From where I stand high on the hill behind the house, I see far below a few square yards of land enclosed in wrought-iron palings. The weeds within the fence are long and yellow-brown, all stiff and straight like bound and waiting hay.
I played on these brown hills when younger; dragged a wooden sled up rough-clay slopes. Then panting at the top, I’d belly down and rocket through the summer grass, my skinny legs behind for thistle, gorse and thorn to bite and sting.
At the end of the day I’d pull my ugly little contraption home and let my mother dab iodine on the cuts and scratches. Standing stoic and doing my best to appear bored. Ah.
In folds of the earth
between dead, rolling brown hills
green ferns shade streams.
I choose a path to the little graveyard. If I were to take the shorter route, go straight down the steep slope to reach the valley, I would need to negotiate the huge dam of dark water cut into the hillside. I’m not sure my old arthritic hips would last the journey. I shade my eyes against the mid-morning sun. Even from here I can see where frogs ripple the water, and in the heavy mud surrounding the dam, deep sucking hoof-prints of wild cattle.
I decide to take the longer path to the left, down a gentler slope, skirt the dam then through a copse of sleeping broad-leafed trees.
Among the trees, the sun has gone, cool branches stroke my face and my boots sink easily into the soft damp earth. After a few minutes walk I sit on a rock to catch my breath. The air is heavy and still. No sound at all. I look down and see that my feet are firmly in the path of a line of ants. One by one they rush to bump into my left boot, investigate briefly then turn and scuttle back, pausing to talk to their rushing fellows as they pass. But the message is not received. Still they come. Run, bump, return.
In the dark moist earth
neon toadstools stand quietly
Ten years before, my brother Ian wrote to tell me that our Mum and Dad had both died, that I probably didn’t care, and that was that. I didn’t return home. What would I be returning to?
I continue through the gloom under the trees until I break out into the bright sunlight, just fifty yards from the little fence
As I walk slowly towards the tiny cemetery the coarse grass whistles against my jeans and the earth feels harsh after the moist leaf-mould under the trees.
I walk around the fence and find the gate on the far side. The catch has rusted tight. I kick it a few times but it remains closed. I struggle over the fence, carefully lifting each leg clear of the spikes Pushing through the tops of the brittle grass are two flat, grey stones.
. Crouching before one of the stones I press the grass down so that I can read the inscription. My Dad’s name is there, along with his birth and death dates. The letters and numbers are roughly formed and I feel that perhaps they were carved by a friend rather than by a professional. My Mother’s stone is inscribed in the same amateur but loving way.
I decide to return to the house by way of the dam; up the steeper slope, through the whistling grass.
The long, gentle grass
parts to admit the walker
but closes behind.