August 12th, 2008

All Things Are A Flowing

 It's twenty two years since I left the parish- long enough for kids to be born and grow up and have kids of their own. I drive through occasionally, on the way to somewhere else- and note how the area is going up in the world. There's a wind farm on the skyline now and the huge, old cotton mill that stood next to the church has just been demolished and replaced by a friendly looking estate of faux-Georgian houses. St. Anne's Place is what they're calling it. I've seen the advertising: edge of the Pennines, within easy reach of Manchester, good local schools...

You look at pictures of the area as it was in the first half of the twentieth century and it's a forest of tall chimneys set in a smog as thick as the smog they've got in Beijing.  Now there's scarcely a chimney left.  You can't regret this; the old town was a hell hole. On the other hand it had a character and a culture- tough, chippy, self-mocking, proud, sentimental, that was worth something and is now history.  I saw the fag-end of that culture. If it didn't kill you it made you strong. I had people in my parish- older people, all now dead- who I think of as moral giants: Fred Lloyd, George Sherratt,  Marian Jones. Pah, I'm getting sentimental myself now. But  I hope they'll leave a mill or two standing as a reminder of how things used to be.

When you've known a place for any length of time you have a movie of it you can play in your head- a fast forward movie in which the years go by in seconds. My  movie of St. Anne's Royton starts in black and white- the black and white of the hard winter of 1981 when the built environment was still largely Victorian and Edwardian- then rushes forward- in a fidget of walls coming down and walls going up-  to the bright colours of the day before yesterday- with baskets of flowers hanging off the barriers at the intersection below the church- where I once worked- at my lowest ebb- as a school crossings attendant. Irrespective of the virtues of old and new, that onrush is- in itself- a wonderful, enthralling thing- and bearing witness to it makes me happy.

The Weather Prophet

 Here's a poem from 20 years ago- unlike anything I might (or could) write now.  

                                   THE WEATHER PROPHET

 

                                    I stroke her dusty hair.

                                    My hand drops to her shoulder.

                                    Touching helps to quieten

                                    The mind's unending palaver.

                                    Whether we serve the flesh,

                                    Our Indian teachers have explained,

                                    Or rarify the spirit,

                                    Still we are on the Way.

 

                                    Reaching across the board,

                                    My fingers touch her fingers.

                                    My eyes detain her eyes;

                                    I think of infinite distance.

                                    High on his minaret,

                                    Scenting the distant mountain snows,

                                    The great king's weather prophet

                                    Gives himself to the sky.

Ex Nihilo

And here's another...

 

                                    EX NIHILO

 

                                    After you left

                                    I gave myself

                                    To silence and

                                    The pulsing quartz

                                    Of the carriage clock

                                    Till dancers came...

 

                                    Out on the water

                                    Lies an island.

                                    Round that island

                                    Stand tall oaks.

                                    Through that grove

                                    The dancers circle.

 

                                    Though it was night the grove was lit

                                    With a steady blaze.  The dancers leaped

                                    Like flames of it.  They were spirit beings,

                                    Shimmering with quartzy fire,

                                    Sexless and impersonal.

                                    Shimmying round the brilliant grove,

                                    They did the dance that makes the world,

                                    Spinning a bright illusion of

                                    Oaks, island, lapping water,

                                    Throwing it out like a Catherine wheel.

 

                                    So, you had gone.

                                    Our making love

                                    Was a memory

                                    Of flesh like fire.

                                    Now time extended

                                    Once again,

                                    Night pulsed

                                    In the carriage clock

                                    Once again-

                                    And spirits twirled

                                    The bright world out of

                                    Nothingness.