The bees land on the lower lip
of a carved giant – Babilas –
bring blessings from cow parsley,
Queen Anne’s lace, other umbels,
figworts, all the flowers
of the meadow’s multiverse.
They enter his dark hollow heart,
his comb-filled secret nectaries.
His forbidding grimace
is no menace to these
The clearing is consecrated
to the religion of honey
which gives grace
to marriages. The bee-keeper,
guardian, priestess, licensed
solemnist, pronounces stern admonition
on each couple, to be sweet hearts
to each other, to husband the land
and to bear their broods.
We snack on a sugar-waxy sacrament,
on bread, on cheese, on cucumber slices,
drink mead and honey spirit
shared with friends and guests,
the traditional hospitality
of hearth, history and honeypots.
On the spot
At the top of the mountain a concrete pillar,
a modern megalith, flat-topped, three-sided,
an inlaid brass track to take the surveyor’s instrument.
My finger goes into the central hollow,
the pivot point, and I walk round, spinning
the landscape about me, whirling
distant mountains, loch-bottomed glens
until they merge into my panorama,
a vision of the Highlands, centred on
a stable point of known height, a reference
for building triangles through the land until
the country’s measured, noted down.
How heavy is a mountain? How far is a glen?
Does measuring the length of a river
reflect its sparkle? Can it say how the water
refreshed the eyes as much as mouth?
Will it bring back the joys of a climbing day,
the views, the drudgery, the scent of heather,
the sight of ravens acrobatting from the crags,
or a crouched hare twitching whiskers? There’s more
to hill-walking than trigonometry
Pacific Coast Highway
(remembering Jack Kerouac)
Bang on 8 am the bus rolled out of LA
and onto Route 101. I dozed the first hour
thru the suburbs, on elevated sections
and miles of anonymous malls, squat blocks
of stores, nitespots with stripper signs
flashing orange against the blaze of day,
factories, housing tracts, and gaps of nothing
but scrub and desert, views of hills.
Past Malibu we pulled over, a rest day for Bill,
and walked the dunes at Ventura, yakked,
watched Venus rise, drank the local wine,
had no visions but thought about the trip
so far, and the days to come.
Off again, along the narrow strip between ocean
and the Santa Ynez Mountains, fields of almond trees,
pistachios, avocados, vine fruits.
Morning stop was Santa Barbara, a quick walk around
the Mission, downtown to the big Barnes & Noble,
then off again, a short hop to Carmel, where Clint
was not at home, but a likeable Spanish town.
The roads divide at San Luis Obispo,
and we took the coastal route. At San Simeon
we looked in vain for zebras on the ranch,
but giant boulders on a misty beach
resolved to elephant seals, sleepy monsters.
Above the Big Sur cliffs the coastal redwoods flourish
and in a grove the size of ten cathedrals
I touched these ancient sentinels, looked up
and up and up and could not see their tops.
Back on 101, it seemed a short stretch home
to San Francisco, Market Street, the Bay Bridge,
Oakland, my brother, a family reunion.
In the Cut
The plane floats over the Painted Desert
then dips into a Grand Canyon dive,
like the Death Star scene.
Far below, between red ramparts,
the Colorado is a viridian thread.
Dark woolly masses in the sky –
thunder cells –are skirted. Flashes so vivid
they have no colour are sensed directly
behind the eyeballs. Ashen feathers
we know are rain fall between us
and the sun.
We’re stricken by scale, the many miles
between rims, an immensity below.
We peer down the strata
from Kaibab Limestone
to Vishnu Schist, rock colours
We land fizzing with excitement,
puddle-jump across the soaked airstrip
through the souvenir shop
into clean-washed evening air
Might have been
Yesterday’s fire blazed all evening,
warming the company, creating
coziness, encouraging conversation,
sharing stories and wine.
As darkness outside deepened,
you, or he, or she, or I,
added new logs, watched bark catch fire,
heard the fizz of steam from previous rain
on the woodstore. As the heat reached
little pockets of vapour they’d ignite
with a pop, throwing glowing splinters
out past the firebasket.
You picked one spark off the rug,
extended the fireguard,
sat next to me on the sofa,
clinked my glass.
And that was when something
might have started, flames reflected
in our eyes, the centres of us,
hands that might have flickered
around us, between us, touching.
But no. By the end of the evening
we both saw the truth in each other,
the glow of fire revealed our shadows.
We left it there, went to separate rooms,
and in the morning, meeting in that place,
worked together, brushed the fireplace clean,
shovelled up the ashes of the night.
Courtyard panel slides back.
A maple, reddening in the first chills;
sound of water; the stone trough
overflows into the mossy channel.
A flower, perhaps the last rose,
floats, red against the dark surface.
Bamboo dipper unhooked
pours drops over hands, wets face,
forehead. Wipe dry with white towel,
step back inside.
Hands clap twice before the little shrine,
a modest, domestic focus, brass Buddha,
incense burner, a quarter apple,
handful of rice, a cup of plum wine.
Clap hands twice, turn away
to the firepit, where the kettle
for first tea is nearly boiling.
It’s important to observe
these morning rituals, these habits
of reverence, settling the mind
for the day’s turbulence.