Monday, June 05, 2006

Familiar Signs















Pendle Hill from the north
– not for the weak-kneed.
Out of Downham, like Dante,
on serious slopes you climb
the moor till it glowers
point blank, defiant.

The Guardian called it
‘a moderate walk.’ It is,
from an armchair, on the internet.

Short of oxygen, we struggle
up zigzags past astounded sheep.
Holding the view for a moment
truth flows in:

they hanged the Pendle Witches
but three familiars
Tibb, Fancie and Dandy
shapeshifting from dog
to cat to bear to hare
were never brought to book.

“Tibb once pushed a witch
into a ditch just like this one.”
As I speak, a huge hare breaks cover.

When you wake up at three,
pull back the curtain, it’s easy
to see them swirling on the starpoints,
their baked effigies crumbling in the sparks:

you’ll hear cackling, distant
screams scouring the night,
you’ll feel that gale of recrimination
that bites the scree-slopes, you’ll
understand once you’ve tasted the air
among the cloudberries on Pendle Hill.

Until then, a lame beggar asking
for one penny, a neighbour wanting
an old shirt, a black-eyed woman digging
turf at sunrise: these are the surest of signs.

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