Ribble Illusions

Yesterday I had a most uncanny experience. Approaching the river Ribble from Castle Hill, I found myself facing a long stretch of tide marked wall that gave the appearance it had dropped away into nowhere. I was struck by a sudden sense of vertigo. The Ribble couldn’t have disappeared, as if had fallen into a void, surely?

River RibbleOn closer inspection, seeing the reflections of the grilles and staircases, and catching subtle fluctuations in the surface of the water, I realised this was an illusion created by a combination of its stillness with the markings on the stone.

River Ribble, reflection of a grilleRiver Ribble, stairsTo my relief at either end of the concrete barriers, the ‘true’ water level was clear.

River Ribble, water level

River Ribble, water levelDrawn  to stay a while in meditation on the strange appearance and disappearance of the river, which occurred as I shifted my eye-line, I was gifted with the sight of several birds. Common and black headed gulls and terns circled, their darker shadows mirrored in the water. Another bird, which I think may have been a grebe or even a black throated diver flew in. Diving with quick flips of its tail it emerged, for the most part, triumphant with white-silver fish, which after a brief kerfuffle vanished down its throat. Finally, a heron arrived to land majestically on a piece of flotsam.

Heron, river RibbleFor me this goes to show that even where it is channelled, the Ribble is a magical and mind altering place. I give thanks to the river, all its visitors and inhabitants, and its goddess Belisama.

Awenydd

I.
As the longest night looses
darkest claws I walk amongst shadows
at dawn where moonlight floods
through the arms of trees
and a solitary lamppost lights the vale.

Lamppost, Greencroft ValleyII.
River-trees stand stark and tall,
consistent in her mind’s
unravelling of currents and tides,
cormorants and gulls,
a ragged heron.

RibbleIII.
The host’s roar to a lullaby
quells as moon leads dawn
over chiming hills to be swallowed
by cloud as the hunt returns
to graveyard and mound.

Moon over Castle HillIV.
My lord of the fay
makes his presence known.
He speaks to the mist within my bones
like the lych gate unfastening,
awenydd– my magic word.

Lych gate, St Mary's ChurchV.
The spirit paths are mine
to walk for an evanescent pulse
of dawn. Time stands still
from vale to hill and the stream
sings: awenydd, awenydd.

Fish House Brook

The Other Side

Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us
To a glimpse of how green it was on the other side
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again
Dragged by the force of some inner tide
– Pink Floyd High Hopes

Glastonbury 2000

The world was ours, the moment all that mattered.
Our hopes were high in the mist of dawn.
We flung our friendship over the wildest horizons
riding rainbow lights and drums to distant haunts
that never satisfied the fire in our souls
nor the loneliness that lay its pall between us.
Strung out on stars, burning everything of value
we reached the ravaged borderlands and paused
so far gone even astronomers couldn’t find us.
Looking beyond the embers of bridges glowing behind us

they saw the stone circle and distant Tor,
the penumbra of a festival vanished to the night.
At last we staggered home lost and nearly blind,
dazzled by the sun we couldn’t find to tiny houses
with stiff front doors surrendering hope for certainty.
The return was hard, obeying the constant grind
of re-learning how to put one foot in front
of the other one. Re-mastering the system, unseeing
starry skies. Yet on the odd occasion reality elides
to a glimpse of how green it was on the other side.

I fought onward, eventually alone
as the division bell began to toll, making happy
families with freshly ironed clothes, polished homes
and forced smiles. From a dusty library I looked out
across the hills- a glimpse of green and beacon fire.
My feet trod through cotton grass to broken remains
of tribal ruins drawn by chants on the west wind.
The other side returned to life in the vestibules of trees.
I saw a river goddess wash her hair in the rain.
Steps taken forwards but sleepwalking back again

the fragments stayed broken, my vision incomplete.
Stunned by the Tor redrawing itself on the backdrop
of my mind I relit the embers on the Ribble’s bank
and recalled the last hint of paradise before everything
went black and time took our dreams away. Guided
by the voice of an otherworldy king I reclaimed my pride
at the Tor’s white spring. Time performed its circle,
gave back my starlit dream. The world is mine again.
To the other side and spiralling back I ride
dragged by the force of some inner tide.

Glastonbury Tor 2013

The Black One of the Seas

Castle Hill, on the RibbleThe green hill on the water drifts
Anchorless on high tide.
Wraiths of fog fight the primal mist.
Hoof beats fall from behind.

The splash of marsh brings rounded feet;
Miracle he doesn’t sink,
Approaches like an isle-bound fleet,
The Black One of the Seas.

His mane is waves, his arching crest
Vaunts higher than a mountain.
His tail, a tiller switches, twists,
His nostrils foam black fountains.

His heaving chest rumbles and roars,
Rolls like the tides of the seas.
His long legs, a volley of oars
Beat like a heart possessed.

A troupe of seven rides his back,
The Northern King Elidyr,
Advisors, servants, child behind,
A cook upon his crupper.

Weary party, a doomed portent,
Endlessly blown ferry
Voyages black and breaking straits
From Clyde to Anglesey.

Rhythms of life they drive and smash
Like waves wrecking a jetty.
Then sink back to the ocean’s death
With the Black One of the Seas.

* This poem is based on ‘The Three Horse Burdens’ from The Triads of the Island of Britain, which can be found here: http://www.celtnet.org.uk/texts/llyfr_coch/typ_eng.html

The Colloquium of the Brooks

Ribble close to Mill Brook

 

 

 

 

 

On the silted shore of the Ribble
Where the gulls dip and call
The river banks her vista
And the tides ebb and flow
In unending expeditions
From the land to the sea
The brooks broach their quantas
And descry their misery.

Fish House Brook:
How long now?

Penwortham Brook:
Patience little sister, can’t you see the times are changing?

Fish House Brook:
I’m barely in a position to perceive change
Caught in the constrictions of the concrete culverts
Cut by the man-made channels, blinkered in blind
Alley-ways, forced through dire traps and grilles,
Stumbling in terror via that jail house prison
Cruelly manufactured for me below Hill Road South.

Mill Brook:
If you would look beyond those despotic fixities you would see
The dark pall of the industrial era has lifted, your brother
And I are freed from servitude, our water running clearer by the day.

Fish House Brook:
And you see this as consolation?
Do you not remember when the magnitude of our flow
Turned water wheels, had the force to overturn wagons
And shifted the lay of the land to sculpt our valleys?

Mighty Belisama, you must recall our glory days
Before they shifted your course from Watery Lane to Castle Hill,
Deformed our travails, forever destabilised our tables?

Belisama:
Quarrelsome brooks, stare firmly at the quintessence
Of your course and see all that remains constant is change.
Since the ice lords rode our backs, pitched us deeper
Into the frozen earth, and through the aeons before
Our wills and paths have never been wholly our own.

Fish House Brook:
That the principalities of nature shape us I do not disclaim.
But these men… with their yellow jackets
And heaving ploughs, excavators and cranes,
Winding cords, caterpillar rolls, drop down drains,
Their discernment as dense as a builder’s helmet,
Vision blank as a steel lid, they are numb as their machines.

Penwortham Brook:
Not like the orphans who worked my looms.
I remember their knocked legs stumbling to my bank,
How they stared into the rainbow of my polluted depths.
With wide white eyes they contemplated their horror in me,
Knowing not what they were or what I could be.

Fish House Brook:
At least then we were seen. Now the people stagger
By blind as drunks, ditching debris on our banks.

Mill Brook:
Humans… still given wholly to gods
They cannot see. Servile seeking invisible wealth
Not even gleaming gold. Their only idols strip plastic
Features on the screens, flip in pixels to wide dumb grins.

Fish House Brook:
The vapid screens suck out their lives.
They are not aware of, nor do they understand their sacrifice.
Whilst trapped within their drains we wither up and die.

Penwortham Brook:
Belisama, tell her that isn’t true.

Belisama:
How many years have men visited our banks?

Fish House Brook:
Well, I remember when we were treated with reverence.
Do you recall the long days spent by smiths at the forge,
The bold shatter of sparks, the bright ring of the hammer,
The beauty of gifts delivered in resonant ceremonies,
Swords, axes, heads crafted from stone and those of enemies
Whilst now all they drop in is litter and fag ends.

Penwortham Brook:
It was when the factories rose that the human race
Became effulgence and we it’s dumping ground.

Fish House Brook:
Now red fades to grey and the system is dying.
Their wonders drop, one by one, like falling dolls.
They roam the streets, jobless and desolate.
There is no hope in their eyes.
They have no strength left.

Belisama:
Bearers of the brooks, steerers of the streams,
Deliverers of my bright waters. Do not dismay!
Like the course of a river, times will change
We are bound into a whole with sea and rain.
With he who brings the tides come the waves.
I still commune with the lords of the glaciers
And they say we have not got long to wait.

Fish House Brook

Cockersand Abbey

Chapter house meets silver frieze of dappled
clouds dipped in river. Beacon white sun lights
the margins of eyes; prior, pilgrim, traveller.
Holiday makers rush to shore, seekers
of ages dress lost walls. Broken healers
see a liminal sky, on a statue writ
in silver: Mars Nodontis. “Be our healer.
Beside the lapping tides and flashing sky,
Cloud Maker, fix our wounds and make us whole.
Return this no-time to a holy day.”

Belisama Changing Queen

Belisama changing Queen
Of the Ribble’s shining waters
Shaper of the dales and plains,
Towns and cities and their dreams.

A sparkling sight of sweet repose
You speak serenely under daylight
Shallows shifting playful hint
At beauties strange as subtle tides.

Your hurtling force rocks roaring stones
When fair folk blow their horns at midnight
Enigmas flow in endless throes
Your current’s drowning change or die.

Changing queen of transformation
Streams unite within your basin
Bridges cross- worlds in collision
Town and dale and rushing dream.