Poet in Residence
In 2015 we welcomed our first Poet in Residence, Abegail Morley. Abegail took inspiration from the people, events, and nature of the Gardens, bringing a fresh enjoyment to everyone who visits and loves Riverhill. Abegail is based in Kent, and has been published internationally.
Abegail’s Poetry Residence began with a Haiku Challenge on 21st March 2015, coinciding with World Poetry Day. Through the year she was a regular visitor to Riverhill, absorbing the atmosphere and watching how the gardens & its visitors change with the seasons. Her monthly poems were published on the Riverhill website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, for everyone to enjoy. Find out more about Abegail's books and appearances at the bottom of this page.
How to walk in the garden
Here’s the key to the garden; stiff gate eases
with a gentle shove, sun-bleached frame hangs −
a parched lower lip. Dip your head to pass.
Squander your touch on swags of ivy, be the wind,
sift sky for its clutter of starlings, hurtle sycamore
seeds like spinning-tops. Trace paths that creep
through sunlight, slackening fruit − let the cool drag
of summer clutch your heels – catch the red flash of vixen
as she sneaks home. Read leaves like they’re faint
black ink on skin-thin letters, cobwebs cornered
in glass, listen to plants germinate in many languages.
Brush lichen with your shoulder as if it’s your first
ever touch, as if today sun rattles in its own heat,
snags air, a distant fire growing older, as if you’re
the only garden in the world waiting to be born.
(Remembering the Victorian gardeners)
I arrive as sun stakes her claim
on the top panes − light hangs low −
a pearly thread woven through cloud.
Imagine the frame’s wooden bones creak
with old age, prop themselves up
like shoulder blades loosed from skin,
each beam rasps for the memory
of gardeners long gone.
I hear earth split, spread rumours
about pollen,spit seeds from clumps
of mud unlacing palm leaves
with a single flick of its tongue
(John Thornton Rogers, 1856)
He slid the furry-cupped acorn
into his plaid overcoat, allowed
it to nuzzle against soft lining,
nimble-fingered its grooves, felt
the thrill of life paused in his pocket.
Voyaging home, the acorn
held its breath, threaded whiskers
into wool, burrowed deeper
as the Black Sea's salt-tongue
thrashed over the wooden deck.
On land, muddy-booted, he placed
his kernel into the earth's womb.
When his hands sank into the soil
a glitter of sun skimmed treetops -
something would survive
This morning the garden reorders herself
like a pack of cards – somehow distils air,
traps a honey bee’s hum in her palm,
hasps it to my ear long enough for me
to hear how to waggle dance, to forage
for pollen. She unlaces her fingers, lets it go,
unbroken. Magician-like she frisks the scene
for treasures – gifts dew-tangled webs
from a broken architecture of twigs,
drags dusty cedar-shadows across lawns
and rakes them flat, daringly unwraps
a mulberry bud as if she’s theatrically pulled
a rabbit from a hat. When I fear I’m lost,
she shows me how to lure sunshine
through a struggle of leaves, pull sparrows
from a sleeve, a pigeon from a velvet pocket.
She has seeds tucked in her socks, limitless
sunlight woven in her hair, apple pips
resting in her eyes. When I tell her this
she stops, harbours breeze in her left hand
like it’s an unfeathered fledgling in need
of a nest and tells me that this morning
she’s thrown wide her shoulders just to see
what might happen, if only for today.
At first I think it’s the wind stuttering northwards,
or the splayed bones of birds leaning frailly
into rain’s spray. Ruffled feathers settle
on branches, shelter in needled leaves,
but I hear his voice when I turn to watch
the buzzard’s flight. My hands startle
the buckled trunk, feel how it sculpts the tree,
scrapes my palms, gently, as if it knows not
to cause pain. I count the whorls in bark, stem my desire
to measure its two hundred rings. Fragility tucks itself
into our own histories – the sun touches us –
we’re scant children whispering to each other through time.
It’s just the way the upper field
strains rain like an upheld hand,
how it holds the music of raindrops
carves them into bark that make me
think I hear you in the wind’s call.
You bring daisies, meadowsweet,
red campion and something torn
from the middle of you. In return
I give you the yellow-green rub
of lichen from my fingers, the twist
of my heart in rings of oak,
and the listlessness of summer lets me
sing to you from the dusty hedgerow.
The Wood Garden
Daylight: I marvel at its simplicity –
the way it stretches limbs, spindle legs
shooting out like sudden gun shots,
how it wears the same clothes
so differently each morning.
That first dawn it must have scarred
the earth, etched its thumb in ragstone,
dragged its fingers through grass and soil.
Now it bathes the wound it cleaved
with a curator’s silent hand.
Midday: leaves drift in mesmeric
circles. I net fingers over my eyes,
take snapshots of Weald sky, woods,
sense absent people hover just out of reach
as if they’re tending beds or paths.
I could sit here all afternoon on the tilt
and slip of the hillside, exist on only
the formation of exiting autumn birds,
red-coloured bark, the weave of ants,
their constant mud-rubbing abdomens.
Tonight light stiffens – ice has come
folds itself against the hill, knows
it can return like a bird each season ?|
it’s puzzled white apology today
will be tomorrow’s rain. I take myself
to the garden’s summit, put my ear
to earth’s cheek, hear the geology
of sound shift seismic plates,
listen to beetle architecture shake
soil in the grey-green ragstone.
I seek out rabbits in the dimness,
watch shadows clutch their paws,
chase them across fields, feel
November’s air nuzzle the hillside
as if bringing it home for winter.
Sleepy chestnut woods shelter
from winter’s shield.
pitted by ice, wait for a child’s
warm grasp to quicken its heart,
greenery to unwrap twig-ends.
At the heel of night it longs
for morning’s slow spreading sun.
In bark’s rough silence
a child’s knocking fist
echoes through the tree
and a door to another world
On the hillside path
Trapped under creaking ice at the wood’s edge
her small mouth opens – a bold bud breathes
for the first time. I can’t quite make out her eyes,
but know they’re tender-green, hold memories
of sleeping hills, views of smoke-thin mornings,
the shifting breeze of birds. I hook my hands
around it to it, fingers pushing through frost’s
silent skin, watch hanks of her hair untwist,
unsettled water leak shyly into dark paths.
Before the wind whips pines, I know I’ll hear
a delicate call spring from her clammed-up cell,
voice fragile as sparrows’ wings.
Poems © Abegail Morley 2015/2016
Abegail Morley Websites:
The Poetry Shed
The Memory of Water: www.indigodreams.co.uk/abegail-morley/4589614227
The Skin Diary: ninearchespress.com/publications/poetry-collections/the%20skin%20diary.html