These reservoirs were built to keep things in, water, fish, assorted water-weed. Canada geese skim the surface light, homing in to where they now belong.
Long ago they gave up on the Steppes and now see here as their only home, as though they've somehow lost their inner maps, now only need the atlas of these hills.
They were constructed in the days when mills were filled with workers coming to the towns of Lancashire to work the cotton trade.
The rainfall that cascaded from the land was captured here, where the farms were drowned in these great pits, to quench that mighty thirst.
Their names are taken from those ghostly farms, Ogden, Kitcliffe, Piethorne, Norman Hill, Hanging Lees and Rooden; six in all.
These days we often walk up through the hills, the Pennines here loom above our house. The days of rain are plentiful for sure and water's still collecting in the ponds.
We fish and tell the children to beware of cold deep currents pulsing through each sluice connecting name with name, each stepping down from these heights to the towns below; Oldham, Rochdale, New Hey and Milnrow.
These reservoirs hold something more as well; tales of how we colonise the land to make it home. As geese have, so do we.
Masked up, we get out on the street, incognito robber, anarchist, unidentifiable by friends, clues of facial recognition gone. Wiped away, the half ironic smile, the pursed lips of dubiety, lipstick red and smeared behind the cloth.
We're beating back invisibility, microbes part suspended in the air; collapsing lungs, organs closing down indicate that time is running out. We're hiding from ourselves what this means, the hourglass is quickly emptying and there's no hand to turn it up again.
A January frost glistens under the station lights as the early shift, shuffling their feet, test for footholds, find the slipping points, ponder whether to apply winter precautions. The 5.32 rounds the down bend splashing ice sparks. A thunder flash arcs an electric glare that grazes retinas, illuminates in blue the pre-dawn morning. Ice is falling from the stars and the globular moon, setting over the station, is a frost machine. But now it is spreading time, casting salt as a sower casts seeds, as if there were fields to fertilise and not these dark stones petrified by January frost.
In the Garden and the Kitchen
I see you, fingers dug in soil,
kneeling down, close to the earth.
Starlings startle you in the trees,
You look up quickly, hair strands flying around your face,
sunlight striking over your cheeks,
striding down the seedling line
where peas shouldering through sample it.
You crouch again and feel the dampness on your knees.
You stand silent in the kitchen
pulling off your earthy boots,
one leg braced against a chair.
The evening sun is slanting through the open door
polishing pots on the sills,
tiny dust specks glinting, shining in your hair.
Get out the OS one inch scale
No.58, if that's the one
we made most progress on
last time we lacked direction.
Spread it on the floor,
I'll clear up the cups,
the pepper vodka,
the remains of the sweet and sour
we had last night or the night before.
How is it that the place
you want is always on
the edge of adjacent maps,
one of which you haven't got,
the other in need of refolding
so paths are easier to spot?
And wrestling the thing to see
what PH means becomes
a manoeuvre of unique agility.
There are places here you'd never
think you'd see. A pub where
last orders were called last year,
a stream sewn with trout,
a church inside of which
a women kneels devout,
for all we know not one thing of her
or why she prays in this church
with spire, by a coffee stain.
And so, to get our bearings,
once we place the compass
like yarrow stalks thrown randomly,
the needle's a blur of magnetic rain
pointing out our new direction;
somewhere north-west of lost.
The drums beat on as we clear our ears and wait on answers Blair can't give. We question what he thinks he means. The children of Baghdad sleep on, air hums with lessons hard to understand, like a dose of napalm. Vietnam haunts our past, horrors we can't name or even bear to think about: a girl stripped of skin with open hands. The gall is what enrages most, although we too legitimise those things we know they do.
Perhaps we have invoked the Lionheart, a rampage through those countless other lives, sanctified within the vicious heat of his belief; profit legalised by a sword or suicide bomber in a car intent on virgins and the peace they bring. A girdling up, existence past all care of infants in the dust, their stare benign, bewildered by that blightedness the race to covet souls and oil seems to embrace.
It's said we've seen this many times before. Take Potemkin's rage against the far from certain Turks, Napoleon in Egypt, the Siege of Stalingrad when Hitler groped the deadly teats of Mother Russia, Mai Lai, Verdun, Gallipoli's southern shore; a carpet laid with young and fragile flesh consumed before the Gorgon's staring flash. We take account of what is dearly paid, this disequivalence of the betrayed.
I was raised with names my dad took from his dead two comrades, lying still beneath the sand they fell upon, carrying out the deed commissioned from a bunkered Thames. They send these young men in their place to fight the fiend. They told young Arthur Wesney his place in time is assured by sacrifice; a theme refined by martyrs ever heading to their tombs. Young David Baker's limbs spread by a mine foreshadowed Laos, Cambodia, Palestine.
When you retired you took up the saxophone And blew it in a slow, warm-hearted way That made me wish I too could learn to play With your quirky, off-beat, kind, melodious tone. I'll miss the chats we'll now no longer have Of football, friends, politics, Palestine, How I'd laugh at your observations, The way you'd giggle quietly at mine, With a beer or two to guide our conversations. I loved you for the way you made your own Your wry, unassuming attitude, How you were for the many, not the few. Now you've died, I'll take up the saxophone And blow it slow, in remembrance of you.