My selves in a wood; Towpath

My selves in a wood

How was I messing in flushes and ditches
outside all that time, when a few steps
in every flyaway strand of me

earthed, and (gentle) was sifted by slim
serried birch, the slanted oak quiet.

The path—the path was a basket and carried
us. Any bend, any rise and flanks
of field maple, sycamore, spindle crowded
to meet us. What’s here and what’s not
was a question for the wind swung
far up in the wildwood’s acoustic.

Nor can I tell why the grain of us
shifting and settling sanely (these selves
of my self) stayed gated behind the wood’s
winter bars of spareness | slowness
straight-standing | straitenedness
when that wasn’t it.

Had we heard the little twists
of birdsong thrown like sweets
between the trees, seen the bolts of gauzy
sunlight loosed along the floor, snow-
drop republics declared
among the pine cones—

I had only to touch the leaf scales
callousing the beech and fingered
ash to reach it—spring’s lick,
its blistering quick, flame lit
from an ember in the heartwood.

Last night down here a bonfire leapt
for the new (unrisen) moon, while willows
fished from the far bank, casting the burnished
water and vast eclipses of themselves.

The bike’s flash stapled the dark again
and shapes shut back to shadows, when
a mayfly generation rushed
the pixellating air—

flying their minute lives (their loves)
in curtains over the river. Up to
the boathouse almost (risen whole,
resolved), its ranked high windows blank

yet burning—as though a journey of different
order were being readied below sight.
Light blands (does it?)—at least, this morning
holds no trace. Instead the dew-slack
(summer’s frost) trembles to the trespass
of each step; nothing looms.

Those are the willows, their wishes turned
to down broadcasting the wind. And of
the mayfly hatch? The river twists
a shrug, the married ducks won’t tell.

And these . . . these lantern-headed flags,
do they hold boathouse “after-light”?
(A boathouse that’s dawned shabby and grey.)
Feet wet, erect, ablaze—near them

on the drying bank, like sun dogs,
campion and dove’s foot cranesbill colour.