Pilgrim Foxes

“Pilgrim Foxes: Haiku & Haiku Prose” (co-authored with James Norton and Sean O’Connor). Pilgrim Press, Aberystwyth. 2001. ISBN 0-9539901-0-9. Ken Jones’s contribution comprises six haibun and 53 freestanding haiku. Two of the haibun and seventeen of the haiku are reproduced below.
 
 
The Samurai Paper Knife
 
Rooted out in autumn
livid again in spring
the weed in the chimney stack
 
 
In the mail it is the elegant grey envelope that stands out. Expensive textured paper. I feel the weight of it and hold it up to the desk lamp. First class English stamp, still with a fresh faced queen. Home Counties post mark. Suddenly it all floods back. That bold extravagant scrawl. I place the envelope in the middle of the blotter, get up, and fix a drink; throw another log on the fire. The samurai paper knife is drawn fro its little wooden scabbard.
 
 
A hint of scent
this one
delicately slit
 
 
Two sheets of the same grey paper. That writing ! The long ascenders still sweep up through two lines. And those grand flourishes !
 
The swivel chair squeaks awkwardly. The Age of Art Nouveau, still in its slipcase. Plate 509 was a favourite of hers. “We can well imagine this dark green velvet gown in the setting of a Van de Velde drawing room”, says the caption. We can, my dear, we can. La Belle Époque. Lying on the facing page is the only remaining photo. So full of ourselves then; now only a shiny card. Yes, I remember that couple.
 
I place the photo inside the unread letter and look about my well lived study.
 
 
Field glasses case
in battered leather
its lid hangs open
 
 
I get up from my desk and go over to the fire. Suddenly the room feels chill… The smiles, the flourishes – now curling and crinkling in the flames. And then it’s all over.
 
 
Out of the darkness
wind chimes
made of bones
 
 
Flintstone Millennium
 
Unmistakably Saxon, that little window in the tower. Circa AD1000, when they were bewailing the end of the world. A less enduring millennial souvenir was the flayed skin of a Dane, originally nailed to the south door. A thousand years later it has been replaced by a notice in ink, transfixed with drawing pins:- “ For your charity please latch SHUT THE CHURCH DOOR lest any bird fly in and die of thirst and hunger.”
 
The great key turns effortlessly, the door swings open without a sound.
 
 
Among the hammer beams
a sudden rustling
of dusty angel wings
 
 
There they hover forever, though pock-marked with the buckshot of “ a thorough godly reformation”.
 
Before me stands our departing millennium, a grand cage of stone and glass, faintly scented with beeswax and linseed oil.
 
 
Gothic light
creeps across memorial slabs
dissolving another day
 
 
Leather on limestone, my boots echo down the nave. In this Church of England there are ladies and gentlemen in abundance, but no saints to be seen.
 
 
Alabaster crusader
etched on his breast plate
Victorian graffiti
 
 
Earlier in the millennium the village forefathers sharpened their scythes on this whetstone of the Norman Yoke.
 
Above, among the brightly painted hatchments of noble lords, the Royal Arms are displayed. For three hundred years this gaudy Lion and Unicorn have been fighting for the Crown. Not all is pomp and circumstance, however. Here is a simple plaque to the squire’s eldest son:- “Killed at Festubert at the head of his platoon, 18th May 1915. Aged 23 years.”
 
The pulpit is a fine three-decker. I mount the creaking joinery to its top deck, beneath its Jacobean sounding board.
 
 
High in the pulpit
a hush of expectation
rows of silent pews
 
 
Overawed, I content myself with a single expansive gesture. Close to my head, above last Sunday’s hymn numbers, a stone imp sticks out his tongue at me. Below is the squire’s box pew. It has a little cast iron stove with an embossed tortoise: “Slow but Sure”.
 
On the second deck – the Reader’s –a well worn book of Common Prayer lies open at its foxed title page. The black gothic is impressed deeply in the paper. Turning the pages I shed a tear for the ancient certainties, grave and constant in their King James English.
 
Back at the south door a narrow stair winds upwards in the thickness of the wall, past the Saxon window. A stiff new guide rope has been passed through iron rings. In the chapel above the porch the mood of nave and chancel is here compressed into smaller compass.
 
 
Whitewashed walls
iron-hard oak
this hassock full of husks
 
 
High church incense hangs in the damp air. Apart from the bench at the back there are no seats, only three long prie-dieu, for resting scripture and elbows, with hassocks for the knees. Through the small window are the churchyard yews, and the rookery beside the Hall. Light falls on a cross, cut from a hazel wand and tied with bailer twine. It is flanked by a pewter candlestick and faded cottage flowers in a bottleglass vase. On the wall
 
 
Rude painted Christ
arms stiff splayed
his hanging weight
 
 
Kneeling on woven flowers and birds I recall the peculiar down-to-earth sweetness of English mysticism – Walter Hinton of Nottinghamshire, Richard Rolle the Yorkshireman, Mother Julian of Norwich, and the Cloud of Unknowing, all those saints of the apple orchard.
 
The light begins to fade and a winter chill creeps in. Through the walls the ponderous tick of the church clock frames a deepening silence. And then
 
 
Creaking and whirring
gathering its metallic strength
its chime shakes the world
 
 
 
Haiku – The Same Keen Wind
For company
an empty chair
 
 
Butterfly
hovers
on my empty diary
 
 
Dancing clothes lines
from Cape Wrath to Finisterre
a deep depression
 
 
Bad day
ducks shelter
beneath the hearse
 
 
Scene of the massacre
the same keen wind
 
 
Starched sheets folded back
 
Soft lamplight
starched sheets
folded back
 
 
Grey light
of another day
blue flame
of the paraffin lamp
 
 
In bulldog clips
a lifetime
of bank statements
 
 
Winter evening
nothing to add
to a day
that had nothing to say
 
 
In the pine-lined room
twin beds
tongue and groove
 
 
Retreat
 
10 sacks of coal
24 days
at home in my skull
 
 
All my larder
“best before”
tomorrow
 
 
Sliding
on well worn silence
the sweet dreams
 
 
Again far off
that silver tarn
I’ll never visit
 
 
NOTICE
made blank
by time
 
 
Out in the cold sunshine
planting early potatoes
uncertain who I am
 
 
Shifting patterns
of grazing sheep
trace out the winter day