Below are four poems from the sequence ‘Antigeorgics’ by James Brookes, which appears in his second full collection, Spoils, published this month by Offord Road Books. Spoils is being launched at The Crown Tavern, Clerkenwell, on Tuesday 20th February: all are welcome. Event details here.
Tapsel Gate, Jevington
Pivot the year; the cold revolving door half-sticking in the frost. The weather lifts over the South Downs, bearing as before its poison pen love letters, stalker’s gifts, and moves inland to numb the limbs of Horsham. Sussex never rowed its own coracle; it might have once careered an essedum. No henge at equinox its oracle, just grand and petulant intransigence. Patriotism? No. I don’t lack the lingo – no matter what I might offer in my defence these jangled syllables stay the chains of jingo – but can I say aloud that my sort spoiled the world without that sly inflection of self-pity I cannot shift for money or for love? The Sussex motto is we wunt be druv.
Sun up, first Sunday after Candlemas. I took the corpse road through first frost, vision prickled with lens flare as though I’d taken a blow to the head or been dead drunk and only just come to. I couldn’t pick out the orange flowers of narthecium ossifragum, that’ll brittle the bones of the yearling lambs, the Lancashire asphodel, that which ought not to do down here. I well know the flare of a corpse candle to be no such thing, a barn owl’s bioluminescent wingtip, its barrel roll over the hollow of an elm crippled by honey fungus smearing my path with the enzyme ‘luciferase’. To Warnham’s living lychgate, then, its arch of thickening yew like the new year: not death but a vital and lustrous darkness. On the way back, a hare shone in the narthex of its form.
A riven tree stump, its growth rings slick with rain: the guilloche patterns cut by a rose-engine lathe and bound in translucent enamel like Fabergé's eggs.
In temples and fanes like this, in sapwood, in heartwood, the deathwatch beetle hides its recusancy, its precious doomsday devices.
The hairs on its legs and back look fire-gilded, an amalgam of gold and volatised mercury adhering to each tiny filament.
Its ticking is not like a watch but syncopated; the misfiring of that two-stroke jalopy moped Giles scudded across the fields, Warnham to Slinfold
with me, riding pillion deadweight on the mudguard clenched and crooked-of-limb, sincerely at prayer, my heartbeat an echo of tell-tale vacancy
that brings to mind the deathwatch beetle’s news: the consecrated host is in its pyx; the outboard motor idles on the Styx.
Sussex in excelsis, in midwinter blazon: deciduous bronze; patinated evergreen; fire-grimed iron; colostrum-hued Horsham stone. The newborn soils muslin with rich meconium, dark as wrapped silage but almost without perfume. The roundheaded rampion biding beneath loam. Rejoice then, my martlet, your county calls you home. Rejoice then, my county, your failure calls you home.