Naked on Dartmoor

Alone – exceptionally! –
with a car and ten days free,
I headed not north this time,
but west. Into clouds and rain.

Night came.
In Glastonbury I put up my tent
beneath the Tor
and headed for the pub.

Next morning – not too early –
I’d had more than a couple of beers –
I walked up the hill,
peered through the mist at Avalon

slowly reverting to marsh and lake,
and dreamt as dreamers do …
then rolled my wet tent
and headed off once more into the rain.

The clouds cleared.
Sunset over Dartmoor.
Blackbirds sang,
fat speckly thrushes without fear,

and high overhead, not larks now
but kestrels. Everywhere, tangled bushes,
brambles, roses,
the scent of wet grass underfoot.

No beer tonight. Lying in the tent,
listening, wondering why
I do not live out here.
Listening. Thinking. Sleeping.

Early, in the bright sun,
up into the hills:
I leave the car,
walk until the grass is dry,

lie down in a tor top – in, yes,
it is concave, a basin,
dry and grassy, private.
I undress,

lie in the sun,
get up and dance, kneel down,
and lie there, live
two, three – four –

ten millennia ago in my poor head:
I am a shaman.
Outcast. Alone.
The huge sky

empty, blue against
the green grass rim
all round, and high,
high overhead

some greater bird, an eagle.
Does it think I’m dead?
Am I dead?
But no. Follow me! it cries,

swoops and hovers, turns,
flies towards some distant tor,
wings swimming in the wind.
I am slow –

not old, but wingless,
shaven, wrinkled,
like a foetus, like a plucked hen,
my soul –

and there’s
a cave, a dark door. I enter –
great wings waft me on –
down, along, alone,

on, down,
deeper, darker,
colder, clammier –
ah, now, up –

and out onto a river bank.
Feet slip, slide
on shingle.
A great bear turns

and looks at me, turns back.
It’s sunrise here.
River water swirls and sparkles,
on my right, hills, forests, in the distance snow,

while to my left a path winds down through bushes.
The bear turns her head again;
regards me: shy, I wish
I had a body to match hers,

thick brown fur, claws
to snatch flying salmon out of the spume,
jaws that crunch, could crunch me. She nods:
there is the path. I am not for her, nor she for me.

Beyond the bushes all is warmer, dryer.
Now the path leads down.
The sun grows hot. Weary,
I close my eyes, stumble,

hear a hiss. Stop. Stare –
but not in terror, in delight – this
lithe Miss, this fork-tongued beauty
clad in glossy black and red

might –
but then I see myself
in those hard little eyes.
No, she

is not for me – that mocking wiggle as
she steps aside – nor I for her.
On down through cactuses,
some flowering,

some in fruit,
some seeming past all that,
but all asleep.
I try not to look at them,

prefer to search the sky,
to scan the distant dunes until, quite suddenly,
I am among the dunes – sand,
harsh blue-grey grass: is this my place?

That beetle’s not for me, those ants,
that lizard – those wagtails?
No. Too insubstantial.
(Am I then so substantial?)

Or, look there – seagulls
swooping and soaring over the silent beach
like small white falcons,
foolish, greedy.

A seal catches my eye.
I wade towards her, follow as she dives –
Am I for you? Are you for me?
No, no. Far beneath the distant sunlit surface

she hands me on.
What’s this? Huge,
gleaming white and black.
Again, shyness overwhelms me:

I am not worthy even to serve as food.
The orca’s amusement
is dark but her laugh when it comes
is light: When you see her,

you’ll know her …
There now. That?! But –
It takes us minutes
to swim from end to end of her.

That’s not her.
That’s her body.
She is much like you, but
smaller, sweeter.

Then tell her to leave her body there
and come
to the cave, the tor, with me.
You tell her.

I touched. Come with me.
There is a moment’s hesitation, then:

But one day you
must come down here to be with me.
I will.

I will, yes.
I would like that.
To be a whale,
to have a tongue on which

an elephant might stand.
But not now,
not yet.
In another life. For now –

The great tongue moved,
the sea swirled,
I whirled down
into the dark

saw in the distance
daylight, sunshine.
into blue sky.

Looked round.
The tor top. I was naked still.
Looked round for me.
Looked round for me.

Yes, there I was,
sitting silhouetted on the rim.
Looked down again,
and it was true. I was

smaller, sweeter.
I was you.
I – you?
looked out across the moor …

I – you?
knelt on the grass in the tor-top
knelt and waited,
I – you

stood up and danced
danced till you turned round
and came to me.

*     *     *

Thirty busy years have passed
since that day.
alone again,

though this time I would rather
not be,
I climb up to the tor-top,
to the shallow basin I remember;

sit there on the rim
where I – you? – sat;
gaze out over the moor;
then in the centre,

screened by height,
take off my clothes,
kneel down, remember being you;
lie back. The sun comes out.

My shrivelled soul,
not just plucked now but old, cold, greasy,
dead as
last night’s barbecued legs and breasts

lies by me.
I should discard it.
Feng shui.
Start over.

“It?” I think – that shrivelled body lying there
as grey as the past
as wrinkled and slow as history,
dares call me it?

I vibrate. I
buzz with indignation.
Shake. Take off –
I need no eagle! –

look back down
on that poor body,
poor vain foolish thing
that thought it was me –

then blue sky, dark tunnel,
shorter, quicker this time, surely,
and the river at sunrise, bright, clean,
but no bear. No matter. I find my way

down through the cactuses –
ah, my lovely, my lithe temptress,
all a-gleam, bejewelled now –
You forgot me! –

I didn’t forget you! –
Wait for me! –
I cannot wait! –
You must! –

The sea calls! –
Stay! –
Come with me then! –
I cannot! –

The sea! –
But do you love me? –
I love you! –
Well then – she turns back to her mirror.

I love, but I cannot wait.
The path leads on,
the dunes
lie all before me

old, grass-covered,
marking the end of time,
the beginning of eternity.
And there, the open sea.

3 thoughts on “Naked on Dartmoor

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