Occasionally you come across something which unsettles, shifts, uplifts, shocks or forces a journey somewhere new…

This is my first poetic response to a book for well over a year. I’ve just finished reading Robert Macfarlane’s ‘Underland: A Deep Time Journey’. It moved, and is still moving me - slowly, more deliberately than before.

Published by Hamish Hamilton |  Link to Buy via Hive

Published by Hamish Hamilton | Link to Buy via Hive

I realised I haven’t explained - although you may surmise from the poem - that Robert Macfarlane’s expeditions are down rather than up. They are into darkness rather than light. We need to face the darkness.

Having finished writing the poem opposite I turned to my morning inspirational reading and the page fell open at this quote, which seems so apposite I’m sharing…

'If you want light, bring it to the dark places of your mind. Bring it to the fear and shame, to the sadness, to the perceived lack of purpose or hope…. When you get to absolute pitch blackness, there illumination is found. Blackest black becomes radiant. Sadness turns to unaccountable joy. Despair turns to hope without measure.
In one pole, you find the other.’

- Paul Ferrini, I am the Door

OVERLAND TO UNDERLAND (dedicated to Robert Macfarlane)

Before: hope

Without that four lettered word on the flyleaf
(long abandoned – or so I thought)
the impetus would have been missing
there would have been no clothes horse
on which to hang ancestral regrets, global misdeeds,
all the deathly drapes
of the obscene of the human being:
there would have been no reading on…

I imagined they’d been hung out to dry on the surface
but here they are
shoved deep into a rucksack
like a copper casket of memories
impossible to bury but longing for oblivion –
whereabouts unknown but ever-present

Hope was also packed -
an afterthought, a neglected talisman
Hope. Hope for survival, hope for compassion,
hope for the future,
hope for some graveyard sign – an extended hand perhaps –
that we knew love too.

During: rope

Onto his word-rope I hold,
ascend, grope, and then descend
body and heart can’t bend without his adjectival assistance
his curious mind straining to move its iron tongue
against immeasurable pressure and resistance
his bold a world beyond my shallow overland foray
among a thousand serried tracks
inching page after page
his shared cold leads me through to blue
and the agelessness of ice
his scars, his numb, his strung-out emotions
these are comfort’s sacrifice

lakes of frozen beauty settle a ten-day
journey which shrinks to a millisecond against the author’s decade
as he scratched this Underland into existence
of unremitting expeditions into the dark of time
uncovering the heinous human crime:
the fantasy of hidden depth

a cuckoo roused me from the undergrowth
my ten days of unsettled spiralling get me where?
Here.

Now: cope

I was spoiled for spoilers –
they boom, boulder and flood each chapter
until this relentless rewinding into darkness
leads me to a trope
a coping stone (a ‘finishing touch’ ) how deadly apt

we must cope as they coped
cope: from the Greek kolaphos, from ‘a blow with a fist’
smelting into ‘prove oneself a match for’
gentling into ‘contend successfully with’
with you, nature, the toxic legacy we’ve created,
to cope with knowing we’re part of the schist
which one day will glint or sinter or disintegrate
in the hair-thin seam of the Anthropocene
or sound a long and hollow keen
amplified by absence

and yet, and yet
on shutting the book’s cover and returning to this inescapable overland
it’s more blindingly alive than ever
enveloping and embracing
you and me
set against the Underland’s immensity.

P.S. And I find that hope shape-shifts to grief, to a hiraeth brought into focus by the deepest blue. It stretches out its hands through time – tongue-tied by language – longing for the sound, the touch, the sight of stranger, friend, four-legged, winged, unborn, green-leaved and rock-ribbed... You.

© Liz Darcy Jones