It’s not the first occasion I’ve been wrenched
from the concrete splodge to which I clenched,
I’ve often tramped the bramble-scattered banks
of duck-jammed Roding, Ching and Lea, which quench
the forest with their murky snaking tanks.
I’ve eavesdropped on the flapping mating calls
of horn-emitting spitting swanking swans
by where the fish-congested Wensum falls
off rocks that gloat for glistening plump and bronze,
chased rabbits over hole-pricked Norfolk lawns
and tilted clod-thick bubbling local beer
on the unchanging plains of Lincolnshire.
But no Darwinian twitcher-chap am I.
Today, for the first time, leant on a fence,
I watched a bird sit brooding in the sky,
just hovering without direction, sense
or purpose, like a conker on a string.
Bizarre, it was. A dark and startling thing.
I couldn’t give its dictionary name
but watched the squawker slander gravity
with tea-break flutters, bored with flying’s game,
rethink and then, directly as a train,
zoom off into the hidden cavity
of a slanting orchard dropping rotting, browned
and squishy pippins on the barky ground.
A rabbit-carcassed corridor chicanes
along the climbing prospect of a vale
of flossy evergreen in trails and lanes.
Here and there I see, as I exhale,
a silo towering above a bale
of hay or the insectocuting tail
of this or that intensely staring cow,
her klaxon bouncing off the valley walls,
a squirrel leaping from a berried bough,
a tattooed shepherd shrilling canine calls,
his flock as puffy as the trees, half-shorn,
resembling ruff-necked lords of Tudor fleets
and retching, every minute, their forlorn
A worm contracts and stretches, shrinks and grows,
and strives to drill its slithery frame below
an unforgiving tarmacadam floor
as if that were its earthy home’s front door,
as if the only route to heaven lifts
beneath this huge impenetrable path
the hilltops wear like some unwanted gift,
an oversized and itchy asphalt scarf.
I spy upon a trimmed-back block of hedge
two birds, one large, one small, engaged in talk.
The youth I christen Phil, the older Reg,
who casts a crafty glance and lowly squawks
“Now that’s a grockle there, my boy, you see
his cockerel hair, the cow-skin on his back,
the shiny bits of nest that carefully
join up the cow-skin’s every tear and crack?”
And Phil replies, “You’re right, Dad, without fail,
he ain’t no local boy like all our chums!
His beak’s all soft and curvy like a snail,
his funny stumpy talons ain’t like Mum’s!”
And then I shoot my eyes back to the worm,
its concertinaing existence over,
its body thrown up in the air and turned
to pulp beneath the wheels of a Range Rover
whose driver’s eating yogurt at the wheel
and sporting on her back window, like bunting,
stickers frothing with tweed-jacket zeal
about the noble virtues of fox-hunting.
I think, but not to snub the countryside
and unlock the stocky villagers’ vilifications,
we ought to save the fox’s ginger hide.