Brag, sweet tenor bull,
descant on Rawthey’s madrigal.
Basil Bunting, Briggflatts
We straggle across a stubble field,
tuned in to the rasp of straws, squeak-clunk
of a kissing-gate, our own breath, as we climb
to a solitary oak, its bell of shade.
Not a shiver of wind or chitter of bird:
volume not of sound but of the tree’s living
silence, under today’s unblemished sky.
We question distance beyond the near scuff
of boots and cloth as we walk on, for some faint
man-made thrum, or hum along wires,
or a first rumour of the unseen Rawthey.
The quiet hangs in a haze that softens the fells,
and the size of it finds an inward
reflection, a land unsounded in ourselves.
So acute has our hearing become, we almost
catch the Quakers’ voices released
from the fold of years, their silence ring
in the Meeting House behind the bull’s sweet echo.
He’s packing an inflatable raft, he tells me
when I ask what are those great sighs,
scrape and struggle of recalcitrant stuff
in his echoing garage, where I picture him
kneeling on silver folds of plastic
while his hands press out the last of the air.
Always something he must catch up with, life
packed tight. Untouched, unseen,
I ghost a moment otherwise spare
in the check-out queue (Have a good day)
or at Gate 43 (Ready now for boarding),
or headed north on the 280 out of Cupertino.
I could lose the signal soon, he may warn,
both hands on the wheel, steering through
a mountain pass – as the thread stretched across
land mass and ocean slackens in my hands.
This early light has not yet touched even
the near shores of that sleeping continent
where my son lives in the future.
When it dawns, he’ll cross the grass to swim
in an ornamental lake among giant tadpoles
while toads crouch under boulders of quartz.
Later, the fridge snorts ice into his smoothie,
the vacuum comes to heel at a touch on the remote.
Everything is possible until the power fails.
In a brown-out, substance and shadow interbreed,
clothes flag in the dryer, the air smells obsolete.
In black-out, the deep freeze relaxes –
there’ll be no need in downtown bars to buy
silence on the juke box, and the lake will unfurl
a shock of stars. He vanishes from our video chat,
to return in pixels of shattered memory,
crossing time zones in a synaptic stutter,
streamed back to me from the future.
You must realise the Big Bang,
my son insisted, is a misnomer:
it gives the impression that everything
is expanding, impelled by an explosion.
It’s only that space is growing.
All the atoms remain the same,
but are moved farther apart
by space ballooning outwards.
I see each of us riding our moment
of space-time, beyond
vanishing, as he explains that
as distance increases so does the speed