Port Meadow

A faire felde ful of folke’ (Piers the Plowman)

This long, low, and flat landscape is where Oxford goes all Dutch,
down to the kitsch January skaters whistling along
with hands neatly folded behind their backs, and little
summer sails almost below the horizon among
the slow clouds in a huge sky, suffused with a muted light.

The flora and fauna here are in a pared-down palette
of greys, browns, and sludge green; the horses, waterbirds, meadow
all conspire with the soft floodplain scene. It’s a peopled place
of course: painted landscapes often need, somewhere, a red smudge.
And we trace our own filmy overlays: the black rainbow

bridge is really chalky pink here, zigzags capping
a wild and tangled world, reflected in a fisheye
distorting lens; the flashbacks that frame family picnics
on the small beaches, barefoot avoiding cowpats; walks
from the Perch to the Trout; a friend playing a farting

sousaphone, lyrically, to curious cows; and the birthday
when we drifted low in early morning mist, transparent
paper-thin wisps over river, grass, the silence broken
only by the balloon’s gasps. Secular, we didn’t ascend,
instead there was a long sigh as the land fell away.

David Attwooll

Nostalgia

Remember the 1340s? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.

You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,

and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,

the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.

Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,

and at night we would play a game called “Find the Cow.”

Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.

 

Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet

marathons were the rage. We used to dress up in the flags

of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.

Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle

while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.

We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.

These days language seems transparent, a badly broken code.

 

The 1790s will never come again. Childhood was big.

People would take walks to the very tops of hills

and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.

Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.

We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.

It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.

 

I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.

Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.

And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,

time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,

or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me

recapture the serenity of last month when we picked

berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.

 

Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.

I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees

and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light

flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse

and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.

 

As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,

letting my memory rush over them like water

rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.

I was even thinking a little about the future, that place

where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,

a dance whose name we can only guess.
Billy Collins