Enter the torc of trench and rampart,
stand on the beaten sill of earth
that rings round the spired hill.
Under a lintel of low sun, thinning branches,
step down, enter the spiral.
Broken by lightning, snapped in storm,
half of a great tree rests its perfect perpendicular
grey in the arms of a green neighbour; they stand there
deliberate as dolmens.
Walk through their door.
A sudden unhinging of air –
the gust throws up old leaves like scaring birds:
the birds wheel like ash,
the leaves tick down in a turning circle.
Here, the remains of a need-fire –
black tins, twists of paper,
smoke-spoor on the faces of trees.
The wind plays ash round the head of a cracked doll:
tilts the latch of the lids,
opens the eyes.
Pass on, past the fire, out of the ditch
and into the centre, pass on up to the oak.
Wind darkens the grass again,
tugs at the dead trees sleeved in ivy:
the low branches becoming whips
the high branches hands.
Autumn mines the land to detonate
the stray step, the patter of birds;
each twig a trigger
that will send a pheasant drilling up
through air that smells of rust,
a metal coil unwinding in the throat.
The pollard oak is smeared with creosote,
its cropped head on fire with mistletoe like smoke;
a red seal for every limb removed
and for every scar a new spike in the crown.
Wounds drive the roots deeper,
out like spokes to the hill’s rim.
What we cannot hold we destroy, or attempt to destroy.
But the horned god carries cautery like a flag.
The wind finds a flute in the head of a wren.
The year is swinging shut.
(Dig it as much as we do? Check out Robertson reading his mythic, haunting ‘At Roane Head’ here)
Artwork by William George Gillies; ‘Wooded Hillside’.