A long poem now, with a few familiar images, in four parts which I feel to be linked but can’t quite explain how.
To be a wanderer is to have bad feet
And to know the signs of rain.
The abandoned home keeps leaving messages.
But though there’s a routine of moving on,
Of saying goodbye or not, of setting out,
And the hills and the valley-hugging villages
May seem almost the same, they are different.
To be a wanderer is to not return.
Sometimes the villagers fear you’ve brought the plague,
Heresy or the unwelcome news of shortages:
You should watch out for a sameness of the eyes
And a roughness of the rope. Sometimes you are a magus,
Which can be dangerous too, but sometimes merely welcome.
You carry a store of rivers, skies and crows,
Of flat rocks where you ate the last long valley’s
Rye bread and cheese, and even carry faces,
Though they may cluster and threaten on the breeze.
Sometimes the villagers fear you’re marked by madness.
To be a wanderer is to intervene,
To complicate, to save for another falling
And then the wandering, wandering, wandering.
The controller is known by every local, surely,
And to a stranger by a sure solidity
An evenness of gaze, the dull glow of gold,
The heaviness of the crown or the bag of helmets.
You are the point the world revolves around
Adhesion gives you family and friends
But ties you to a ship you thought a castle
So when it sails again
Your heavy crown and titles clatter and spin
In the whirlpools of the turns without a centre
And you are not who you were built to be
And who the locals did not know by touching
But as the controller who was stepping surely.
You have heard her many times but named her never
She was on the tip of your tongue and the edge of sunlight
As the drowning orange-red ball turning brick
Descended behind the vitrified sea and shut out dance,
The conversations of the busy merchants
Even the robed priests’ chants
You have seen her many times and touched her never.
She is the absent jewel in the crown,
The last and uncertain ray of light,
The song you almost manage to remember,
The whistling of the wind, the arabesque of ember,
The flickering of the fire in the rick.
You have heard her many times but answered never
But what you said was shot with alien fire.
You can see here if you try the paler grasses
Which grow on the stone of the road which used to run here
This angle of wall had another forgotten purpose.
Here where the sheep sheltered till the last hard winter
The kingdom of a stoat, the throne of a raven,
Were windows like eyes, and walls, a hearth and singing
So I have kept it under the dead lord’s orders
Here is the sealed letter and the sword
The old map marked with a word
The old lord thought one day might be deciphered
And though the dragon has not come nor the knight
I have seen ten thousand dawns and the patterned clouds
Shadow the paler grass with a thousand meanings
Until the traveller comes up the road that ran here.
Copyright Simon Banks 2012
This isn’t the first time I’ve written of a wanderer, a mysterious female figure just ahead or someone who has the duty of waiting for a momentous event he can’t define precisely and which may never happen – or the first time I’ve pointed out in a poem that being different can get you killed or that gold and power weight you down but provide only limited security.
As often, the background seems to be northern hill-country.