On the Roaches
Afternoon in late April
cold under lumbering cloud,
descend between moss'd trees
unleafed and half in leaf,
among grey shapes in stone,
fallen legendary giants
asleep in the upspring
of bilberry and heather.
Earth gapes suddenly to reveal
a rock-walled underworld
narrowing near shoulder width.
Grass tufts peer over the edge;
a tree rooted in the cleft
lifts its head like one emerging
from a tomb. Here in Lud's church,
Gawaine encountered the Green Knight.
We listen to their tale, survivor
from a remote generation;
our re-shaping of its words
sounds among green ancient trees
the same rocks overhanging.
Along the ridge to Roach End
shapes of landscape seen and named
pronounce another mystery
more ancient even than Gawaine;
Roaches, Hen Cloud, Shuttlingslowe,
Cloud's End, with more distant Mow Cop
peering over its shoulder.
Stray flakes float on the wind
like torn paper, then suddenly
a magic stone whirls in the air
Tucked under the cliff overhang,
among scattered boulders and trees,
the cottage, becastled,
mock-Gothic, lifts a faint blue blade
of chimney smoke. The hermit,
greets us as true pilgrims
have always been greeted,
with a story. Though of their world
it is not Sir Gawaine
or the Green Knight he tells,
not even in this enchanted place
or barely-opened greenery,
where substance and shadow are one,
seen and half seen.
No, it is a monstrous tale
of attempted eviction
and greedy inheritors
he has resisted year by year
in vain lopping off heads which grow
the more he cuts. Next year
he will not be here; he gestures
and with a magician's sense of timing
vanishes into his fortress.
We climb the Cliff face by steps
the moment revealed, and emerge
once more into the wind and whirling snow.
The landscape clears. Pointed peaks oppose
blue levels of that Cheshire plain,
where Jodrell Bank cups to catch
at hints of other worlds, none, surely,
stranger than this. Yellow claw-scars
mark worked-out sand quarries,
lorries grind through tough gradients
on the Leek-Buxton road,
and Sir Gawaine haunts the dark ravine,
waiting to attempt once more
his ghostly adversary.
Copyright © Bernard Gilhooly - All Rights Reserved