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 I was a scrawny thing when you found me. All lumps and bumps and knobbly bits.
From my craggy northern quaff, down my trim, tough torso to a belly like a bloated hog’s head.
It was hard for you to get close, uncomfy to snuggle. So you kept your distance, discreet, lukewarm. Melting my resistance with your milky massage, just as much mother as lover.

You tickled my Cornish toes and I burst with life! Brown, green, gold –
I let you mould me, change me, try different clothes, experiment with my hair.
You made me fat, you made me fertile. Soon I couldn’t contain all the good things you brought me. So along came the children.

Just watching them grow, explore, discover. What a privilege that was!
Through those long mild summers and short sharp winters, Springtime by the lakes, Autumn in the forest. Just enough variation to keep it fresh, keep it interesting. But all in moderation, no extremes.
That was our approach to parenting, you and me.
OK so they sometimes got greedy, bolshie. Growing pains, we called it.
But together we’d gently coax them back to their senses with a drenching here, a drying out there.
A sort of wooing, weathering dance. Who would have thought it could turn out so one-sided?

Of course I’ll never forget them.
Their memory, like yours, lives in the core of me: the words and shapes they etched on my surface,
the tunes I taught and they turned into rhyme.
Remember how they used to brag about the things they would do, what they would be, where they would go? With, or without us – as if they could.

I liked it best when they chose to stay home, close and quiet enough to talk with me, to work things through.Don’t they know they had everything they needed? Water, shelter food. Fiesta every day!
Just as long as they kept in step with my rhythms, like I did with yours.
Knowing they were helping me too, on my team.

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They think I need them, but I don’t. I need you. And now you’re gone.

Now and again they’d get that glint in their eye, and it felt beyond my power to spoil their fun,steal their thunder, wreck their day. So instead they got to wreck mine.
Colonising my fault lines, concreting over my pores, tunneling into my flesh,
all the defoliation and plastic surgery.

Then, at the last, filling my veins with poison to get at my lifeblood, burning it to power their toys, leaving behind an ever more toxic smog.
So of course my immune system gave way.
Hormones went wild, skin atrophied, scars began to show.

For a while I thought there was hope: they seemed to sit up, take notice and move to stop their games. Some of them marched, some of them campaigned: “Save Britannia!” they cried, “Britannia we love you!”But their mottos and mantras came to nothing.
Still they went on drilling and burning and wasting, like addicts with a deathwish,

children who refuse to grow up. While my lungs spewed green phlegm, and everywhere the stench of infection.

And you, poor you. Those sweet centuries of seduction
(I never did let you near my Kentish ankles, my swampy Anglian rump).
Then suddenly you start to change. Blowing hot and cold, tantrums and hissy fits, all overflow and chaos. The warm, steady pulse that made everything possible turns scattered, then weak, then stops.

Children are meant to crown a coupling. Not this one.
Life was our love gift to them, and they’ve sent it back as good as unopened.
They weren’t there at the Beginning. They don’t know what Cold is.
Not long now and they’ll be huddled together for warmth like the penguins.
Or jumping into boats to take them south, where deserts boil and forest fires rage.

So that’s it.
The adventure’s over.

Back comes the Ice.
But it can never take your place.

 

 

performed at ‘Ways of Remembering: Responses to Berger’ 2017