Response to Finding a Fossil at Writhlington Coal Batches:

A Fossil (a Fern) on Writhlington Batches Re-Take (Pt.II)

Time not as we know it
but another time quite skilled in losing things.
Time pressed flat in a thousand directions;
in which
the fern’s delicate gap persists;
a small leaf-sleeve of paper, a message meaning nothing;
a small cough in the brittle stillness of earth floating on rock;
a mere bent bit of triumph stubbornly resisting
the deep weight of billions of tonnes
of death
carpeting a drowned wet bog,
a drowned dead mineral rising
under the felting and pressure
of another forest under another horizon
so vast it has forgotten it is curved, connected
to every second of this Earth
over the swamp of rock, beyond the difficulty
of birth;
a mere fern made of matter;
a split second of consciousness;
gone into seeing, seeing what the beauty shines with,
seeing the queer entity of its coffin cracked open like a nutshell
in the hand of a five-year child, here, before me,
in time off from school.
We heard it like a collar bone flung to the floor;
better than it was, here,
better than it was fluttering in the bright mid-morning air of a young day;
waterless and lightless and virtually free
of the pulse of dinosaur and giant flies.
It is precisely cut
like the inside of a watch
which counts nothing, and serves nothing, and wastes nothing.
The rest is the black torpor
of unsung carbon;
this batch, this spoil heap settling to a steep mound
used by boys for bike-tracks. Black glitter.
Rubbish-heap testimony
which may as well be
heaped up TV sets, Bakelite phones, fire grates,
old men in filthy armchairs
jammed up among their ash trays.
Perhaps one or two, you could imagine,
their spectacles would persist, or their lungs
breathe on in captivity,
their expression
print to the hardening festoon of each grave,
the hand deep in its pocket
fumbling for a key, just paused,
a key whose jagged shape is copied
from the parent of all keys;
and just then the negative brilliance of a minute detail
would also come to rest, finally, for long enough;
a creature disturb its ancient dreaming
for the income it might proffer,
the useless income.
Or it would kill an incident for access to value,
a value so tiny, so briefly mistaken for an answer
to the cold and the dark,
abstract and flapping its gritty feathers in the fire
to get to the light, to sit by the blaze, to hear the story
tell its ends,
terrible and ancient, and weak, so weak
by the warmth, saying, it was better, it was better,
by the virtual fact of its knowledge, through its words;
better too than it was before this, much better.


Soil II [taken between February 11th – Jan 20th close to Cockle’s Field]

What did I dig for, which are not the dreams I will get?
I am so cold I have to dig the sodden staining of a century,
and the black felt of twenty dialects
which are dead only in upper spaces. Here they still thrive;
small, congesting bodies in organic silt
many would have dredged for a second coming.
But this is England. I cannot adhere to the surface-country.
I ask for a way through the blacker cooling reaches of areas.
I will go dark with it, go in attempting illuminations
of another order, without geography; only the sticky-weight of oblivion,
or the tunnels of voles, streams, trickles, the blood-soak
I will drink when I am cold, without myself.
Will not feel the frost freezing my hair stiff
but be below
the frost’s liturgy of scrap metal, its water-shrapnel.
I will loiter, nameless, waiting for the hole to absorb me. Bury me I say,
with my fish skeleton eyes, my wasting jaws, my cold patience
losing the battle. By the black pond beyond the pond edge,
where it is black, below the porous swarming
of matter, the frog’s gelatinous clotting of eggs;
which is all an eye and another eye staring in. Where there is no light, lifeless,
into the hole I am about to enter; I said, Here is a weight to keep,
under dead leaf and root-shake and creature pausing,
like the mole, antisocial
inside the sinew of its machinery;
digging to depths under fur.
All is shallow, all is deep too.
Impossible to register what worms do under the footprint,
without digging up the long voices of them
casting dead miles into potent food;
the lines of them in the dark, tubular and single-minded.
All of them together, one writing single mind of twisting multiplicity,
touching sides to mate.
A single worm-parent rope frayed to millions,
totally sensed, but blind;
blindly feeling along tunnels below horizons;
bleeding through patches of the soil’s skull.


Sean Borodale works as a poet and artist, making scriptive and documentary poems written on location. His first collection of poetry, Bee Journal, was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize. His documentary poem Mighty Beast was produced for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Between the Ears’ and won the 2014 Radio Academy Gold Award for Best Feature or Documentary. In 2014 he was selected as one of twenty Next Generation Poets. He is currently Miriam Allott Fellow at the University of Liverpool.

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