St. Cuthbert came to Crayke
and turned back. Not immediately:
his old bones needed to rest; his monks,
driven by fear, and reverence, were tired;
the North was aflame.
South, times were uncertain,
Ouse and Trent like Viking arrows
aimed into Deira, Mercia. Few in that cortège
had crossed Humber or followed the roads
to London, Canterbury, perhaps safety.
Here, in this last outpost of the gilded North
the books too took rest. Too much travelling
risks the Word, risks the rich covers,
their gold and jewels temptation
for heathen footpads on the road.
In the end, bearing what they knew to be
incorrupt, holy, with all its treasures,
they took Cuthbert back across the Tees
to Wearside, to unaccustomed, perhaps unwanted,
worship and magnificence.
(i.m. Käthe Kollwitz, sculptor)
Bicycling towards Ieper
across the small, significant, ridges of Flanders,
I found the quiet cemetery at Vladslo.
Here was a grove of trees
which in late November carried still
the memory of summer;
leaves fell on the incised names –
Johannes, Martin, Hans
– yellow on the grey slabs.
A grove where no birds sang
and Kollwitz’ silent parents,
wracked with grief, mourned for us all.
To Tyne Cot and Passchendaele I carried them with me.
And years later, in the gallery, in Berlin,
I realised her cruel fate,
whose imagination was tortured,
years before the war, with images of mourning,
of mothers whose hearts were torn from their bodies
as their sons’ entrails, and her son’s, were torn from theirs.
Her soul, her hands knew
long before that last wave
at the corner of the street
that it would come to this unbearable quiet
this bitter hush.
How could she let him go ?
Slowly, pedalling mostly, but pushing
on the steep bits, I climb onto the moor.
Sentinels, rooks stand by their nests,
shiny in bare watchtowers; a hare
sits in a field, and higher, larks rise
from the heather and tufted grass,
choralling madly in the eye of the sun.
Along the ridge, wind ruffles tormentil,
and marked stones and unmarked tumuli
stud the moor with lost importance. Below, farms,
knots at the junctions of hedge and wall
stitch the fields together, and the crazy clack
of tractors warps and woofs the land.
This is not Paradise – a barn sags ruined;
a kestrel darts low, and fatal; the windows
of village shop, school and pub are blind;
a crow picks eyes from a dying rabbit.
This is the country. How it became so
is a story we could discover – glaciers and wind and water,
manís digging and chopping, ploughing and shaping,
his need for constant movement, for shelter, food,
and quietly, unbeknown to the makers, to manufacture beauty.
It is what we have made it:
the cities, fields, and forests bear our mark.
We have worked with the Earth;
beauty and utility are in the blood,
and we have sometimes shown respect, and love
for what surrounds us – traits that may save us yet.
This is the practice to follow, the promise to keep.
The dirt roads are still roads, but not dirt;
the family farm’s still a farm, but not family;
and off this once-dirt road the white-sided church
doesn’t any more christen, confirm, marry us,
though, round the back, they still bury us,
our name among others: Schairer, Schaibele, Jedele, Frey,
lined up against the fields and rows of corn we farmed,
the long stripes of the plough, the pockets of scrub we never cleared.
We are still here, but not farmers;
we sit behind a screen in Jackson, or Toledo,
weld the cars in Flint, in Dearborn,
drive the Interstate from client to prospect
chasing the sale – we the invisible.
But take your lunch at Metzger’s, Hoffman’s, Dieterle’s – you’ll find us,
our German faces, our German stockiness,
our not quite lost German accents, as we greet each other
– retired farmers and farmer’s sons,
shooting the breeze, touching hands;
and we are the harvest of all those generations,
watching Fox News in the subdivisions our farms have, or will, become.