant rods perfect for working.
He knew enough to cut a cunning fork
and tune it to his uses,
to trace a way from deadened land
to new centres, clear waters.
On top of the hill two dwellings
one occupant in each at this hour
There is not another house in sight
and no one expected.
No two can fill the same space.
She and I might as well be
iron and soil, an angle and a curve, stone and silk.
I watch a raven and a deer
eye each other in one field,
We have laid down our coordinates
walking back and forth, up and down,
inscribing maps more secure
than our houses,
our watches likewise synchronised
into entry, exit.
Only a small circle to draw around
and that would be it
under the thickening dusk
as if nature has decided.
Peter Rawlings: His work has appeared in many journals including Agenda, Edinburgh Review, London Magazine, The North, Oxford Poetry, Stand, Warwick Review. A collection, The Humdrum Club, appeared recently from Poetry Salzburg. He lives and works in the South Pennines.