Deer

I wrote Deer around this time last year. The very excellent Ash Akhtar read it and decided to do something with it; this short film is the result. The narration is by Chris Fairbank (yes that one) and Ash made the beautiful music under his Suborno moniker. It’s a privilege to have been involved.

You can see more of Ash’s fabulous films and some of our collaborative work over at the Fervent Arts YouTube channel.

Ranging in twilight’s palsied silver, at the summit of autumn’s blaze.
Acorn litter, balled under arches –
Demosthenean props, rolled around the woods’ bronzed gape.
Beyond this, nothing is said.
Instead, we go undeceived, suspended in the updrafts of the old silence.

Rooks roil westward, lint in the eye of the sun’s liquid falling.
We crouch at a field edge, thick with dewy foreshadows;
you gather chestnut husks, the needles lancing your palms.
Then: a studied tilt, a new pressure behind your eyes, and there
not ten feet away, belly-deep, scrape-hidden, a deer. A deer.

Before, I’d carry you out, out to sleep off the afternoon’s bright daydreams,
and the deer would always come. They were your anxious, peering avatars,
come to see this strange two-fronted stalker abroad in their crucible of beech-caught light.
Once, walking through a pixellated summer night, a deer watched us home,
A distant, timid chaperon of dusk’s rough palisades.

Now, as the woods shrink, as time shrinks, acre by sodden acre, they come less frequently.
But I feel them, a soft presence at the edge of things,
a modest, unspoken rapture.
We gather each other, and for the briefest moment I wonder if you’re going to stay.
Not yet, I think; not just yet.

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Plainsong

The forest; a spot just off the road.
Aside from the odd distant car, it’s quiet, still.
The green is deep and various: moss, wild tussocky grass,
the trees in their last flush, the skirts of ferns.
On the heaths and moors, there is a breeze,
but here, sheltered, nothing moves, save for the odd blush
sighing in the oak crowns.
A nuthatch calls. Robins tick and scold.
In the middle distance, I think I hear a willow warbler –
my first of the year – homing for the warm south.
The last of the land’s held heat is dissipating;
the air bears the first rumours of the coming winter edges.

In my muggy oak-held hollow, I think of fires,
I think of night heavy against the windows,
and how days such as these are about gathering –
gathering light and the spaces in-between:
a store, a bulwark against the plight of lengthening dark.
In the tree tops, scurrying armies too gather,
too feel the pull of the north, the coming cold,
the pale backward glances of retreating summer.
It’s in these rifts, these seasonal interstices,
We feel fullest the passage of the flailing hours.
But there is always this forest, these trees;
The resolve that this will pass, will come again.

Thrall

Ranging in twilight’s palsied silver, at the summit of autumn’s blaze.
Acorn litter, balled under arches –
Demosthenean props, rolled around the woods’ bronzed gape.
Beyond this, nothing is said.
Instead, we go undeceived, suspended in the updrafts of the old silence.

Rooks roil westward, lint in the eye of the sun’s liquid falling.
We crouch at a field edge, thick with dewy foreshadows;
you gather chestnut husks, the needles lancing your palms.
Then: a studied tilt, a new pressure behind your eyes, and there
not ten feet away, belly-deep, scrape-hidden, a deer. A deer.

Before, I’d carry you out, out to sleep off the afternoon’s bright daydreams,
and the deer would always come. They were your anxious, peering avatars,
come to see this strange two-fronted stalker abroad in their crucible of beech-caught light.
Once, walking through a pixellated summer night, a deer watched us home,
A distant, timid chaperon of dusk’s rough palisades.

Now, as the woods shrink, as time shrinks, acre by sodden acre, they come less frequently.
But I feel them, a soft presence at the edge of things,
a modest, unspoken rapture.
We gather each other, and for the briefest moment I wonder if you’re going to stay.
Not yet, I think; not just yet.

Wind

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet

Till day rose; then under an orange sky
The hills had new places, and wind wielded
Blade-light, luminous black and emerald,
Flexing like the lens of a mad eye.

At noon I scaled along the house-side as far as
The coal-house door. Once I looked up –
Through the brunt wind that dented the balls of my eyes
The tent of the hills drummed and strained its guyrope,

The fields quivering, the skyline a grimace,
At any second to bang and vanish with a flap;
The wind flung a magpie away and a black-
Back gull bent like an iron bar slowly. The house

Rang like some fine green goblet in the note
That any second would shatter it. Now deep
In chairs, in front of the great fire, we grip
Our hearts and cannot entertain book, thought,

Or each other. We watch the fire blazing,
And feel the roots of the house move, but sit on,
Seeing the window tremble to come in,
Hearing the stones cry out under the horizons

Ted Hughes

Evening, autumn

Whoever you are, go out into the evening – Rilke

There is a quiet magic about at this time of year. It’s something to do with the lessening of the light, and the closing in of the evenings. The hours between, say, 5 and 7pm, take on a new aspect, and you become acutely aware of the fall of darkness, the texture of it. It’s probably just the fact that dusk is simply closer in proximity to the functions of the day but there is something like an adaptive purpose to this noticing, an acclimatising before the winding of the clocks and the heavier darknesses of winter.

I didn’t actually make it out of the house until gone six. The sun had set and what clouds there were had brushed pink undersides while in the east the sky had taken on a deepening mauve colour. It had been a filthy day, a day of squalls and low cloud, the air cross-hatched with drifting ribbons of rain. The ground was sodden and murky; the paths held their first puddles for what seemed like months, and the roadside gullies were frantic with onrushing streams. I approached the woods from the south, where the entrance is through a stand of unruly oaks and hazels, the trees’ lower branches clutching at the ground. The trees only form a thin barrier really, quickly giving way to a blasted patch of recently felled woodland, but by now the entrance-way was dark, dark enough that the clusters of acorns the trees still held onto had a peculiar kind of luminescence about them. I briefly contemplated going back.

The clearing looked unkempt in the slack light and several blackbirds railed against the closing day, scolding incessantly at some unseen assailant. At the centre of the clearing there stood rows and rows of deer-proof plastic cases, each about 4 feet high, and each protecting a young sapling. These were mostly sweet chestnuts, planted to replace those cut down for timber and pulp the year before – they were nearing the top of the opaque green tubing, the topmost leaves furled in on themselves, cramped in their reaching for the light. Every sixth tube or so contained a young oak, way down inside the ribbed plastic and only about a foot off the ground, growing at about a quarter of the pace of the burgeoning chestnuts; but even at this depth, the leaves held a strong lustrous weight. Between the poles the ground was choked with clumps of tussocky grass and low creeping brambles, punctuated with the odd straggly extrusions of dead dock, stiff and rain-blackened.

Into the wood proper and the darkness was heavy, almost complete. The air had that fibrous, textile-like quality, gritty and pixellated. I became unsure of my balance and my vision swam. The magic hour, the time of visions: in the onrush of night, shapes lose their definition, edges blur and morph; root balls become crouching figures, discarded seed casings like tiny open mouths. The land fell away to my left and I could hear the chatter of a woodland stream. In the windless gloom it was like an aural place marker. I fixed my vision on a patch of light in the distance, using that as a guide.

Earlier in the day, I’d gone with R to the garden centre. She had a voucher for a small craft shop there and we’d picked through trays of sequins, and held up to the light other opaque tubes, these stuffed with tiny beaches of glitter. The day had closed around the small wooden building and later, in the cafe, as we fished in our drinks for tiny marshamallows and rain thrashed against the roof, a robin appeared, hopping between feet and tables looking for cake crumbs. Now, as I emerged from the wooded gloom, a robin dropped to the path, silhouetted against the last of the dusklight. It ducked and pecked in that signature see-saw motion, a guardian of the threshold. I had no cake to offer, but murmured my thanks as I passed.

Autumn falls

Horse Chestnut, autumn

Horse Chestnut, autumn

September had been another wet month, the return of the damp dark days of summer. Saturday had been warm, though – like a hole in the sky, a glimpse of what summer might have been. We sat on benches and let the sun heat the bones in our faces. Then: Sunday. It was as if autumn had dropped in over night: mist and cold air, the kind of cold air that nags at your collar gaps and sleeve holes. In the park a robin sang in a scrub of roadside maples, its song bright and silvery in the thin air. In the gaps between the oaks, a stand of dandelions, probably the last of the year – the flower heads remained clutched and uncertain, curled in on themselves. Every surface was slick and shiny, the ivy leaves sheened with a layer of cold steel, the chipped metal bins beaded with drops of moisture. There’s that odd paradoxical thing with mist in that it foreshortens distance and expands it all at once – R barrelled on ahead on a scooter and quickly seemed far away, but her shrieks, high and wild, quickly came back to us, resonating off invisible walls. The Ash held its usual stillness, in places impenetrable like black stone; but in the shallows it rolled along, water from the moors rushing to the Thames. At the Pooh-sticks bridge we found discarded rotten conkers, and made a broad fan from fallen leaves: pin oak, scarlet oak, horse chestnut. The day turned slowly, slowly turning; we left the park to its hanging silence and faded home like spent ghosts.

August, sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

A shock of August cold. By 7 o’clock it was down to 12 degrees, a slicing wind, the skies like bruised ice. Earlier in the summer (such as it was) I’d walked through a farm of patchworked fields. There had been pigs rootling in a vast muddy expanse, bowed like a great furrowed half-pipe; over a stile, through a field margin knotted with hazel and hawthorne, there were successive rectangles of oats, barley and wheat and to the right a thick maze of maize, the cobs barely a fifth mature in their rough casings. The sunflowers, despite being only around knee height, were instantly recognisable. I made a mental note to come back. Now, after a week buried under what felt like a tarp of brooding panic, I needed some sun. I dumped the car on the field edge and climbed for some.

Sunflower

Sunflower

The wind was intermittent, but when it came, it roared down the slope, stirring the tops of the puddles. The pigs didn’t seem to mind, standing amidst chunks of revealed chalk and flint, impassive in their thick skins. So much rain had fallen that clumps of charlock and chamomile were swimming in pools. Over the stile, the wheat had been cleared and the maize was nearing harvest, the cobs now bursting at the enveloping husks. I could see the sunflowers in the distance, swaying in a collective mass of green, then yellow. Close up, their height seemed gangly and ungainly – like a child grown too tall too quickly. They seemed to huddle for warmth, turning the bright faces away from the teeth of the wind; but every so often the wind would stir them in a particular configuration and a hundred new heads would turn, the bunched lurching throng illuminated by a thin yellow nimbus. For a time it was possible to imagine a kind of deferred warmth but overhead the isolated knots of westering jackdaws and rooks had become a ragged band. Night was coming and I turned back to the car.

Beyond the hawthorn hedge the evening sank across the rough furrowed field. Most of the pigs had retreated inside their huts which stood in shadow like cavitied dentures. From a copse a tawny owl welcomed the coming night. The sun dropped below a reef of clouds and began a slow descent behind a ridge of chalk. I took a photo knowing it would never come out. The image showed mostly darkness but the falling sun had its own fierceness, trapped under the dome of the sky.

Dome of the sky

Dome of the sky