They are trimming the English elm at the farm, the one that leans
and reaches and begs to be spared. “It’s good to be alive,”
calls Farmer Tradition, who woke one morning to headlines
declaring his wife had come back from the dead. I wave
and aim for the second surviving elm, a mile down the bridleway
into the next county, where Farmer Grudgingly once drove
his pickup at us for trampling the grants on his nest-edge
(our last walk here before my mother died), and reach an invisible
tunnel Farmer Enlightenment thought he must exorcise and purge
of its dancing white magic. The place tries to hum the steps
but it’s mute. Only two swans, letting their silent springs
run down across the ploughfield, the keep-out sign, the rape
will join these floaters in my vision; while the high warbling
larks, the lapwings’ beep-and-sweep may distract from tinnitus
like digital toys above that Boys’ Own castle drawbridge
Farmer Templar-Knights says he uncovered there, and burned.
Blossom that falls almost as soon as it’s shrouded the bones
of our apple trees—the three of them, two from the long
banished auctioneer, Warner’s King, and one Orleans
Reinette, rough, acidic still, never the sweet
regime the Brigadier promised. Since it’s Bank Holiday,
we thought we’d drive to the Orchard Tea Garden, meet
Brooke, Woolf, Russell, Forster—but so many cars
and it’s raining, we might not even make it out of our books.
Home, then. Free verse. Let others crowd at the bars
to Jeffrey Archer’s house. Tiny apples have appeared
as the boughs round off their pole dance. May, and my pencil
is plaiting music to which only she knows the words.
Soon, the karts will have started up and scared off the lark
idling invisibly over Rookery Farm. On the airfield road,
May blossoming into rape and high cirrus, I snake
around nothing, though there were hedges once, elms, and huts
where girls sprawled out of nose cones into prairie dreams.
From converted station to chapel to where the A-road cuts
Spaldwick from all the Giddings with its psalm to residual
nesting ground, meadow, set-aside, I freewheel home.
Twenty-five years ago I walked through the middle
of a summer night to reach you. At this Z-bend, I still
remember finding the sign I had been looking for, where today
there is a fox, tame, in someone’s garden, with collar and bell.