Before The Puffin Swam

Long, long ago, before the puffin swam,
neither sun nor sail bewildered those
who, simple in their sleep, walked to a day
of golden trees and apples in the air,
and quiet tilted villages.

The men flailed and the women wove
and when the eyes of heaven closed
they rested by fin-fairy fires
and watched the smoke climb upright to the stars.

Here the peace of an eternal autumn passed,
still leaves endured, and for the steeple doves
time kissed lightly underneath the moon;
the stones of ancient masons sang
the pale language of the livng dead,
the wall-chants of the spirit of the race
who left his talismans at eventide
lonely in the grey home shade.

Here lay the axe, once sun-slanted and crossed
before ripe muscles on a summer morning
and the old stones sing back two thousand years
to the skin-belted body which turned inthe sun,
and twisted and struck, one lever of flesh
at the tree on the forest floor.

Only the blue flints know of the heavy dead
fibre-bare in the deep midnight earth,
under the dumb centuries of cloven hooves,
and of souls’ last kisses before they fled
like shadows on the arms of some star-white god.

Forever beneath the high moon clouds
the red-haired cattle stray,
meeting and passing like porcelain
upon a waxen way.

Sires of their sires by hecatomb
had writhed beneath the sun;
some new man-woman would bleed
the calves of their calves by gun.
And one dozen paces from their skulls
would meet in temples on the shale
– with hassocks at their feet.

Eric Ratcliffe