As soon as we crossed into Yorkshire
Hughes’ voice assailed me, unmistakable
Gravel and honey, a raw celebration of rain
Like a tattered lacework window;
Black glisten on roof slates,
Tarmac turned to shining ice,
Blusters of naked wind whipping
The wavelets of shifting water
To imaginary floating islets
On the turbulent river
Glumly he asked, “Where are the mills?”
Knowing their goneness in his lonely heart.
“Where are the mines with their turning spokes,
Lurking slag heaps, bolts of coal split with
Shimmering fools’ gold tumbling into waiting wagons?
Mostly what I came for was a last glimpse
Of the rock hanging over my cot, that towering
Sheerness fifty fathoms high screed with ferns
And failing tree roots, crumbling footholds
And dour smile. A monument needs to be known
For what it is, not a tourist slot or geological stratum
But the dark mentor loosing wolf’s bane
At my sleeping head.”
When the coach lurches over the county boundary,
If not Hughes’ voice then Heaney’s or Hill’s
Ringing like miners’ boots flinging sparks
From the flagstones, piercing the lens of winter,
Jutting like tongues of crooked rock
Lapping a mossed slab, an altar outgrown,
Dumped when the trumpeting hosannas
Had finally riven the air of the valley.
And I, myself, what did I make of it?
The voices coming into my head
Welcoming kin, alive or dead, my eyes
Jerking to the roadside magpie,
Its white tail-bar doing a hop, skip and jump.