Towards Burry Holms by Jane Fraser (U.K.)
The boardwalk ends at Diles Lake and we take the sandy path through the burrows that leads to the beach. You lag behind, me dragging you, your dimpled hand clutching mine, as once your mother did, as my mother did mine. It’s a hard grind, tiring on legs, young and old. Our flip-flops squeak on the fine dry sand, leaving the slightest impressions of our mark. Even in June, the south-westerly breeze erases our presence in a puff, our footprints sprinkled-over by the shifting grains.
…….. among the dunes
…….. marram grasses sway
…….. embracing the future
We linger just before the stream reaches the sea. The shallow water here entices still, its banks held back with pebbles and nets of wire. In you go, wading knee-deep, into the clear water that’s rushing on its way. But you have all day. A life-time even to paddle and dabble in its mystery. I sit and watch you play. “Let’s do pouring, you say.” “OK, I’ll fill, you pour.” So with your red plastic bucket I labour, as you empty the fill away, watching it drain into the stream and out to sea. And so it goes on. At the edge of the stream, I look back and see my home now, through the gap in the dunes. I look forward, and see me reflected in your eyes.
…….. nose pressed to a jam-jar
…….. filled half-full,
…….. where tadpoles thrash
Time to move on. We have a lot of ground to cover you and me. Leaving the shelter of the dunes, we pick our way together across the pebbles and on to the vast expanse of hard, damp sand. “That’s better,” you sigh. Limbs feel easier now. We are walking towards the Holms, two little pilgrims, pulled by this lump of holy land that when the tide if full, rises like a turtle out of the sea. The sun is in our faces; the wind at our backs. You scuttle like a crab with the force of it. If I don’t take care of you, anchor you with the weight of my hand, you could sail away.
…….. stripped bare of flesh,
…….. bleached timbers of a wreck
…….. nudge through the sand
Along the strand line, you scrunch and scour through shells; cockles, mussels, razors, clams. You pick up a mermaid’s purse; crack black pods of bladder-wrack between your tiny finger-tips; discard a desiccated crab-back. We laugh but decide not to sit in the empty armchair that’s just there, somehow, facing out to sea. We’ll wait.
At Spaniard Rocks, we reach journey’s end, bed-down in the soft sand, our backs against the flat slabs of limestone worn by the years: warmed by the sun. You are the fourth generation to sit in this spot. “It’s hot,” you say, “toasty.” And then we’re silent, you and I, looking back at how far we’ve come, wondering perhaps how much further we have to go.
…….. conch pressed to your ear.
…….. will you hear me calling you
…….. across the great divide?
AN (COTTAGE) PRIZE:
Happening on Honington by David Cobb (U.K.)
…….. looking closely
…….. beneath the jet plane’s path
…….. sheep graze, lambs skip
If you stumble upon Honington one or other of its attractions may keep you an hour or so. Perchance it will be the military airfield, with its warplanes lifting off on coded missions. The churchyard close by where airmen of six nations, ally and enemy, lie buried side by side. The cottage where the Farmer’s Boy Poet, Robert Bloomfield – by far the best seller in 1800 – was born and bred. And bordering the churchyard is the school playground where children are sent at break times to play. The cry of a teacher. ‘No hide-and-seek behind the tombstones, please!’
Edward Thomas reflected. ‘It is hard to imagine a combination with more possibilities for wretchedness than that of a poet and agricultural labourer.’ One of Bloomfield’s great successes was a ballad retelling a local country yarn. The Fakenham Ghost. A girl scared out of her wits when a donkey foal, having strayed from its dam, follows her all the way home, unrecognised in mist and darkness. This phantasmagoria surpassed only by the poet’s Ode to Vaccination.
I look around me for a donkey now, but see instead a slip-smock kind of shirt waving to me from a washing line. A voice proceeds from it, ‘Stay thy tottering step, if thou a poet art.’
‘Is that you, Robert?’ An obvious deduction, since he is quoting from one of his own poems. ‘Why are you hung up there like a bit of laundry?’
‘Think I be mazed? Not on your lovin’ life, bor. I be testin’ out the way the wind blows.’
‘You could do that standing on the ground.’
‘Ah, but … not when I be calculatin’ how to set the pitch of an Haeolian ‘arp. Don’t seem to get the right feel o’ things when I’m anchored by my two flat feet.’
‘You make Aeolian harps, Robert?’
‘Deed I do. No livin’ to be made these days from sellin’ poems.’
Gently the bard wafts about, first one way, then the other, just as the breeze takes him, lifting one hand off the washing line for a moment to adjust his neckerchief, then to turn a pocket inside out. Humming a reedy tune.
‘So you’re a mechanic, Robert. Perhaps an inventor even? As well as being a poet, of course.’
‘Might say the same o’ you, bor. Suppose it was you confuffled together that thingamajig you got there? That be a saddle an’ you sits on it, eh? An’ then I reckon with your feet in them stirrups you sets the wheels a-spinnin’ around.’
‘Right in one,’ I applaud. ‘Look at me!’
I weave a figure-of-eight around Robert’s garden, ducking once under the washing line.
‘It’s called a bicycle. Two wheels. Bi-cycle, do you see?’
‘Well, then, I wish you god speed on it, you’ve already ridden down more than ‘alf o’ my marigolds! And don’t be too hurrysome. There’s a mort o’ things here that’s worth a second look.’
‘Yes, Robert. There certainly is. Grey Britain I’ve left far behind me.’
The border between Suffolk and Norfolk is marked by a small river and sheep on either bank.
…….. Little Ouse run dry
…….. a lamb calls to its mother
…….. on the other side
AN (COTTAGE) PRIZE:
Night Dancing in Star Holler by Doris Lynch (U.S.A.)
On a cold October night, we arrive in Eastern Kentucky by the Red River Gorge. Although temperatures hover near freezing, we plan to camp. To warm up, we climb the steep hill to the lodge restaurant where waitresses in red-checkered aprons serve a buffet: fried catfish, mashed potatoes, corn bread. The dessert table overflows with fluffy meringue pies.
We ask our waitress what’s happening tonight. It’s too early to crawl into our sleeping bags and the camping holler already resembles an entrance to Hades with its circle of campfires. From the look of things, each site hosts at least one resident pyromaniac.
“Things are kicking tonight. Karaoke at the bar in Slade, rock-climbing films at the church youth center, and square dancing in the picnic area down by the creek.”
Descending hundreds of steps, we hurry toward the music. Pay three bucks to enter. A child of no more then seven offers each of us a homemade cookie. Folks from knee-high to their eighties twirl past on the basketball court.
Almost everyone has shucked his or her winter coat. A teen-age girl woos the microphone near her mouth and belts out a fast rockabilly song about lost love. My husband and I find an unclaimed spot on the bleachers, huddling close for warmth.
…….. under Orion’s sword
…….. arms locked, bodies flying–
…….. singer hits a high note
It’s the only dance that I’ve ever attended where there are more men than women. This introduces some odd pairings: several octogenarian men dance with 10 year-old girls. But no matter, everyone do-si-dos and promenades. Careening toward us, everyone wears a wide smile. My husband refuses to dance. “Don’t know the steps. If it were rock and roll, I’d fake it, but in square dancing you keep switching partners and I know I’d stomp on some poor stranger’s toes. Let’s sit and watch. “
Partnerless, a few older guys tap their cowboy boots against the metal bleachers adding some sole percussion to the music. Several ask babysitting grannies to join them, but the ladies regretfully nod at their bundled kin. Finally, one old gentleman scans the crowd and notices me. He hurries over, surprisingly fleet, and offers me his gloveless hand—warm and vein-pocked. With a tight grip on my arm, he leads me out to the dance floor.
…….. whirling through air
…….. in the crook of an old arm–
…….. suddenly free