Photo by Gary Butterfield
The below poems are taken from Clare’s new collection The Mulberry Tree, forthcoming from Shoestring Press later this year.
The Whispering Land
Out on the fell in the wind-staunch houses, someone will come in from the weather, take off the bluster of their coat, knock mud from boots inside the fiercely closed door. The fire lit to claw back warmth from the wind’s boom, vans parked up beside the hen coop: those who live here have room above their heads, know the ground below their feet. There are walks over thrown stepping stones, grey stone bridges, and valleys to drive through between lit doors. The old trees fill with leaves every summer, their shadowy tunnel omert; corridors to walk through unseen. Until meeting, in the sandstone towns, streets are greened with conversation and long dreams born from the whispering land: water’s rising, marshed fields. I think of them as the people of the sky, the fabric of the place turned and spun from horizons, where to be is enough.
*omert densely covered by trees. Cumbrian dialect
Shophill Cottage, Kirkhouse
We enter upstairs into what once was the eaves used for the storage of bolts of cloth, strong cotton, pairs of boots. Now through the windows, there’s a view of the farm, square with fan windows, solid with years and a flock of sheep. It was a peopled place, needing a shop, a counter to lean on, scratch of a pen somewhere to visit for meeting and gossip. The track by the wall once was a railway that carried limestone from mines for fired bricks to make houses. Is this why the house holds us so gently, finding society in our footsteps, our shouts between rooms? The hill wives have left no ghosts of the years they arrived out of wild weather. The place left to settle and creak, in a slow rise of dust, miles from anywhere, no longer an empty house on the road.
At the shallow gravelled beck, water has grown harebells, fragile and blue. Beyond the streets and bridges the roads I walked to work. Among the sandstone houses, this is the place that held me with its low mossed walls, curve of fells and valleys, answering back only in silence and weather. Under the blackthorn tree, suddenly I am walking fields with my first love, in sweeping red-berried snow. And behind the white blossom hawthorn hedges, my mother and father sit opposite each other, talking by the fire. The hawthorn and the rowan, giving definition to what might be called belonging, might be called home and is a heartwood. Like a lost map of years ago: a history written on the land, caught in the light-filled windows of white farms and the ripening sloes.