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,
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.
This land can take you down like grief.