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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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.

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.

July, Winchester Hill

Reaper

Reaper

Up

July evening, the first good weather since March. March. For 3 months we huddled under grey skies in front of glaring screens, staring bemused at long range forecasts. When the weather came it was like a spell – that strange figure of speech ‘a spell of good weather’ suddenly making sense. Even then the world seemed oddly deserted, as if people didn’t trust what they were seeing.

Winchester Hill was ablaze – the low lying barley fields almost painful on the eyes. As I climbed, the ground released trapped heat; it pooled around my feet which burned in a state of surprise.

Winchester Hill

Winchester Hill

July, the last of the bird song. Skylarks, the strange whirr of the yellowhammer, the chuck of blackbirds. Over everything the calls of the lambs and the dry answering barks of the ewes; and behind this, the evaporating roar of planes, so high in the blue as to look like bone shards. Goldfinches peep and tinkle, dashing between low stands of wind-beaten hawthorns. No people. No people.

Down

I enter a chase of yews, the light colder out of the sun. Ivy-clad trunks, lichen-clad. The sheep are incessant. To the right, a meadow, knee deep in sorrel and grass over which hover ragged globes of midges. To the left a fallow field smoulders; a few lone poppies totter in the light breeze. The field edges are a tangle of brambles and bindweed; boulders of chalk the size of fists, the size of giants feet, line the path margins. A spooked pigeon rises, angling into the sun.

A gravel riverpath at the foot of the hill. I have been here in winter when it is often impassable; now in this wettest of summers it rushes and chatters across the stones, inviting hot feet. I splash for a time then climb the steepening sides into a field of crops. Last of the sun: light slants across the plant heads, illuminated strands of webs like fine hammock strings between the individual stands of wheat – out of the sun they become invisible, in its glare they are like retreating filaments of bowed crystal. The water is just in earshot, a comforting babble. A green woodpecker yaps, sheep call across the pasture. Jackdaws call, abed in a stand of oaks, their cries like answering chimes, answering in a higher register.

Sunfall

Back into the hollow way of the riverpath, the sun dips behind Beacon Hill. Heat-trapped smells rise in the cooling air. Months of rain have saturated the ground so even in this landscape of drained chalk there is the smell of damp, of rot, of contained water. In the crook of a massive three-trunked ash I pause and listen to the onrushing stream.

Nearing the end, I realise my boots are like autumn boots, winter boots – mud-clagged and heavy. A new moon through the crown of a thinning ash. A buzzard cries. The swollen river flows faster than I can walk.