It is sunset. Dorchester lights up distantly
in damp, evening air. You take the rampart path:
pipits flutter and sheep pause. Here there is space
and the landís casual unconsciousness of years,
wet chalk slippy underfoot, ballistas of rain.
There are no ghosts, but we know the past has paced,
embedding footprints in receptive soil.
The men who harboured here conceived the entrance maze,
reshaped hillsí contours, made them fit their scheme,
and barrows mark the spot their bones were laid.
Smears of light on the by-pass grope the gloom.
The wind is spiked. Dead grass lies rain-dark,
winter-wasted. You cross the neolithic mound,
the iron-age gate, the Roman temple stones.
The pipitsí white tail-feathers skitter. The sheep stare.
Sea, a ruined arch, an everyday
farm-gate: a brutal road
brought death along this way,
when sandalled legionnaries strode,
a future nestling in each soldier's sheath.
Back the other way, beyond the broad,
stone arch of creeping empire, beneath
the fronting wall of crumbling cliff, across
the straitened, wine-dark seethe
of waves, back to Gaul and Rome where all roads cross,
to Athens, Babylon and Ur;
myth of Eden; loss
of Africa, to Olduvai, our sore,
raw bones on our old, ancestral seat.
A single heritage is poor:
what tramps to us, the beat
of time and boots along this way,
where provenance and destinations meet!
The day the express train drew up there
unwontedly, two ways diverged:
flight through ripples of birdsong,
or steel rails shining in the June sun,
unrelenting to infinity. Can one travel both and be
one traveller? On the bare platform
no-one left and no-one came.
You were on your way to Robert Frost
and passing here the road not taken.
The steam hissed. The train moved on, the moment
missed. Is choosing always like
a set of railway points? That passing minute still,
cupped in a bubble of your words, floats on
through ripples of feeling farther and farther
with all the birds of pre-war English shires,
while your rough journey steamed
through France, and Arras, to a terminus.
We are the shadows in your night.
Outside the sparkles of your barbed-wire fence
we peer, your beacon
drawing us. Sense holds back;
we dare not flutter
against your flames like moths.
Dark encloses us, our loss
of your bright lights our grief.
We turn again to churning waters,
the coin-flipped toss of chance,
the ambiguities of shipwreck.
Your lampsí glow is our constant lure
on the trek to Agadir,
to leaky wood on East Atlantic waves,
the dark, dark deep.
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