Peter Riley


Up to Old Chamber again by the shining road

bedecked in stone, a hump in the middle

for the horse and a dip either side for the cart.


A product of continued work, like the vast underground

labyrinths created by the Cornish miners, like

a refugee support group at the very heart


of possible action within the bounds

of Greater Manchester. We pass the honesty box

where the same old dog leaves us alone,


and continue, for there is always more,

Pinnacle Lane riding the shelving

of the upper valley side long and straight


between stone walls, and wet underfoot

at gated hollows. Fully open road, with

no ghosts in it now, no ancestors or authors.


They couldn’t compete with the cold cruelty

of the carers, those whose duty it is

to care what becomes of us and couldn’t less.


Unmeant words clog our ears, false promises

gag our throats. All we have learned

is being sent to waste and the road through Hell


never reaches the border. Up here we count our progress

in centuries, in stone sinking through earth.

O powerful western fallen star! O not Mrs Thatcher!


Comfort us, serve us our lunch, show us

a right of way through to the light at the end

of the night and a reason to bother thinking.


Walking, we go at walking speed, and so miss

nothing, the faint squeaking in the grass, the clicking

of gorse, the burning oilfield beyond the horizon.


Powerful western fallen star, lie down there,

on the town, flex your body to the angles

of hill and river, and listen. This town for


all its jubilee partakes of the condition of the nation.

Geese fly over, frogs crouch under, owls laugh in despair

at the heaven-bound tricksters that we failed to oppose


being too busy proving how radical we were.

We cough twice and ride the upper lip

of a noble clough all the way down to the Co-op.


That night that band at that club. Seeking

signs of optimism. It was announced that

someone had just  had a baby


and the place went mad. It seemed that

shining angels rose from between the floorboards

in bright uniforms, prepared to act.


And later the clicking of a passing train

along the valley. The skills people have.

The patience they endure.


Old Chamber. A farm situated high up the south side of the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire.

Honesty box. A hut beside the track where passing walkers can get drinks and snacks. It is unattended and customers leave the money in a box.

Co-op. A retail store of The Co-operative Group,  a British consumer co-operative.  

That band at that club. These are recognised because mentioned earlier in the sequence: a local band called Mr Wilson’s Second Liners, and the Hebden Bridge Trades Club.

Powerful western fallen star:  Whitman’s form of address to Lincoln, when he died.



Peter Riley was born in 1940 and recently retired to Yorkshire after living for 28 years in Cambridge. He is the author of an heap of books and pamphlets, most recently two pamphlets issued by Calder Valley Poetry, Pennine Tales 2016 and Hushings 2017. Shearsman published Dawn Songs, three  essays on music, in 2017, and a two-volume Collected Poems in September 2018, which assembles poetry and poetical prose from 1962 to 2017.