Mr Pease’s Day of Days

It is an occasion to be consumed
by transport. Crowds of us turn up
to witness the miracle. Steam, the
infant prodigy, is raised, with many heads
nodding at the hissing gouts, the
clacking rods, the clanking rails.

Triumph billows in the air. Locomotion,
not yet named iconically, is merely
Active. She’s fresh by road from
Mr Stephenson’s works on Tyne
and gathers under him her dizzy way.
8 miles per hour, workmen,
500 souls too grand or rich
to walk, 12 carriages of coal
– held back by one red flag and now
outdated horse. No matter if a sticky
valve delays, or wagon derails – we’ve
done with patience, are up there with
the fire-man and his tender coal,
ready to move on.

Tonight a banquet
to usher in this iron road, this way
of fire, soon faster than tomorrow.
Where else to be but here?

But visionary Quaker Edward Pease,
owner of the track, our father to the future,
keeps away. It is his day, and not.
Isaac, his son, this time of all,
is taken by Consumption. And where else
should a father be, but holding on,
hoping for a dearer future where there’s none?

Unlike the quest for speed and better
trade, a death remains our undefeated
signalman, companion to our ends,
our progress, and our joy.

OS Sheet 78 [1961]

Envisage every layer that a map contains –
the naked earth, its contours combed with pleasure
round each hill; the rivers, runs of coastline,
and each cliff; the early settlements like puckered skin;
the castles, mansions crumbling in their gothic script;
towns, conglomerates that grow their random streets
in filaments of grey; the railways, roads and motorways
that try to give the whole some sense of running
to a plan – each element a mark of god, or sign
that need or greed has kept the landscape in its grasp,
or touch of someone’s hand upon a page.

An up-to-date O.S. holds everything
we have or were. Discovers what’s around us
and each hedge – no seeming secret place
that can’t be found or guessed at, or privacy
for distant monarchs in their glens. In time,
an older map will tell you what you’ve lost.
That mine that once sprawled heaps and railheads
by those brick-walled yards has gone, and in its place
a landscaped park, a quick estate, a superstore.

On my map flows a past with all its routes
intact, keeps now alive with guesses at each turn.
Turn right, along a road that isn’t there,
but is, to a future that has happened and is not.

August 1993