Martyn Halsall

Staff & Visiting the Trees

Martyn Halsall

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Something to support music, a stave

to place the pitch of a note, or staff

usually wooden, as song out of a wood.

Here hazel, with a slight bend in its sound

where years grew into a tree, foot shod

with metal ferrule, lanyard threaded to rest

wrist for poise uphill, like a skier's stroke.

Top rounded to a chestnut burnish for the heel

of hand to steady as you come downhill.

I take it for first walk up a sunken track

carter and rover would have known as a main road.

Something of an introduction, an apprentice wood

meeting the oak that's stood five hundred years,

the spilt beech that stands on, the hazel shaft

picking its way like axe head silvering kindling.

Comfort over churned and tractored ground, the change

from discipline of rod and staff, no sentence

in ease of trees, centuries of symphonies:

or staff as in the pub where we order food,

each bearing a bowl of full moon in rainwater.

Visiting the Trees

Sometimes he'd drive without a shopping list

just to see trees, rare leafing on that island,

past first loch's reach of sky, down single tracks

to the pour and swoop of the main road lead with light.

Two stags barely bothered to watch him through

tapestries of showers. On the driver's side

elastic moorland was as much water as ground,

sky rolled up like a blind, then, gathering round,

what passed for suburbs; labelled streets, numbers, lamps.

Woods' suddenness, always; strange shelter after distance,

green air above tarmac, studied Victorian planting;

that same Englishness as colony, philanthropy,

enclosing the mock castle, conditioning rock and harbour

to a prospect. Then, list: sycamore, ash, beech, oak;

marmalade, bacon, teabags, bread from Morag's.

Notebooks, biros, library, wedding tweed.

He stayed among trees until first shops blinked open,

looking up to their crowns, hearing Gaelic song for leaves

after usual tides' discussion, and winds' insistence.

He sensed their gradual shadows and historic damp,

birch paper texture, cross-hatched bark of ash,

stories they held, still, of the Englishman

noted in partial history in tourist pamphlets,

with careful phrasing about 'commercial problems'.

He added: 'Clan plaid for reception' and 'order roses,

check ferries, malt, the gift of Harris chessmen.

Collect the peats for when the wood runs out'.

Martyn Halsall

Martyn Halsall is a retired journalist, writing, and reviewing poetry at home in West Cumbria. Poems written during his year as the first Poet in Residence at Carlisle Cathedral were published in his collection Sanctuary, (Canterbury Press),and in June his pamphlet Coronach was published by Wayleave Press.