I Remember the Fens

Miles of horizons—
Flat fertile fields—
Thick black soil—
drained by Dutch expertise.
The Fens can give you a picture meaning for
bleak and desolate.

The fen-moggie owes fealty to no lord.
As he marsh glides, he is the monarch of monotony.
Farmer, fisher, fowler, his flag is a yellow iris
bordered by purple loosestrife.
His incense is the creamy smell of Meadowsweet.
In that contrary way, the dyke is the ditch,
not the bank—
and the reward for—jumpdyke—
is two reed-lacerated legs.

Winter winds straight from Russia
iced the dykes and blew rushes rigid.
Trapped at the edge of glazed ditches
they stood like frozen pikes on sentry duty—
at the skaters’ parade.

In Spring hopeful jam jars were homes
to handfuls of frogspawn.
Clear slippery black-flecked jelly,
that fell in strings through your fingers,
and was watched until little commas flicked
and bucked into hatching.

Down the dyke on a summer evening
meant snail races for the young—
called Hodneydods.
For the rude teen
a blanket covered the reed bed
to pave the way for the first lay.
Cycling the flat track between the beet fields
you have known what—alone—is.

In Autumn the meeting places drowned in rain.
The long embankments that used to be
tumbledown places
were now an overflow drain.
An old man stood like a tethered heron
watching a wide weather filled sky,
until light fail at nightfall.
He would not eat or sleep
until he was sure that
the notched stick had marked a place
that was safe from the banked Ouse spills.
Mindful, that if a swollen river roves—
there will be no more Black Horse Drove.