First you must learn stillness.
You must learn to wait inside shadow:
even your breath must not disturb
the air around you. Forget time. Forget
the body – be nothing but eyes:
a last blackbird fruitless on the lawn,
a pair of rooks giving up on the day
as day gives itself up to the night.
Clear your mind of shades of grey.
Dusk is not, as you think, continuum.
There is a moment when it is day; after it, night.
You will learn this is not the same as when electric lights
click on in the milking parlour across the valley. No,
night comes always later than you expect.
Study the light. Make a judgment of your own:
this is your second lesson.
If you have judged right,
out of the fold in the cypress tree,
out of that cleft between day and night
in one swift unfolding downward swoop,
one wingbeat and your world is dark.
Watch. Watch as well as you can and you will lose me.
You will never be able to say where I went, what I do.
This is the lesson you won’t ever learn:
how much there is you can never know.
World comes knocking. NO! –
easy as that, when it’s the darkroom door.
Not the dark of endings, of night, of fear:
this is the dark of beginnings
an orderly dark you know
your way round in, scissors here, pencil there
a dark you’re as at home in
as if you could see the notes you write.
Only water flows here; time’s
stopped by a button on a clock with no hours
– then allowed little increments:
seven-and-a-half minutes for film, three for paper;
you know the ticks by heart.
Stopped again. Silence.
It is possible not to think: it is possible
to sit on a high stool at the sink
nothing but a hand, its gentle rocking
of sheet film in a dish; stop, fix.
Here are the pleasures of precision:
metol 8 grams, water at 40 degrees;
here you believe in the idea of perfection
approached with little rituals to slow the pulse.
A third print comes closest.
There have been times I’ve tried a fifth.
Beautiful, the deep wet blacks
and silver highlights tailing towards invisible,
the print never quite so heartfelt
in the light. O world,
all day turning without me.
Back in your noisy brightness
I stand in the garden like an amnesiac
– how does it come to be evening?
the triangle, drawn on damp paper
over the imprint of old voyages
spread across the rolling table.
The pencil soft, but finely pointed.
A quiet clack of parallel rules;
the marks on paper light, transient.
Erased by evening.
And always a certain triumph –
the triangle, small: against
the pull of current and the push of wind
in all those elements, those crests,
that dark gust, in all this nothing,
this sea, here, this hull, this moment
we are here, we are lurching on
and we can fix the next wave
or the next, hand-held numbers
spinning round to starboard, hovering
then swinging back to port, the gut
plunging and the eyes almost closed,
assessing a moving needle
against a moving landmass.
A beautiful art, to draw on worn charts
and one you feel not far removed
from Loki reading his ravens’ flight
when he discovered Iceland,
nor so different from how six’ern crews
rowed back to land they couldn’t see
by set and pitch and scend and smell,
so that when you key in waypoints
for the autopilot, the waves that engulf you
come close to regret, and you wonder
– as is the way when you’re at sea –
what if the waypoint for home
were seasickness, were risk, or skill, or age;
what if the waypoint for happiness, pain?
What was I hoping for, what was I trying to find
that September afternoon, skimming across
the Humber under slender cables to the other side.
The past of course, something to say this is how it was,
even something forgotten of my own, a view perhaps,
to account for how I imagine ships trawl
the top of an embankment beyond a kitchen window.
But there were no ships. All that brown water
and just a green-hulled light-float with its silent bell.
What was there to see in a village of closed doors
gone about its twenty-first century commute.
The church was locked. Not one headstone shared my name.
Behold, he taketh away; who can say unto him, what dost thou.
A gable end stopped me – not familiar, but seen before.
I’d gone because I still love the colour of bottled plums,
the press of golden flesh through crimson juice against glass.
I did find the orchards, now The Orchards, meaning
executive houses instead of trees. And one old brick wall.
On the sign outside The Ferryboat, one man rows another
across the estuary, all that distance in a little yellow hull.
But where the boatyard was, ploughed stubble.
The creek silted, narrowed and shallow.
No voices, no hammering, no trace of planking or a nail;
nothing to write home about as my father would have said.
Only the reeds, their grey plumes and dry leaves
lilting in the sun with a sound like running water
tell how it was then. The tall, plumed reeds.