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.