March

 

I have been enthralled by Robert Macfarlane's new book, 'Landmarks' with its amazing glossary of landscape words.  I remembered a poem I wrote some time ago, perhaps particularly the last line.

 

The Naming of Forests

 

I wake to the drop of acorns rattling,

knocking through the rigging in this, a mast year.

I drift to the wave and the whisper of the leaves,

the wind caressing the sails, rocking

my ship of a forest.

 

Curled italics on old folded charts

of the farms give words to these woods, etched

on the maps like islands in an ocean of fields,

the explorers who claimed them outlived by the names

which they gave them.

 

Long gone the Saxon fired by Neen Savage,

long gone the Mortimers, holding the border,

long gone the farmers who signatures lie

only in circles of bark: Taylor’s Orls, Harry’s Low,

and Alveley’s Nigh.

.

But the names are still known to foresters thinning

the timber, jotted down on the back of a packet

of fags for keepers boys feeding the pheasants,

let slip for a fiver from the palm of traveller,

mistletoe money.

 

Names take themselves down to the roots,

until their consonants are woodpeckers,

their vowels are the screech of an owl, their letters

fly from the branches like flags from the crosstrees,

their etymology, acorns.