Mountains divide Britain by streamside,
fault lines of water corroding dreams,
Upland fells where travellers dare to follow
where Legions misunderstood and feared.
Even before England’s existence this
crag and contour were staked,
claimed by the blind eye of the tribe,
strata of blood ploughed underground,
an eagle’s talons scratching school slates
blanked by time.
Doublefaced heads wayside age,
warn the wanderer,
the terrible stone worn and rounded
by tumultuous water,
turning and babbling flow wise.
A camper’s fire burns its beacon load,
marking a further thousand roads,
un-lighting thistledown settlements
he might have known.
Fires to celebrate a passing
that never was.
At night the wolds folded wings around him.
Remembered clouds he saw,
hounds that gnawed the hours,
rise of sap with dawn at his head,
blessing his neck before attack.
A touched torc traces the story,
surrendered to wind,
layers of skin the leaves,
shrugged off as tongues turn over.
‘There are markings here no more.
The Cynfarch blazed the birches at my word
so the white sides would wake us in the wilds,
returning from hunting or raid.
My boy, dead Owen, took a child’s axe so grim
that grown men stood in hush.
So soon another felled him.
He lay white on wolf’s fur
and women split the air with screams.’
Urb-genus, well born one,
stars have fixed since that time.
No one said a scabbard’s lease
was signed with such loss,
no bard atoned on this behalf,
who counted glory drained
in the blood of English fathers
you had slain.
How harpists would snap strings
to see the sun grudge warmth,
smaller tongues describing
no great arrays,
complaining from mounds
of stilled mouths.
But he hated nothing more than song,
the keeing of his father
falling on an empty belly,
false dawn for a princedom
after the Empire died.