Happy Birthday, Norman Nicholson! 100 years old today.
Walking along the old sea wall at Hodbarrow, Millom, looking at the scarred landscape where the iron ore mines and the iron works used to be, I wrote this poem for Norman, who also used to walk this way. He wrote a poem about the Bee Orchid that grows here, as well as other wild life and the estuary view also features in many of his most famous poems. Happy Birthday Norman!
Revisiting the Bee Orchid(for Norman Nicholson)
The marram grass seethes along the dunes
and the bee orchid (intent on repro-
duction) does not remember the poet.
It is rooted in silica, slag, iron,
particles of radioactive dust
(deeper and more of it than he knew)
drifting in against a spine of ore,
a fractured red, pointing the seam,
out to sea.
The poisoned sand*
looks clean, rinsed by the long, Atlantic
tides. My feet are electrified
in the shallows and small phosphorescent
crabs glow in the shadow of the rock that
Norman based his life on, rooted in the cracks.
The magnetic ore swings in my pocket
like a pendulum and estuary sand
makes a desert of the sea’s horizon.
Land and water, water and land repeat
where past and future meet at a margin
neither human nor divine. His whole belief
was in the cycles of creation, and an order -
not a random universe where evolution’s
joker calls the tricks
and every species
has to thrive and breed, except himself.
Observer; lacking healthy lungs to breathe the salt
air, stranger to passion, isolated in his attic room,
the window framing glimpses of the universe
it closed out, the unclimbable bulk of Black Combe.
© Kathleen Jones
* This coast was the scene of one of the world's biggest nuclear accidents in 1957 when the Windscale reactor caught fire. Norman wrote a poem to mark the event.