Issue 5

Peter Sirr
Continual Visit

Somehow a wilderness grows. The grasses
are full of small animals, the nights so absolute
you could haul yourself through blackness to the stars
and stream down like a stray god on the meadow.

The lake shifts and startles, a vixen cries from her lair.
The cottage veers and shakes and makes
like a mad thing for the trees. If there is a dog
he is barking now, shocked head pummelling air.

If there are foxes they are running, if the dead
have spilled from their fields they are here now
running headlong into the night. They are lost
and their gods with them, running down the narrow
lanes, leaping into hedgerows and ditches, mingling
with ash branches, rushes, the sleeping machines in their sheds.


To be loosed like that, streaming through the black countryside
or stopped somewhere, holed up in a ditch, stretched
on a bale under the whistling galvanise
as you forget the thin strands you died with

and darkness floats your whole life down, the whole span
settles on skin and hair, everything you were
like branches come together, a forest
of small touches. Here you are

yourself completely, so completely
your fingertips reach the lake
your body drifts and falls like mist on the fields
and all your hours rain down. . .

There’s not a blade of grass here that doesn’t have your breath on it
before the sun burns you back to darkness again.


Who owns this land, these trees, these birds
pouring through the morning? I’ve come here
emptyhanded to harvest the wind on my face
the secrecies of place. Star-gathering, lake-stalking

pilgrim head plugged in to draw the powers
out of what my leisure falls on

as tractors roar, lights come on in the yards
and machinery shreds the dark. Cattle
thunder past, a sheepdog barks
from the back of a jeep and a two-stroke engine
puts manners on the hedgerows. The whole
powered world is roaring its purpose

where silently I stand and focus my lens
on the bookish meadow with its subplot of swans.


The little jetty sinking in the rushes, hard to find.
Who has no house now will hang his hat
on the ramshackle, the provisional, a summer’s

quick labour; will sit for hours inheriting a silence
stitched with warblers and lake tunes. Hermit
of the wetlands, sleep on reeds, sleep on water:

everything else can wait. The streets have flown
the traffic vanished, and only the dark
comes on in the dark. Cock your ear and a tradition

opens: you can still get in, you can sing
until the edicts are unfrozen
the palaces forgotten, until the dogs start barking

and the neighbour’s Toyota comes creeping down the lane
to sniff you out and pin you down.


That it’s all
exile and interlude, that the grass
escapes me, the implements hang heavy in my hands

that the roads are narrow but the wind is mine
the wind and the rain and the big skies, the light
spilled and gathered, deck after deck of it

that all it amounts to is ash leaves, angles
shapes and shifts, a forgetting
as the rain forgets itself and the lake repeats

the same first thought, that wherever we turn
is on its umpteenth rerun
that when it comes to earth or air or water

the miracle is the walking as if you’d never entered
as if you’d never been there.


You could stand here passing things back and forth.
The rusted clasps snap open and from an old suitcase
years spill out. There’s the tune
of a loose brass handle in a beloved door.
Through the window a cockcrow morning
cold flags of a stone floor. The postman sits in the kitchen
the train draws in to the summer station. . .

You could stand there, white-gloved and neutral
ensuring a constant flow. I’m sitting
in my grandfather’s abandoned car
with my foot pressed down into the future
I’m outside the door when the tyres crunch on the gravel
shy hand raised like a gift or signal
searching for something to send back home.


If we could go back and forth. If we could stand on the platform
with the summer ahead of us. If the small car
should renew itself and the road retrieve the journey
the obedient trees retreat, reconfigure, sweep
down again to welcome us. The tin roof
why not, falls back on the old shop
a cold stream fills the bucket. It sways in the hand
spilling drops on the grass like a toll. Wherever
you look fills up and sways, the details
slip to their places. Everything is convinced. Inside
is the ache of furniture, the dreaming
bone-handled knives, blue willow dramas.
The meal is ready, the fêted guests tuck in. My hands
fly through the years, touching everything.


How lightly can you tread it, borrowed
earth, how long rest on reeds and water
the birds and trees between their covers
the firewood laboured, worked-up, the whole place
coming on as if concocted? Implements shine
like a consoling fiction; self-sufficiencies of rain
of the light at the end of the lane
drift through you then fall to nothing
all you can learn is to leave them alone.

All you can learn is to lean on the gable
and watch the lake call out to the sun
all you can do
is stand back and listen to the darkness come.

So stand back. Listen. Let the darkness come.


Like something falling through you
something happened on or woken with
things begin to come. A summer suddenly
repeated and there you are, stretching to it.
Light falls from the side garden, the dogs
have all returned; the radio reaches back and pours
old shows into the kitchen and out
into the sunlit yard. Country music
haunts the rusted Escort, old news
persists; the skeins of gossip hold
and place after place comes on in my head: small
fierce broadcasts, the fields flourishing their one harvest
a single ripple printing the lake, the voices
spilling into the sun as if the thing might stay on.


Where have we been? The window frames a possible garden
through which we seem to be walking. And even if
the place is empty, even if not a speck has travelled
there’s no gainsaying the clarity of these trees, the tune
of the gravel and the hard grey sky of the gathering rain.
Something sends back print after print. The air
opens and there’s a sudden reach from here to there
the nape of your neck peals in the light.

The nape of your neck peals in the light
and I must be, must be gathered inside it
with some kind of tune. The words are sewn
into the stone wall; the shrubs, the slender gates
commemorate them, the sharpening air, our skin
like stone we carved ourselves on, and faded from.


I woke and thought
the place was a dream: house, lake, meadow
sharpening and shimmering like a doubtful gift
continually offered, continually withheld.
I could hardly walk to the end of the lane
without feeling my foolish life resist
the green song, the green light

as if every breath were not
a continual visit, every place the same gift;
as if the planet didn’t sharpen and shimmer
and standing in the lane were not the offer
or as if whatever was resisted could be wrapped again
and like the missed song and the light forsworn
would endlessly return.