Sunday, 19 July 2015

Chance Lead Me

I’m going cycling tonight. I don’t know where but I rarely do. Fellow cyclists, planning their routes in exhaustive detail, regard this behaviour as morally suspect but it’s my normality. I’ll set off around five from Broughton Interchange and, depending which slip-lane is running freer, head north or south on the motorway. After that, it’s down to the way the light plays on the hills – if Pendle catches my eye, I’ll swerve off at the Tickled Trout. On the northbound option, the Kentmere fells might make a pleasing grouping and it’s off at the Kendal turn for a wrestle with the stony Lakeland passes of Garburn and Gatesgarth.
 
That makes logical sense when you’re dodging the capricious weather of Northern England. It would, after all, be foolishly intransigent to head up the rain-sodden and cloud-capped Howgills with some specious allegiance to Plan while the neighbouring Longsleddale Fells bask in sun. But it’s more than practicality – the experiences taste the sweeter for the wrappers being removed with eyes closed. So tonight I might encounter a fox slinking into the bracken, a deer browsing the edges of a cool wood, or a dazzling swathe of red campion. Whatever it is, it will be better, looser, lighter without the dread burden of Expectation.


You’re a grown-up, so you know how these things work: everything’s a metaphor for writing, yes? I’m inordinately fond of Robert Frost’s aphorism, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader” and we’ve all encountered over-plotted novels or poems so corseted by form they make you long to scratch in sympathy. So dive in to your poem, take a turn that surprises you, shift register when your reader has just got comfortable and remember that everything is the fleeting, chance result of a trillion caprices. That Dylan fella put it well: "I accept chaos, I'm not sure whether it accepts me."
 
Here’s a poem from way back, reflecting on a rock-climbing experience and trying to make peace with disorder. The triumph/disaster line is swiped from Kipling, of course. These days, you can’t be too careful with citing sources. 

Pebble
Fingers scrabble upward, Brailing for texture.
On the blank slate: no hyphen of a welcome ledge,
just this full-stop pebble - hard, conclusive,
a goitred eyeball staring, Odin-wise. 

Now I see where necessity leads me:
to tug the world down like a Roman blind,
commit all that I am to this obstinate fragment,
stretch, trembling, into a hopeful sky. 

I ponder how securely this nugget is bonded.
Two futures open: triumph, disaster
(neither impostors, the distinction concrete).
 
To…
 
pluck the jewel between surprised fingers,
catch the critical eye of cartoon gravity
and scatter my flesh among distant boulders
 
or…
 
find it firmly-founded; reach and seize the windswept rim.
 
But spin the clock the other way, watch the birches recede,
see ice sheets pulsate across the land,
oceans spill over and continents cleave
to find this land, Sahara-scorched, Pangaean.
 
A storm-tossed pebble lies loose on a beach.
Emergent from the shimmer: three-horned beasts.
Will they swagger past, snorting stale breath on primitive bromeliads?
Or will one lumber near, impose its thunderous mass,
tamp the pebble down, cemented for a billion frosts?
 
Two pasts converge where two futures part
and here am I,
nailed to the crosshair of decision,
then, now and always.
 
 
In a postscript, chance led me to Troutbeck and Ambleside last night. There was a deer – a young roe fawn curled up in the grass. Also a close encounter with a heron and a cackling yaffing-gale. A pretty good haul on the wildlife front but topped by a human encounter: a last-minute decision to turn down a lane caused me to bump into a Garstang friend (he lives just down my street, in fact).

Norman Hadley
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1 comments:

Lady Curt said...

Your comment about the fawn made me recall an event MANY MANY years ago when I was but a child. Whilst hiking through deep heather we came upon a young fawn....speckled coat, shiny hoofs , curled up but dead and a few steps further we came upon the doe , who it appears had fallen and broken her neck . That encounter...even as I write ,the memory makes me weep .