Ten years old.
Lying in bed
a dog barking from somewhere
marking the territory of
dusk, the diurnal outlier.
Aware of earth's
I'm trying to fix the day before it turns.
But it's foxed, edges
blackened by the passage of time's engines,
lost to memory's register.
Waiting for sleep,
I listen to the slow considerations
of a distant train
over by Stanage.
Struggling with gravity
a conversation with the welkin
punctuated by mis-step and slip.
as sheets press against my legs
It was then the voices began
A discussion growing reckless
a night train gone rogue and disorderly
adrift along the timetable's margins.
Something low resonated like an idling diesel
A whistle shrieked among wreckage.
Volume rose like a difficult job
Until the door slammed.
Then a sighed deflation, air from brakes
workday arrangement of furniture
as the house settled again to shadows.
The dog barked, marked as normal
the mutability of territory.
You ease a smile slowly
curving the tender purse of your lips.
Quiet in appraisal
from behind a rood screen of fringe,
your eyes are smugglers lamps
glimpsed through trees.
The subtle light
a perfect Petrel's wing.
Thus encouraged, I consider drawing.
swash and buckle, hoping to render
the scarlet balcony of your regard.
But I'm adrift with this, t'aint proper.
No revenue man, me,
I balance my cargo of ideas
on the slick seas surface.
I make landfall on the raised beach
wary of the wreckers.
thick with treasure symbols,
generates clues before
the candle-lit window of home.
Dust motes reflected light
in the still air behind chapel windows.
The smell of mould the only paean in a vernacular of damp.
A last stand of hymn books regrouped at the end of pews
as the rain finally came in.
In the dream time
there were walls, ditches, sheepfolds,
homesteads, castles, stone circles.
With tireless devotion
time and weather smoothed
and reduced the traces,
grass healing the scars.
Below, the purleius of Raven and Curlew
of wolf and wildcat.
polished smooth under grass
their memories lying like lazy beasts
asleep in the sun.
Of course, they weren't the first here.
Megalith builders wandered along the dod man's sight lines,
hilltop notch and tump,
looking for minerals
bell pits sounding for magnetic iron.
The romans looked for lead
and found gold at Daulcothi.
All left their signatures
for the company of mine adventurers
to read and consider.
At the dawn of the industrial age
oak, elm, ash and birch
were sucked into hungry iron furnaces.
The wolf retreated into the mountains.
Methusalem Jones woke from a dream
saw vastness of slate
So the old man mined,
pulling what was inside, out.
Grey mountains of negative space
looming over the boom town.
The miners had given their souls
to the chapel
the best part of their lives to the owners
their money to the company store.
When the market for slate fell away,
with the speed and finality
of a rock dropped down a shaft
the owners looked away,
picked up other shiny things.
All the hoggia chwarel cast aside,
their monument: the crabbed handwriting
of history on the hillside.
Longhand, copper plate.
Blottings, scratchings, overwriting, crossings out.
A silence descended.
Up on the tips
a few old boys worked a slab here, a pillar there...
robbing the dry stone mills and barracks
building shelters, stumbling over the ruins-
Heath Robinson, their ropeways and machinery.
In the 21st century
The new quarryman emerged.
Tooled up with big Cat and bang,
a handful of men where once thousands toiled.
Where the old man walked nine miles to work
he rolls up in the HiLux, Costa coffee on the go.
Bothering the daylight chambers
before burying them
in a mountain of
the locals work the mine
with credit card readers
no jwmpars, or black powder
just smoke and mirrors.
Checking the tourists' tickets
no callouses on their hands, just time.
The old chambers are rigged with underground trampolines,
Zip Lines, son et lumiere;
things the old man could not have imagined
as he toiled down there in candlelight.
Topsides, the mountain bikers descend the singletrack,
speeding down, facebook ready.
In the north, a chromatograph of shanty towns spreads,
stained around Primark, Top Shop and Costa.
Handy for Snowdonia, capital of adventure
the trompe l'oeul wonderland.
Perched in the Cat's cosy cab.
the lone quarryman looks down
on the chaos of his morning's work
The planners quarried a hole in the national park for just this eventuality.
Brown envelopes were not in vain.
Cut to soft focus
climbing up the rock to drill a shot hole.
A cut of slab wagons comes groaning up from Tuxford
Uncle Dewi at the crimp.
Other men everywhere, building, working.
Smoke, steam, shouts, laughter
water wheels turning, saws screaming.
The mwg cur y pen hangs over the pit.
He blinks, shakes his head
Moves the joystick
the Cat's arm obeys
moves towards the No.9 floor drumhouse,
and the graffiti of a horse
Slate dust rises
shapes catching like ghosts on the breeze.
Another scribble on the palimpsest.
mwg cur y pen- the smoke from blasting, literally "headache smoke".
“Il Pirata” they called you
Plunging from the mist
A yellow raptor
riding down on death’s
The painful road that
bore your name
towards the clouds
Waiting for your tribute
Copper wire arms upon
A rictus of handlebars
Skin basted under tyrant sun
You hid your weakness
Past where Simpson fell
You danced on the pedals
The circus had taken to the road
Where debts were overdue
And to be paid in kind
Tangled in the system
Your bright flame began to wane
Being only human,
The crowd on your shoulder screamed
They ran alongside
Draped in flags,
A nightmare chorus of the parabola
And you, trying to find stillness
You dreamt of riding
Under a low evening sky
A yellow sail
On the shining road
Marco, I’ll forgive you
For whatever you’re supposed to have done
Your conscience was clearer than mine
On the day you flew
To the sun.
Marco Pantani (13 January 1970 – 14 February 2004) was a professional Italian road racing cyclist, widely considered one of the best climbers of his era.
The wide men swayed the streets of Port
with silken stories, and easy returns:
"One had only to open a door in the mountain
for riches to pour out"...
Masters and Mariners,
crisp collared capitalists with letter box eyes,
hay dealers, feed merchants, hungry horse mongers,
toffs with red noses,
plain buttoned spinsters-
normally known to see well through their spectacles-
all pledged their savings.
Slate was the thing.
The promoters brewed theatre,
mummery, flamjamfery, the sound of jingling sovereigns.
Fair wind followed stacks of opiate cumulous
over Braich-y-Bib junction.
Levels had appeared on the mountain
a mill with fine arches,
inclined planes invited gaze to the quarried heights
and a tramway
from Port to the top of Cwm Pennant.
Bubbles and froth
bore the first train
before "Pert" ran out of steam for anything more.
As the brume swirled below Moel Lefn,
semblance, a brief flame, extinguished
fading to grey skies
the colour of slate.
Planished by hosts of armoured winters
worn thin by the wind and rain
the tramway, rumoured and vestigial,
threadbare along the contour.
A rough slab bridge
crosses a ravine murmured with water
the way merely a gesture.
A line of reeds, a bead drawn
seen in a droplet
remembered by a gate in a wall
or a name: "Railway Terrace".
we walk and
appreciate the clues,
think of those who laboured
to leave a cutting in the meadow
a revetment on a hillside.
One last strand of a spider's web
that linked in delirium
miraged towers of fevered
My old car
parts the curtain of tumbling rain
As thunder rattles
Double six around the pewter sky
The blade’s arc wipes afresh
A glade below grey fells, sliding quickly past.
Tail lights bloom briefly
Then scatter like tiny alpines
Upon the moorland flanks
While I keep below the line
Against camera’s painful witness.
Neon banners herald a truce
The no-man’s land of shop, coffee stop and fuel
I think of you and call your number
Amid mis-spelt rumours of light
In hills along the windscreen’s edge.
Then another round
as the road lays out
While I grind the miles down
Past familiar landmarks
Through the diesel soaked mist of endless trucks
And the tyranny of headlights
A harsh penance, this
but one taken with gratitude.
The rain's tears fall again
on the wraithed forest,
the road-cursed fell.
and the trail of spray
pluming behind wheels
I am still within empty tracks
Thinking of home.
Walking, stooped between bristled lines
a no-man's land in the dark legions.
Soft needles, dead twigs underfoot,
sharp sniper branches jabbing.
Resistance is futile.
We move, folded in an envelope of rustling.
Dry branches snap, grab at clothing.
We mutter curses against those who planted
these bloody trees so close.
Who assimilated this hill.
A solitary bird gives alarm
otherwise, like the floor of a dry ocean,
all is dead and still.
Moss and lichen struggle. Grass never had a chance.
This is the basement where
all colour is saved, to flirt with the sky,
to sway, panning for clorophyll,
in the dreamed, copper-burnished storeys of light.
Ahead, green and gold escaping around the bars
of this colourless prison
a ceded ground, unplanned.
Sitka drones ebb around a lattice of fallen trees,
limbs chaotic in the new corridor .
We stand, our backs grateful for the space.
The beech had grown tall, chasing the light
Perhaps, she fell while dreaming of the sunlit days,
of cattle rubbing against her smooth bark.
Bird-garlanded, branches bright with green bunting
in song-buttered air, skittered by dancing insects.
Now, moss will cover impartially, yet with slow nobility.
The spruce lock roots, braced.
has determined this will not happen again.
copyright Iain Robinson, 2018
I was only just getting to know you.
And now you are gone.
Your familiar shape, a kindness
in the hedgerow,
a place for staring birds.
You rendered light
into dancing shade for cattle
dark eyed in grateful stillness.
You embraced all who climbed
your paternostered limbs
to them you were storied,
a fortress of life.
In winter, you were gesture and recrimination,
the sky comb.
Your roots entwined themselves between
my sunlit memories.
The legends of your gifts:
Quinine barked, beetle scrambled
your trunk was cleft
and the child passed through.
Your strength would heal their limbs.
Bound back together, you survived.
Yet chalara felled you.
Like the Constabled elms before,
dry-brushed, scumbled in the memory of broad leafed summers,
you are going away.
Your light will never dance again, jittering on the road,
or your shadows stoop at the golden hour.
My favourite places were hallowed by you
the sweet stand in the lower meadow
the rake by the burn.
Now I find you cankered,
a hollow carcass that won't hear apologies
the last throw of the dice
has gone with the staring angel.
No ring of twigs,
laid around you by moonlight
in old magic's name
will stay this.
In the corners of the wood,
by the stream banks and road sides
you issue the last fanfare of leaves.
Quiet cambium, you
will rise no longer in the world
which carries on,
careless of your passing.
Copyright Iain Robinson 2018
The moor is bilious, secretive and strange.
Under the weather, yellow grass fights for a hold in the soft ground
but sphagnum is likely to win.
Water patters into the untopped chaos of the North Sinc,
seeping through the teetering tips.
Most days are washing days,
soaking down through the dark adits
past the wormed pump, the wagons, the rails growing rust shells
out from gloom again.
The drainage adit a mystery
smeared onto the side of the hill far below.
In the north chamber
a chink of light, high up
makes a study of the fallen crane,
shear legs fibrous and delicate
while rusted brackets weep ochre.
Above, the tramway, seamed, puddled and tadpoled
reflects planished sky and memories.
The old mill offers all it has left.
Gnarled fingers of wall point to the sky for quarter
none will come, only oily rain.
Inside, the roof beams and frames of forgotten machines
lie over all at unexpected angles.
I looked but couldn't find the fabled north road handlebars
scratched in the wood,
though found "WD" and "Jones, 1936".
"Evans 1904" had a quiet voice,
he'd carved with skill and finely,
his name echoing faintly down the years.
On the top of the hill
three chasms are punched into the moor,
unguarded, like a brazen mischief done.
The wind flutes its fell music across
keening for the men who once split slate.
Hunched between the tips, an old cwt
hunkers, as if dodging from enquiring eyes,
shocked to see the situation it finds itself in.
The tips are built up all around it
a slow, fingertip tsunami of slate.
Now the lichens have equably
badged what remains.
Birch has yet to visit, but spruce
regretting it's mistake
among the slate dust and the heather.
The skylark skirls above the rain
The ravens cronk.
Somewhere in their black memory
the moor is untouched by man
unclassified by light.
Stacks of slates
ready to send, in 1960
are now a blue-grey geological card index,
sorted occasionally by the wind
infiltrated by rain
but weathering out the years.
Copyright Iain Robinson 2018
Vintage sunlight catching
chrome plated italics
my finger tracing raised lines.
I feel weightless
of loaded film is
an infinity of images,
ready to burst out of the brittle cream plastic.
I yearn to press the shutter.
But this is a perverse
I take the expected photographs-
mundane arrangements of aunties-
christmas days, holidays
smiling seasons within a narrow world.
Enprints return from the chemist
In envelopes more exciting than the photographs they contain.
Albumed, their magic fades, eclipsed with sadness.
a holiday in Devon, 1962.
Restless all day, sand castles lacking allure
instead wanting to creep
to where a secretive locomotive wheezes,
pushing wagons about .
At last, precious minutes are approved
time to take my photograph.
Parents impatient, smoking, keen to be off
"Hurry up, then!"
I squeeze the shutter
the spell is cast, set to travel down the ages.
The next day, excited about more train photos
childish hands drop the camera.
The bakelite body breaks
film looping out, unspooled, spoiled.
Spilled memories stream
diluting until lost in the summer light
amid my tears.
As if to compensate for cardinal loss
my retina assigns soot and sunlight to memory:
The crew, smiling from the cab
locomotive beetling towards the docks
swathed in yellow smoke and shadows
sky unfathomably clear.
Much time has passed.
Now there are no steam engines
outside of captivity.
My latest camera is complicated,
capable beyond my abilities.
Yet I still hope
as I press the viewfinder to my face
for the magic in that sunlit image,
captured in my mind.
copyright Iain Robinson 2018