Where is the warmth of fire and spirit? Gone with the owl-haunted night Put to the sword by the cold hard day By the merciless thin grey light More chance to kindle poetry from reason Than warmth from this cold ash and clay More chance for the heavens to open Than I to survive the coming affray For the noose round my neck grows tight at the last And my river runs fast to the sea Yet less distance than we once might have thought Is there now between you and me
The tide closes over the foreshore
The tide closes over the foreshore like an eyelid. Moistening. Soothing. Allowing the hard earth to sleep and dream.
The dragon-sea withdraws
The dragon-sea withdraws, leaving her hoard unguarded for a while. And I, with more than a scientists need, clamber to plunder the shallow depths. Searching for what? The beautiful and bizarre. The refreshment of nonsense poems after too much careful prose.
1. Mainly birds
These poems and accompanying illustrations are included in ‘An Observer’s Book Of Birds: https://jonjamesart.com/books/an-observers-book-of-birds/
A Flash flood of starlings. peaty and dark; streamed over the rise. and down the wet hillside, leaving droplets on the gate and fence. Then, chattering and splashing against the rocks they dropped; disappearing; absorbed; instantly; into the already saturated ground.
A short steep walk to the camp. Windy, wild and lovely. Smoke from heather-burning in the distance lit sporadically as the sun found gaps in the cloud cover. Then coffee from a flask in the shelter of an outcrop. Courting ravens riding a panicked wind add to the wildness of the place.
(Foel Drygarn – detail)
The claustrophobic wind, trapped within the corrie, panicked, shrieked and hurled itself toward the sky and escape. The ravens uncaring rode the uprush diving, falling, tumbling buoyant and laughing like corks in surf.
Cormorant Wellsian time traveller stationary as the eons flicker past but having no candle and being careless of fashion his only measure of time the slow black wave-wearing of the rocks
How the cormorant got his stance
(A just-so story) The cormorant used to produce oil to water-proof its wings when preening, but it began to see this as signifying a rather un-becoming level of activity and engagement, which heaven forbid, might be misconstrued as attachment to the world. So now when it’s wings are wet it just stands with them open on a rock in the sea and the wind (having no choice) dries them. And so honour is preserved and the wings get dry soon enough.
It has been observed that some young cormorants are defying what they describe as the tyranny of biology and are refusing to be born, preferring to stay as smoother pebbles on the shore.
Winter skeins pattern porcelain sky as tea-leaves around the rim after a swilled-out tide
(For St Cuthbert) Eye level with the pink bobbing sea thrift. Hunkered down among the bee-buzzed, sun-warmed rocks. Safe, twixt wheeling sky and teeming sea, the birds of the air; gulls and kittiwakes, build nests of weed, wind, and grass and strangely, here and there, catching the sun, catching the eye, illuminated scraps, gospel fragments, a monk’s practice, lofted high and across the islands - a building material.
(photographing Gannets on the cliffs) Clever apes leaning out over the void Taking pictures of dinosaurs on smart phones.
(Common pigeons are descended from Rock Doves which live and breed in sea caves) High in the Fingal gloom of the motorway cave, the common pigeons sleep. Lulled by the muffled crash and boom of the traffic surf; the ebb and flow of human tide and dreaming dreams of west coast storms.
(collective noun - current) (Kingfishers are often described as sparks – I thought I would try and take the metaphore a bit further) Potential sighting; static on a twig or branch for a moment or two, before discharging to bank or water, then flowing off down the river-wire .
(Sense of relief at seeing the first swallows arrive last year. ‘Cut’ is another name for canal) The gap is joined. The spark flies. The lock above the old bridge opens. Summer floods. The swallow has made the cut
2. The Preseli hills and surrounding area
An early frost, white and sharp under a blue sky. The air full of larks and the scent of sheep. Grey rocks rise abruptly from winter-brown grass, their skin lined and textured like elephant hide, and with the same feeling of mass and warmth. To have spent the night up here. A clear dark sky, sliver moon, pin sharp milky way and Orion dipping toward the sea. A night to have felt part of the universe and to have remembered.
Mynydd Dinas II
Darkness. Nothing to hear but a few sheep tearing the grass. Nothing to see, but a thousand suns blazing above the hill
A Teasing sky
Twilight. A teasing sky. A dance of seven veils. Then, confident in darkness revealing all. Bold bright points, hidden nebula only to be seen with averted gaze.
Dinas Island, a lozenge of green enamel in a crimped-cliff setting. A Tudric jewel in a pewter sea.
I wish I were up there now on a wild spring morning Low sun, frost lingered hollows Behind me the rocks, elephant grey on the hill. Cracked and weathered. Stretch-marked in places, as of difficult birth
Mid-stride gurgle of invisible brook. Scatter of boulders. Reflection of clouds. And the skylark's song, streams of summer consciousness, Mingling with the soft scents and changing airs of the moor.
Two skylarks sing above the moor. Insistent stories in each ear. Cause a crack, a split, in mind and self. And, stepping out, a younger me smiles and leaps On up the hill.
The empty Hills
The empty hills and the grey uncaring sea. How do they so sooth the soul?
Happiness. Glimpsed. As hills seen through the gaps in a hedge from a speeding car
A beautiful place this steep sided valley. But at times now I look to the sky as a prisoner to his window. And the birds that pass, fleeting high, take my spirit with them . And the river at the door, ever the joker, shrugs and washes to the sea, the leaf-litter of past illusions about the world .
Swordle, Eigg, Rhum and Muck
(Inner Hebrides) Swordle Eigg Rhum and Muck. There. You have them. The Names. And you sense now of course the peace they trail in their wake. The view of the islands and how they came and went with the bands of rain that blew in squalls across the sea. The flight and bob of the dipper. The mew of the buzzard above the hill at the back. The leather capped stooks of hay. And you see now, as clearly as I, the rabbits on the edge of the dunes. On the edge of the day. In front of the sea as twilight falls.
(Blue remembered hills is a reference to A. E. Housman’s poem ‘An air that kills’) There is no trauma of wa to keep me from my blue remembered hills. They are there now, through the open car window. The hills that mean so much And there, look! Flying in front, a small flock of pipits play tag with the car, for a fence post or two, before scattering into the country on either side. Just as they ever did. And later, in front of the tent, the holy of holies, the contraption, dirty black vestments, anointing with oils, the vital spark , (the sprat to catch a mackerel), primus stove, time machine.
Walk on Barra beach with eyes turned down to better see the sky. And you might observe, as I hope you do, (as indeed did I). A pristine place, a field of stars, (Olber’s paradox in sand). Where, scattered there, all round-about, disrupting the metric of the plane, banded pebble-planets lie’ in sea-washed hollows, of perfect curved space-time. And Hubble objects, whirls of weed and jellyfish, may cross your field of view. And at the wave-lapped edge, a singularity, of pure Euclidean blue.
Eoligarry. The North end of the island. Where last year we watched the godwits feed. Stone arms flung into wide heaven. Water clear as a solved riddle.
(By-catch: the catching of other than the target species - a true story ) Pipits trapped in lobster pots stacked against the old pier wall. Release was easy, a simple plastic latch, and they were gone. With all the thanks and backward glances of a child leaving home. But nothing would I ask for this gift of freedom but maybe catch their feet as they fly, and so spend another day among the shoreline rocks and the long grass of the machair.
Scottish single track road
Memories flushed out by the car, fly in front, like a flock of pipits. Nearby for a while, then scattering into the hills on either side. Too distant to tell meadow from rock. Too close to tell thought from feeling.
“He’s probably got that wrong Einstein that is". My Father thoughtfully suggested Not given to having his mind stretched, warped, or Lorenz contracted. While high above, billionths of a second, are carefully calculated, then added or subtracted. “That bit about the clock running slow on the plane" Wouldn’t vibration, be a more reasonable explanation, than curved space-time?” Imagine my frustration! But he shows no deference, to the physicist’s frame of reference. Preferring to stay with the commonsense notion, of ignoring the invariance of the speed of light, And the effect of relative motion. And now millions every day, use Einstein’s big idea, to navigate safely, if not around a black hole, then at least from home, to Asda or IKEA.
Not yet the leeward cove of some Western Isle, rope trailing nightly cropped rabbit turf. Nor bowline tied to a gneiss driven ring in orange, agate band of sea-loch bladder-wrack. No. For now, the other home. The complementary pole. The calm of Norfolk marsh and mud. Dog walkers and a seafood van. Broad sky. Flint churches. Wind and tide. And the boat. One of a flock. Long necks. Clamouring halyards calling (restless in the rising breeze). Insistent. Unnerving. Like mugs against prison bars.
Sit at home, or just mooch about and black thoughts, like Scottish midges, sometimes irritate and cloud the sun. But get out and walk, at a good pace, and they can’t keep up, they fall behind, the sun comes out and the sea is over the next hill.
I met a friend on a walk the other day. He joined quietly and for a while we walked together, shoulder to shoulder along the cliff top, talking occasionally about times past and (having similar tastes), sharing the odd view until, as we approached the town he slipped away.
(I like the word Imaginocean. It’s about a lobster of course) The scientist, with his oversize claw, pursues the gobbet of noble truth to the core. But on turning, may not regain, the wider imaginocean.
From one (intj) to another
(A beadlet is a sea anemone) Poke with a stick, or even just stir the water, and the beadlet closes. Tighter than a badgers arse. A featureless blob of red jelly. But leave alone, for a good while and a hundred tentacles appear, moving in the water, sensing the world.
Many gifts the gods have given, except fire, which we surely stole and music, which we invented ourselves, to sooth our (likely) non-existent souls.
Set your sail to the wind of a song, and travel where you will. Ten minutes I tacked into a Bob Marley poem. Close hauled. Reaching toward the source.
Project Earth: Application to the ethics committee
(If you work at a university and want to conduct an experiment involving living creatures you have to apply to the ethics committee and justify what you are doing – a protest poem) To seed with the spores of conscious life. To destroy all those not quite ‘the fittest’. To fool with cunning tricks involving smoke and mirrors To study reaction as the full truth dawns. To tear all asunder. To terminate the experiment on a whim. To publish nothing.
User manual for J reg (1958). How to bump start the imagination:
1. Roll down-hill with a glass or two 2. Engage some Nietzsche or modern physics
Victorian rule, from an empire of shears. But an expression of nature more true than the raging sea or the wild woods edge. Symmetry and form of fundamental law, writ large, in privet and box and made into a hedge.
A bright morning with the sky in the fields. Kings Sutton church floating, transformed, an Isle-of-glass.
The beach A giant Etch-a-sketch. Shaken each high tide to produce a new canvas for our thr
I heard the gulls again today
I heard the gulls again today. Still faint. Carried on the wind. But still they made me wonder, how many bends there are in the river yet.
The sea yearns for the moon
The sea yearns for the moon But in reaching out Pushes her ever further away*