Canaries in Yorkshire

A fast poem, a little bit documentary, a little bit mourning my friend Dave who died recently – sparked from a visit to The Barbara Hepworth Gallery and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a busy spring day.



I didn’t know then
that the dead divide
& live within you

a kind of rhythm, warmth
stretched over earth, twists of spice
in the deep ground.

Sometimes I see him flashed in image
momentarily present
in a stiff light & sometimes

from the corner of my eye
he is an ongoing echo of drifting green.
Wave and particle, forms of love

& memory & legacy & through
this ambience we can touch
the onward living thread

filament of best moments
teased out from the great skein
of looping and knotted time.

But with this consequence comes
in & out, a tide over sands
the water moving against

your deep set ankles. Time
in front, time behind, a mist
more than a line

the vapour off an old song
the flammable softness
hung over white spirit.


Like canaries some of us just teeter here
on this ridge between action & perception –

at worst we are practically useless, at best
weathervanes for subtle things, whiskers

to the lightest wind we can sense
the breath of sage or asphalt on the air

that lifts above the incoming tide. In the waiting
for the right moment the youth has gone

replaced by fidgets and gauges, a minor landscape
pinched from the everyday business of

the everyday. The beard is a kind of shallow grey
much like reeds on a tidal marsh at last light

distinguished if you are kind, spent if not
Mostly the rugged worn face

is a fugue of scratches as if a spinnet
and a flock of swifts were locked in battle.

Coming off rhe ridge I find a sheltered moment
behind the lee of a crag & lie down & soak

in the heat of a unexpected sun. Momentarily
I am a rock amongst rocks, a body

among the bodies & everything is crawling
with atoms & space & intention

& in those moments I can begin
to clatter out my cheap song.


There was a woman photographing
her teenage daughter who was herself
lying down in the grass. The daughter was dressed
in black, a shadow self. She was wearing
stockings and hard shoes
like she just came from witch school.
I looked away & back in a moment
they were both gone. The dog then
pulled away from the owner
high on its lead, haloed with sunlight, expecting.
The owner eats an ice cream and is looking
at a twelve foot pregnant woman. They are both
wearing identical blue & white neckerchiefs.
On the back of his shaved head the young man
has a tattoo that reads Born and bred in Yorkshire, Estd 1874.
Near the chinese zodiac a large man wears a black tshirt
that has a single white word on a pink rectangle.
It reads Filth. A stringy man, a bit posh, in pale turquoise shorts
disciplines an errant nine year old by saying, over and over
No, no, no – break the cycle.
It is Easter Sunday, the day after he died
the day before he got back up. Other facts
I have learned today include the size of a cell at
Guantanamo Bay, how boats might build
new versions of themselves, how
a window into night pulls people through
back into this bright etching day.


Apparently the second version of the tower
made of steel and long cable stays

used to ice up in winter. Not many years
after it was built a cold snap

made the stays, some hundreds of yards long
heavy with ice, like an old whaler straying north

& then the wind set off a particular
resonant frequency & the whole thing

came down across a road & through a church.
No one was hurt but the whole of Yorkshire

went without ITV for several months
until a replacement was secured from Sweden.


You can only sing one note
at a time but that one note
can fill the air around you

with a mist, tenor, tonal
a slow pulse that sings
inside the singing and pulls

a bow over your
single earthly spine
through body aged & resonant

rich with loss. More notes arise
from lives we never lived
a quartet, a chorus

a sonic history that squals
& could bring the whole
structure down. Watch!

Watch! The canaries turn
their flat eyes & throw twists
of melody into the air. Listen!

Listen! The canaries have come silent.
The dog wakes, towers fall
the witch winds her watch

& whole kingdoms come & go.
Mr grey beard, my warning
comes too late, to nothing.

There is a horrible silence
the circumference of loss
a mute engine of sunlight & pain.

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