Up to Old Chamber again by the shining road
bedecked in stone, gleaming in recent rain
and shaped exactly to the task. A product
of generations, like the vast underground
labyrinths created by the Cornish miners, like
a refugee support group at the very heart
of possible action within the bounds
of Greater Manchester. We pass the honesty box
where the old dog leaves us alone
and continue, the town down below,
Pinnacle Lane riding the shelving
of the upper valley – long and straight
between stone walls, and wet underfoot
at gated hollows. Open and empty road, no
ghosts in it now, no ancestors or authors.
They couldn’t compete with the cold cruelty
of the carers, those whose duty it is
to care what becomes of us and couldn’t less.
Unmeant words clog our ears, false promises
gag our throats. All we have learned
is being sent to waste and the road through Hell
never reaches the border. Up here we count our progress
in centuries, in stone sinking through earth.
O powerful western fallen star! speak to us,
comfort us, serve us our lunch, show us
a right of way through to the light at the end
of the night and a reason to bother thinking.
Walking, we go at walking speed, and so miss
nothing, the faint squeaking in the grass, the clicking
of gorse, the burning oilfield beyond the horizon.
Powerful western fallen star, lie down there,
on the town, flex your body to the angles
of hill and river, and listen. This town for
all its jubilee partakes of the condition of the nation.
Geese fly over, frogs crouch under, owls laugh in despair
at the heaven-bound tricksters that we failed to oppose
being too busy proving how radical we were.
Cast it aside and ride the upper lip
of an elegant clough all the way down to the Co-op.
So the walking ends and we turn in at our doors
and switch on the light and there are all the books in rows
trying to tell us what we could have done.
That night that band at that club. Seeking
signs of optimism. It was announced that
someone had just had a baby
and the place went mad. It seemed that
shining angels rose from between the floorboards
in bright uniforms, prepared to act.
And later the clicking of a passing train
along the valley. The skills people have.
The patience they endure.
This poem appears in Peter Riley’s Truth, Justice, and the Companionship of Owls, a new collection from Longbarrow Press. You can order the book securely by clicking on the relevant PayPal button below.
More than 60 previous Featured Poems can be accessed via this index (many of these pages also contain audio recordings and short films).