Outside, empty night air: fingers tingling
with the first buzz of feral, biting cold.
A hilltop, a farm gate, leant against a wall
of newly-built, blanketed black. Then –
suddenly, the night is pulled back, gliding
on unseen curtain rails- far lights on distant hills,
a pinpricked streetlight town as scattered
as my own thrown, blown thoughts.
Around, an epiphany of pines holding them tight:
a lover’s mess of dark and still and wakefulness,
as if the town is staying up late and reading in bed.
Slowly, a pair of headlights join the glow worm dots,
the distant engine softening the sharp silence of sleep.
My dull legs are rooted: arms stretch out to touch the cold
and I know, of all the endless, hidden nights on this earth,
this spot is where I want to be: alone, a slight speck
in the seven billion, given the earth for this reverberating moment.
I will leave: I will eat dinner, I will watch telly, I will read
but, for now, it is enough to see this, to be here:
a surprised witness to the vaulted leap of an invisible sky
above the secret sleepwalkings of the unconscious earth.
Survival of the Fittest
It jumps from the telegraph pole on that lane we sometimes walk down
(the one that traces the hill like a pencil round the earth’s spread hand) –
it falls, tumbles, plummets to the ground, seeming to give up halfway down
as if its skull’s already broken in anticipation of the deadening crunch.
I can hear your voice in my mind as I watched its first and last flight:
“It’s only natural.” you say. “Some don’t survive the first attempt.
They fall from the nest, the mother can’t help them. Only the strongest wins.”
The metaphor positively seeps through the evening air towards me.
And as I turn away from the roadside, and begin the walk back home
I glimpse a baby owl skidding along the earth of the field, wings hardly moving,
off to hunt mice you had thought were safe.
(after ‘Adlestrop’ by Edward Thomas)
No, it was not quiet there.
There, wrapped in the sound of the stream
(water on rocks on water, the clack and gargle of time)
the world was unmistakably, unstoppably alive.
The fidgeting of birds flitting blindly above the path,
their calls mixing in chorus with the deep, shoe-felt thud
of a distant tractor somewhere down the valley.
And then, the everywhere creaking of talkative trees,
subtle and constant at breath, whilst the world seemed
wrapped up in the all-pervading odour of wild garlic.
No, it was not quiet there. But nor was it noisy.
Instead, it was unquiet. The rhythmic, regular sound
of a morning 4.5 billion years in the making:
of the world’s daily, shy jubilance and thrum.
If you stood very still, you could feel the Earth turning on its axis.
From somewhere nearby, the sound of a woodpecker
floated, disembodied, through the trees.
Ben Ray is an accomplished young poet from the Welsh Borders. His work has been published in various local journals and newspapers. He was previously Herefordshire Young Poet Laureate, and currently publishes Slap, a journal of poetry by Oxford University students. As well as studying History at Oxford University, Ben was recently shortlisted for the 2016 Martin Starkie Poetry Award, and has just published his first collection of poetry, After the Poet, the Bar, with Indigo Dreams Publishing, having won the Geoff Stevens Memorial Prize.