Fishing For Ghosts
Published: 30 April 2017
Publisher: Luath Press Ltd
Paperback: 128 pages
I have seen them on the Snake, the Woodhead too,
Those places where the spirits of the Earth have left.
A clutch of flowers, a soft toy, some sun-bleached cards,
A tangle of bright ribbons mark them out, these spaces now
Made holy somehow by the sudden dead. And those behind, bereft,
Here mark the spot where love left screaming for the stars.
Here time stopped, and the smiling face
Amongst the lilies and the water jars
Is there to lay claim to this leaving place
To own this pathway to the mystery.
I have seen them too on old bog roads, a high Greek pass,
On lonely moors and Himalayan paths;
The same small sacred groves.
Some have tin houses where perhaps they think
Lost spirits live; in some an oil lamp blinks
Its flame dancing as if to call the dead souls home.
The old ones say that mourning over much
Disturbs the dead, will call them back
Causing the loved one’s ghost to rise
Marooned here restless, chained by our love to Earth.
Yet still the mourners come to change the flowers
To light the tea lights in their little jars
To fix the prayer flags and make good the ground.
The mothers, sisters, friends, unconscious of the passing cars
They are the acolytes who sanctify
The earth here sensing that in some small way,
For now, for here at least, there is
Something truly sacred at this hallowed spot,
Here at this shattered wall, torn hedge, this scarred oak tree:
Their own Golgotha, their small Calvary.
This is another one of the poems from the book – if anybody knows the village of Dent and the Sun Inn – they might remember the old horse collar – this is it’s story…
“A few feet higher – they’d have cleared it,”
Miley said, settling his pint
Down on the foam-ringed wood. “We heard it coming in,
Two in the mornin’ – we knew it were no good
It was too low. A filthy night, all fog and mizzle,
Then the bang – my God,
And such a bang it was!
We thought it was a bomb!
North Africa they were mekin’ for.”
But Cornwall in the mist threw them awry
And sent them somehow north into the Dales,
Running on empty, flying blind.
What panic they must have known
Those Halifax bomber boys.
Then came the caterwauling engines and
The sky on fire above Great Combe
The silent dark cairns of the Meggerstones.
The Home Guard mustered and, with Miley’s horse,
Set off to bring them down; a small khaki cortege
Of farmers lads and shepherds dragged the dead
Boys down the fell, their bier an old hay sledge.
“Not a mark upon em.” Miley said, “Not a scratch;
It were just as though they all were fast asleep.”
A crew of French Canadian lads flew all this way
To die in a strangers’ land
When the soft mists of a northern sky
Turned suddenly, savagely solid
On the flanks of a craggy dale.
Hanging on the wall in the Sun Inn today,
(A dwindling band still know its tale)
Is the great horse collar taken from the neck
Of Miley’s big old horse, used to sledge them off
The fell that murderous night through rain and fog;
And walkers on Great Combe from time to time
Find rivets, shards of aluminium and perspex
And wonder at these relics of the wreck,
These scattered, votive offerings to the gods
Of fell and dale and war and tarn and bog.