Poem of the Month

A Different Land by Frank McMahon

Nine Standards Rigg. From distance

nine enormous teats of a beast inverted,

suckling the clouds. Waymarks to a no man’s land.

Memorial walk. Uphill, one last stone wall,

tufts of scrawny grass, meadow pipits rapid calls

dissolving. Jet black path, millstone scatter.

A distant curlew.

Nine cairns standing north to south on England’s spine.

If four of us stood fingertip to fingertip

we might surround the girth;

if you stood on my shoulders you might just

                                                                  touch the top.

This is borderland where west meets east.

There is no simple passage from this portal.

This land has defined its intrinsic purpose.

It offers no negotiation. A plough would drown

in this living graveyard growing with its dead.

Motherlode, dreich wilderness of treasures,

water-breathing alveoli

ten thousand years of rain

swelling sphagnum’s membranes, held and routed  

to nourish becks and rivers. A carbon sink,

this ground sequesters our excess.

It stretches out ahead, a vast dun pelt

raddled with pitch-black veins.

It will permit your crossing, absorb

the slap and slubber of your boots,

will in time repair itself, swallow your footprints.

This land commands respect.

Ravens’ land, acidic, this sponge has room for bodies

slithering over slabby earth, confused

in thickening mizzle, sucked into a grough

or slack, pressed down by heavy clouds.

Shouts do not carry here.

Face and hands preserved emerge

from Goretex, compass fouled and rusted,

in clotted rucksack a half-eaten lunch.

Do not cross this place at dusk.

Nightmares brew in brackish pools,

bog monsters sheep-devouring, cloaked in sedge, rise

from quags and long abandoned folds.

Do not show a light or breathe too loud.

Hurry slowly.

This land can take you down like grief.