Sometimes poetry doesn’t happen. One needs more space to work things out, to play around with what you’ve got until you know it well, have felt its worth, weighed it up and reckoned it.
You go somewhere a little known. The location is not a complete surprise, but time and circumstance newly fashion its affect. Is it really eight years since last you were here? Then it was late autumn, now it’s summer’s end.
It’s sad my driving worries you. You drive with me, in a state of constant anticipation, making sure the speed is legal, the line of car to the road is straight. Often, your left hand reaches involuntarily for the door-handle restraint. The more I try to be steady, the worse it seems to become. But today I hand you the keys before you can ask: so that we may start this journey well. Since early morning the sun has shone, and as we head north the clouds assume great floating forms, magisterial, ermine-cloaked.
I like to watch you when you drive. I think it’s the pleasing proportion of your seated self, the body and limbs often motionless in their purposeful position. I look at your profile, the flow of your hair hiding your ears, the cleft and point of your chin, your nose I love to stroke with my nose, the wide mouth whose lips don’t fit my lips when we kiss, and this morning a warm glow on your left cheek.
We have become so careful you and I, with what we say and the way we say it. Politeness, attention to detail, purposeful decision-making, we both make allowances, keeping the conversation airborne, the tone steady, the content ‘of interest’.
After ninety miles it’s good to get out the car, good to get out in a village now bypassed by the main road, a quiet place. A church rises above the village and like a former coaching inn next to its gates faces down a wide street of 18C houses. Scattered variously there are a few unusual shops – wooden toys and metalled stoves. Here we prepare for the next stage of this journeying. On bicycles we’ll take minor roads to the coast.
At the top, after a steep climb out of the village, there it is: the sea. Since childhood that sighting moment has remained special. There’s a lifting of the spirit. The day remains fine, but a cool wind from the land is soon at our backs (you take care not to be cold and wear a scarf around your neck and ears). After just a few miles, we turn gratefully onto a very minor road where cycling becomes a pleasure. Passing vehicles are occasional and we are not continually pressed hard to the kerbside by speeding traffic. We could ride companionably side-by-side, but we don’t.
There is time to look about, to take in the dip and fold of fields and hedges, the punctuating farms and their ribbons of road. A fine manor house rises out of a forest of trees climbing in coniferous ranks to a limestone escarpment. On the breast of a hill we come upon a tapering stone tower that assumes the point from which the rolling landscape’s perspective flows. There’s a combine at the edge of a field and later its grain ‘tender’ heavy-laden meets us on a narrow bend. At a former mill a weir, where the greenest of green shade over water is too vivid not to photograph. Passing a row of cottages an elderly couple, sitting on their front porch, smile at our friendly wave. Above, swallows dart and spin.
A main road interrupts this idyll, and after a long straight ride with the sea a distant backdrop, we arrive at a coastal village overwhelmed by its recumbent castle. Lunch is eaten in a quiet corner of an ancient churchyard. Crows gather on the stubble in an adjacent field. We sit on a bench in the sunshine, though a cloudy afternoon beckons in the west. Later inside the church, where one of the northern saints is laid to rest, an unsteady light plays variously across the stone statues of the sanctuary.
Distance and a head wind begin to strain the calm confidence of the morning. Perhaps we have come too far and expect too much of ourselves? It is cheering though to beat the rain back to the car six miles hence.
Ten miles further up the coast the tide has retreated across a horizon-reaching expanse of sand and mud; it leaves a narrow causeway to an island beyond. It is a long way to its disappointing village full of car-borne visitors, attendant dogs and tired children. There, a little apart from these tourists, we sit to look out upon a further but tiny island where another northern saint found solitude. Wading into the cold sea he would face the setting sun as it fell into the folds of distant hills: to pray until dawn.
You are so tired when we reach the hotel. You are so tired. Our en suite room holds an enormous bed and a large long bath. From its window just a slice of sea can be seen in a gap between houses. I insist, for your sake, on immediate food and soon the strain on your pale, day-worn face begins to disappear and some colour returns as you eat. I catch your eyes smiling – for a brief moment. Oh, your green eyes, my undoing, so full of a sadness I have never fathomed. How often my memory returns to another room where one afternoon, newly married, we were the dearest lovers. In its strange half-light I caressed your long nakedness over and over, my hands and body visiting every part of you – and your dear face full of peace and joy.
As dusk falls we walk down the village’s only street to view the sand and sea. Then to bed and hardly a page turned before you seek the sleep you need. I soak gratefully in the large bath. After engaging in a ‘difficult’ book for a few minutes, I soon turn off my light. But I am restless and the bed is hard. So I begin to reassemble the day moment-by-moment, later to dream strangely and sporadically until dawn breaks.