The Mountain Pass

The Mountain Pass

The Mountain Pass is a leave-taking, on life and on poetry. I shall probably not write much more, bar a few pieces still on the blocks, and no doubt some Russian translations. The unrealised hopes of youth, the sobering experiences of middle age, and now the many friends and places that I shall not see again, are settling into the outlines of a distant finality.  So any life ends, I imagine for someone who looks back on a long and varied existence in the wilder parts of this world. The reminiscences are doubtless individual, and probably more in the nature of a 'sentimental education', but I hope these vignettes with their accumulating reflections are sufficiently crafted to speak to others.

Each of the twenty sections contains 8 stanzas of stanzas rhymed abba, and is followed by 4 stanza rhymed abab. Often the rhyme words are repeated in different context, which allows key elements to appear in different guises throughout the work. A free ebook in pdf format.

Excerpt:

5. My Best Friend

And so the days come back, and we remember
the journeys planned, the stops we both detrained
at, beckoning seaside towns before we gained
skies scattering leaves into a late December.

The long, unwanted, talked-of walking tours
through coloured interludes of Cotswold vales
towards a misted, slate-pressed, gritted Wales,
that left us mendicants on barren moors.

The blistering falling-outs, the brilliant nights
beneath the star-bright clusters: all around
was water listening to itself, a gathering sound
that led to workings and their mineral rights.

The women met, their warm, enchanting laugh
as verities with names, where each one leans
from strapped indulgencies in top and jeans
to shaped proprieties on our behalf.

The hesitations in the leaves, the breath-held air,
the wood’s fine denier against the sky,
a sense of life unending to deny
the sad mortality our bodies bear.

And then the falling out, the two ways cursed
by changing temperaments and not design.
Where are you now, that one-time friend of mine?
Through all discouragements you stayed the first.

How can that world we planned be lost, the what
we saved our hard-pressed extra earnings for,
the blonde, the heavy kiss and maybe more
our weekly B-film actor always got?

We’d build an aeroplane or take to trade,
would measure out the world in giant’s ell,
but not for you to sense the deep-sea swell
or keep to promises you never made.


6. To Be Alive


The years fill up and fade away. We stare
at those embodiments of how we were,
the photograph, the boyish features, share
of ways now settled where no sleepers stir.

And curse compliance or the cowardice,
the sensible small steps we took instead,
the pursed, perfunctory and spouse’s kiss,
when life’s the entity that we should wed

with all our being, and in her steps reach out
across the sovereignties we’ve yet to know,
as though that giving of ourselves should flout
the small-town verities as on we go

to that high summit where the sunlight shone
but briefly, errant on the childhood slopes,
with jobs and status, slowly climbing on
to vague and shifting, evanescent hopes.