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Bob Cooper


Taken from All We Know Is All We See, Bob Cooper, Arrowhead Press, 2002 





The Wet Child




The First Steps


Sweating hard, looking back, seeing the car

then the ground at my feet - tussocks, sedges,

stones, sphagnum moss - that squeaks under each step

until I stop, out of breath, and I’m there,

off the well-worn track up Pike O Blisco,

where the Duddon is born. I lift each foot,

my bootprints fill with water. It’s windy,

sat with a damp bum I’m soaking wet, cold,

and the forecast said Rain. Are words worth this?

Should I shout, Willie, did yeh sit here too?

Will he whisper back? And will I hear? Or

is he elsewhere, maybe down at the mouth?

I stand, look round. Is this place, now, just ours

or is Willie, and his wet child, still here?





At The Three Shire Stone


Parents stand on this knoll, take photographs

framing sky, scree, the Duddon’s snake-like flow,

while their excited children puddle jump,

shout, eat biscuits before their climb begins.

Others sit on blankets, squint, say, Look, there,

eagles! and point at two buzzards circling

while they light their gas stove, cut fruit cake,

before mentioning, loudly, the silence.

This is a wilderness for them, as more cars

low-gear up and past and they see faces

beyond their windows reflections of fells,

then they stare at clouds, watch their slow movements -

glad they’re not low enough to scrape these hills

pregnant with rain or, worse, giving birth.





In Wrynose Bottom


And now my teeth are chattering. The rain

smattering on my hood, stinging my nose,

as the clouds, like raggedy old dishcloths

left in a full washing up bowl, uncurl.

Homesick Roman soldiers straggled down here,

tinkers, leech gatherers, road menders, cooks,

stumbled along. They all got just as wet.

Shivered as they walked by the flooding beck,

cursed their luck. Tomorrow, like yesterday,

old Fords may get their radiators refilled,

there may be sun, lark’s song, a quiet stroll,

someone may just stand, finish off their film.

But right now, the truth, I don’t really care.

God, this is an awful place. So empty.





Deep In January


She stays in even on bright days. The sun

which doesn’t appear until well past ten -

when it shines - is gone again just past one

and here’s so high on silence. But the wind,

funnelled from Russia through Wrynose Pass moans -

like today, when it veered round, and more snow

flecked the panes, seeped down, banked up on the sills.


Her man’s on the tractor with the snowplough,

paid by the Council to keep the roads clear,

sat with his thermos, shovel, pairs of gloves.

She folds still-damp shirts she’d hung round the fire -

the potatoes are cooked, the table laid -

while she stares outside, sees the light escape

elsewhere so quickly over walls and fields.





By The Birks Bridge Car Park


We could’ve been in Marbella, he moans.

We’d be just as wet, but lying on sand

not crouched in waterproofs under this arch.

And he chews French bread, paté, olives, plums,

wishing they’d brought a corkscrew

as he stretches his boot to the white wine,

chilling even more in the cold river,

near a watchful finch as they watch the rain.

She looks up, pausing from writing postcards

to friends, not saying how unromantic,

how dull these weeks, and this man, really are.

So, where shall we go next, she smiles and sees

yet another car circling the car park

and, taking a crumb, the bird fly away.





Up To Harter Fell


After lacing up boots, locking the car,

four long hours drive from home, they stand and stare

over Fickle Steps at the path through trees,

which, beyond their sight, reaches the summit,

their last mountain in Wainwright’s Lakeland Guides.

The sun shines, high clouds, pale skies. It’s perfect.

They feel fit. In a rucksack, champagne clunks

against tupperwared sandwiches, two mugs.

They’re excited. This is it. They begin,

pass a farm, then open fell, then rock.

One quotes: the walker must turn cragsman for

the magnificent panorama from

the uttermost point, breathing heavily,

struggling then sitting, nowhere else to go.





Testing The Water


Swimming in Seathwaite Tarn in heavy rain

in your bra and knickers after Dow Crag,

lunch on Coniston Old Man, then Swirl How

is something only for fourteen-year-olds

to enjoy. Last year you swam from Ulpha

upstream for more than a mile in sunlight.

This year, however, the weather’s different

and something’s emerged. You chew an apple

as you wait at the car for everyone

who, when they turn up, ask are you OK?

And why shouldn’t you be? Brothers, mums, dads,

ought to know you can chose to do such things,

that you’re both young enough and old enough

to shiver, then glow, and now sit, silent.





In The Garden Of Eden


Columbus thought the Orinoco flowed

from the Garden of Eden. But Willie,

you knew different. Obsessed with the Duddon,

shepherdesses on stepping stones, orchards

with ripening apples, watching a girl

bathing in a secret pool, and all this

brings back your teenage years. Smouldering

clouds whisked away, fells’ sensuous bodies,   

and what you see is not just what you saw...

Grab your pen. Hold it stiffly. Write quickly.

Concentrate. Oh, the bliss of getting there.

Feel the rhythm in your fingers. The beck

cuff-link jiggling like a fiddler’s polka.

Then yes - sun on fields like Beethoven’s 6th.





Overlooking Wallowbarrow Gorge


And water pours like a cattle stampede

through a chasm like a film set’s main street.

The air rumbles. Dragonflies dip past

like they did when dinosaurs ate bracken,

or when an ice cap the size of London

slept as in a babygro, then woke up.


Here forests grew so dense no people came,

they left this damp earth for wild pigs, huge deer.

Then Vikings arrived, leaving their names,

handing down their smallholdings, their small wealth,

leaving their ways of saying things, their sheep

who skit away from walkers – who don’t know

beetles, woodlice, are as ancient as hills,

don’t tread softly, don’t know ants, too, are old.






On The Rocks


When he reached mid-stream he beckoned her.

Arms wide, she moved towards him, so slowly,

each step an effort, then, almost there, stopped,

complained. He pointed. She didn’t move.

Beyond her heels, toes, the river rushed by,

stood on his wet bootprints she could hear it.

She came back, I’ll let you go through. She smiled.

We strode out, a little wobble, and on.


Later, on the crag, we see her high up.

She waves while he yells Tight Rope, fails again.

There’s a smear for your right foot. Lean out.

But he clings tighter, motionless. She waits.

Then, back at the tents, we see them cooking,

steam rising from their pan as they sip tea.




At Wallowbarrow Crag


Out of breath, tipping rucksacks, they look up,

the breeze drying sweat in the Easter sun.

Y fancy this one, one asks, Rass-put-in?

and sorts quickdraws, Friends, it’s VS4c.

His pal glances at the Guide: it’s Rasputin.

He was a mad monk. But it looks OK.

Then tying knots, cleaning boots, he begins,

fingers searching the rock like a prayer book.


At a height he feels the weight of the rope,

eyes up the shape of the holds just above,

the risks of faith he needs, believes the care

his partner hides behind jokes as he climbs.

Mebbe Greece in the summer, he shouts down,

towers, monasteries on top. Real crazy.





Bringing Them Down


Having photographed the stocks at Broughton,

had a pub lunch, bought framed prints, postcards,

they’re now surrounded by a flock of sheep

and the trees’ spice rack of colours are blocked

by smells. Closing each air vent she’s appalled

by teeth, taut lips, dark eyes, a tumbling rush

like the refugees in the Telegraph

her husband ignores as he starts to read.


All but the stragglers scuffle through a gate.

The dogs pin one by the car. A man comes,

stoops, grins, grabs two of its legs, chucks it high

over the wall, then shouts in a dialect

she can’t understand. She smiles at him, stares,

and, white knuckled, screeching each gear, is gone.




Driving In


They’d first come here with cousins from Kendal,

strolled by the river, talked of families,

then, later, queued to post parcels with notes

that promised to send more images home:

more contrasts to seasonless rainforest –

like how green turns red, then bare branches, twigs –

and their clothing, thick sweaters, hats. 

Then, on their last cassette, warm coats, scarves, gloves. 

Others on their course in Lancaster hear,

yet don’t, of their Venezuelan wonder:

to them trees are simply trees, leaves just fall,

no need for hire cars, talk to VCRs. 

But, today in their best clothes, they grin, drive,

sing the words they’ll shoot then send home: Look, snow.





At Seathwaite Church


Here men from Hull chain up their mountain bikes,

see graves, stroll in, glance at stained glass,

read Wordsworth’s poem as one starts to giggle,

gaze round, run their fingers along pews, pause,

and, outside, debate where to eat their lunch,

take photographs, don’t look back, ride away.


Here, on Sundays, some visitors come once

for responses, hymns with local women,

and, after the blessing, say where they’re from,

hand back service sheets, mention the weather,

smile as they say it’s too hot, or too cold,

making sure their small talk doesn’t falter


then, crunching gravel, startled by birdsong,

there’s the gate’s quiet click on all they’ve found.




The New Barrel At The Newfield Inn


In a Shakespeare look-alike competition

he’d always win: his beard, earring, accent,

a grin, a laid-back way of saying things:

I came camping, was offered a job, stayed.

Don’t worry, the beer we serve’s not that strong

it’s just the ceiling in here that’s not straight.

Then: We do roast duck, let flats, a cottage…

Oh, and drinks: filter coffee, teas, wines, beer.

And with the huge table, fire, the slate floor,

with different visitors stood round each week -

each well-rehearsed in drinking, jokes, laughter -

he smiles, recalls what you drank last night

and pulls slowly, most of it froth, lifts it,

tips it out, pulls again, again, again.





In Mid-August At Midnight


On a moonless night four drunken climbers

trip over guylines, swear, see shooting stars

arc from over Walna Scar to Ulpha

and don’t hear, in their silence, owls’ hoots, cows,

or the sounds they make themselves as they watch

three, then two, then another, slide then burn out.

Necks craned, shivering, they wait for more.

There! No! A false alarm, a satellite.

Off-key one tries to catch a falling star

as he Perry Como’s the vinyl sky.

One says, this nivver appens in Mex’bro,

but is told, silly bugger, they’ll be there too!

All heard by whisperers in sleeping bags

who, behind thin walls, now lie wide-awake.




At The Start Of The Duddon Plain


It’s been so long since you were here, Willie,

in your middle age with your bread and cheese,

remembering your days out from Hawkshead

when you first drank the Duddon’s fresh taste.

This boulder I bet you sat on is old

but comfy to watch things from as leaves,

like granddad’s retractable shaving brush,

get pushed, bristle out, and crazy ravens

sign the air like prescriptions. All this is

what you saw, yet new, as lambs yell at sheep,

hills tug off their shadows like shirts. And sun

glows on me too after the stroll through woods

while I dust off pollen, sit and eat lunch,

drink from my flask, hear the river flow by.





Now Living Down The Valley


Before she left her home of sixty years

she talked through her dream to the empty chair:

autumn rain, waving on Foxfield’s platform

as her uniformed husband blew a kiss,

then her long trek home. And she repeated

exactly in her sleep what they’d seen, said.

When her widowed sister moved in

she soon began to call the chair her own,

quiet only on Remembrance Sunday,

two minutes, then her nattering again.

But, now, helped by her zimmer to a bench

with a view of the sea, another dream:

strolling by the river to the station,

spring rain, waiting for the train to return.




Flying Home


Sunlit and unexpected he sees it

spreading back from the sea through sand, by fields,

glimpsed near the road, the house, then lost in woods,

and, like a snail’s trail, curled near Harter Fell.


But, in Ontario tonight, he thinks

he won’t remember this. Instead he’ll still see

the suddenness of rain, its sound, its force

as he leapt into the taxi, wet faced.


This was his childhood, but now it’s funerals,

sleep in his old bed, a riverside stroll

watching cows watching him then stoop to drink

as he returns with muddy shoes and hands.


In his pocket yet more secret eyebright,

wrapped in polythene to replant at home.





Before The Quote


Get back t thi original? OK.

But, these watterpipes, this paint? Nae way: lead.

Nae damp course, so wet walls is endemic.

Wiring’s unsafe. See, it breks in your ands.

Can y ear these floorboards? Needs strippin art.

Sash windows: ther seized. Y get the picture?


Wai’ll du a grand job: stained wood panelling,

pine flooring, concrete base for a Raeburn,

plant a bush to mask a satellite dish,

double glazin t soften river’s sound,

plastic gutters, a porch, PVC door.

An wai’ll du it real cheap. Ah’ve gud contacts.

Ah’ve got a mate who can landscape gardens,

ee’s got barrels sawn in arf f flowers.




The Offcomers


Your grandchildren come with their walking boots

for a week’s full breakfasts filled with their plans.

Then you hear tales of their climb up Scafell

as you prepare tea, hope you’ll catch the news,

and, when you’re detailing what it was like

for you, years ago, the phone goes. Their mum.

So, again, there’s stories you’ve heard. You know,

now, they want their dawn to break like an egg,

sip tea, hear birds sing like bacon frying

on Crinkle Crags not here by the Duddon

and only drink home-made lemonade

quickly with maps while waiting for supper.

This, too, isn’t what you dreamt it would be

when you costed things, sold up in Warwick.





Bed, Breakfast & Evening Meal


Every April, in his camouflage coat

he always stays here, pockets their apples,

his huge binoculars, to watch, count,

bullfinches, chaffinches, swallows, ravens,

herons, sparrow hawks, buzzards, wagtails, wrens,

and write in his RSPB notebook.

He knows about nesting kestrels, eagles,

has written off, volunteering, for ten years

to guard them. But has had no reply.

After dinner he rarely talks, reads books,

always the Miss Marples from the bookcase,

always, he hopes, in the same armchair,

then dreams of a camera - gunstock, long lens -

bird photos with his secret trays of eggs.




On A Saturday Before Christmas


For his sixteenth birthday they bought him calves –

a bad investment as the year went on –

but he fed them each morning, mucked them out,

and began to learn more about farming,

old machinery, WD40,

reading bank statements at breakfast, silence.


While mending fences he says what he’d like:

a Suzuki Dirt Bike? Or mebbe cash?

But as wire tightens, gets nailed, his dad stares

hard-faced as the teacher who grates his name

when she asks when he’ll finish his homework, Birkett,

your History? Now he knows, next time, he’ll yell:

Miss, me Greatgrandad’s names’s etched in stane.

The farm ee wukked, now mebbe ours’ll be sold.





Meeting Willie


Even the trees have gone quiet. I hear

nothing except the sounds I make myself

as someone walks the moonlit path, crossing

the stepping stones like in a horror film.

As he passes I say, Hello. Scary,

as tall and thin lipped as Christopher Lee

but older, and in his buckled shoes, quaint

while stood on the far bank, almost a pose.

The people here still don’t like me, he says

perhaps to no-one, then walks back, straight past.

There’s no footprints on the stones, in the mud.

Then, when he’s in the woods, noises return:

the Duddon makes its river sounds once more

and leaves applaud his performance, loudly.




Alongside Hall Bridge


And now rain, like an Edinburgh Tattoo

of Taiwanese bandsmen, drums on the roof.

It’s loud, at least until the double flash,

the short pause, then the Dolby sound rumble

that shakes the cinema seats of your ears.

Should you sprint for the car? Perhaps not. Just stay

in this phone box with your frightened family

and wait. Call the weatherman and complain,

you suggest, but no-one else smiles. A flash

and a simultaneous crack. They cry.

Steam mists the glass, the road’s now a river,

the puddles outside grow into tarns, lakes.

Then the phone rings. You try to ignore it

but your wife lifts it up. It’s Noah, she says.





To Make A Raft


be ten years old. Gather fence posts, branches,

blue polypropylene twine. Take your time

each morning before walks, and after tea,

dragging more wood to the bank. Retie knots.

Use orange twine too, bars from an old gate.

Balance your plans against the shape it makes.

Suggest a picnic. Bring your mum to the pool,

and gran with her camera, let them talk

of how they swam here years ago. Get changed.

Ask them to help you lift it, carry it,

as on this, the sixth day of its making

scraping submerged rocks, then circling, it’s launched.

And, goosepimpled, kicking your legs, shout loud

with the world you’ve made beneath you, and float.





Coping With The 23rd Of October


He wants, while the morning tastes of autumn,

to see each tree like the kaleidoscope

held up at Christmas to their child’s eye

and the river path to be bright glimmers

where sunlight shoots through, then damp, wet, and dark,

so he’ll walk slowly while his chilled fingers -

with the chain’s rattle, refastening the gate -

get wet as he ignores the sign: PRIVATE.

He wants to see a white stone with eggshells

broken months before and, since then, unnoticed

and stroll this stretch of the hidden river,

watch thin birch tremble in the breeze, drop leaves,

then from inside himself hear every word

she said lie loose on the earth yet belong.





At Ulpha Bridge


The little ones leaped and shouted and laughed

The Nurse’s Song                    William Blake


For adolescents this is a man’s game:

yelling as they leap in cut-off Levis,

a thrill in air as slow as the water

they explode and explore for thirty feet

then clamber out, back to the parapet,

and stand, bright faced, their dripping gleam like sex,

utterly eager to do it again.


It is a balancing, then an air sport,

a lean into commitment, and the fall,

arms and eyes wide open, as they each learn

what, in sunlight on similar evenings,

their dads, and before that, their granddads did

while young boys, tightly nursed by their mothers,

watch in silence, knowing envy and fear.




The Underclass Of Ice Cream


Each Sunday morning she drives up here, parks,

eats pears, listens to sport on Five Live,

waits for the crowds, reads the Guardian –

Saturday’s Job Section for Graduates –

flicks wasps from the drops of raspberry sauce,

sells 99s, wipes the counter again,

hears: Y get more than this in Coventry,

waits while children pick up coins they’ve dropped.


She’s out of favour, no Barrow quayside,

no housing estates, no lakeside carparks,

knows She’s a smart arse. Too thick t work ere.

Too brainy. Too honest givin change. and


Tells the Job Centre she wukks f th boss,

then, what’s wuss, declares ivirythin she earns.





Just Beneath The Surface


In the dusk when the moon has new batteries

through low lying mist where cows seem to swim

he returns from the good spot he’d discovered,

well shaded so his movements wouldn’t show,

on the river he’d always driven past

but now he knows. A good day, a good catch.

The stile he squeezes through is greasy, cold,

the road of flattened rabbits gleams. He walks

carrying his rod, bag, flask, one fish to cook,

through the undark, unquiet, countryside

he always loves more deeply when he’s done,

aware of his slow footsteps, gravel’s scuff,

the threading rasp of his car-key, the click,

the air inside still thick with smells of home.





Before The Green Light At Duddon Bridge


Below Frith Hall’s ruin, through fields, into woods,

where I enter the Duddon’s middle age

along a bank with few rocks, where currents

chink through like a long train full of Walkmans

relaxing round each bend, is quietness.

Here water curls stones, or shimmies like sun

flickering through leaves. I hear wrens, pigeons,

kick through charcoaled twigs. These are easy miles

until the queue at the bridge where tourists

sitting in a coach glance down a straight path

along an embankment towards the sea.

When the lights change they move on: Windermere,

Cumbrian cream teas, Grasmere Gingerbread -

Wordsworth Country - poems on tea towels, mugs.





And maybe the ghost of Wordsworth, seeing further than I can,

will stare from Duddon Bridge, along miles of sand and mudflats


                        On The Dismantling Of Millom Ironworks

                                                Norman Nicholson





What Dead Norman’s Neighbour Replied To Willie


So, tha wants t borrer is typewriter -

like wi im, can no-one raid yr writin?

But y’ll av t ask y sen. An he’s art,

mebbe up ont fells or down byt river.

Ee ad the same look abart im as thee.

Allus dressed like ee owned a clothing shop -

which, when y knew im, y knew that ee did.

Ee laiked t gev it Wigan, made sounds sing

like trains do on bridges, or pigeons, cats.

And, as wi thee, ee luvved werr ee came from.

Ee were colourful like’t oil in’t puddles,

rust which ain’t noticed till it’s pointed art.

Ee trusted words, laik loose coppers from’t Brew,

would turn up in pockets, delightin im.





Down At The Mouth


Where I stand in muddy boots there’s dippers

thin-legging the sand. They start to dip

then rush away, begin dipping again.

Did you watch this too, Willie, years ago?

I can hear lorries, a motorbike’s whine,

the Carlisle train across the estuary,

see the Heysham boat for the Isle Of Man.

Did you feel alone, too, stood at this edge?

Were your feet this sore, were you cold enough

to wear a hat, eat a mars bar in gloves

while struggling to refasten a rucksack,

then look up, watch just the one ship at sea?

I walk back, a tractor spreading slurry,

the driver singing so loud in the din.





At Askham


Here on big signs are warnings for people

who could walk across you – if they knew where

(where, like the bog you started from, footprints

disappear). Your purpose always movement

though now you’re almost spent. Here damp sand glints

as the wind ruffles you, nudges you back

and the tide’s turning, so encroaching waves

push you down between Barrow and Millom

until, when far out, eels, submariners,

ease through you, each knowing where they come from,

as your molecules drift round the oceans

perhaps to rise again, reach these hills, fall,

gathering themselves, like when Willie strode out,

to become a child of the clouds once more.





6. Up To Harter Fell



8. In The Garden Of Eden

I am assuming that Wordsworth, who mentions the Orinoco more than once, would have known about the writings of Alexander Von Humboldt, who had explored the river in 1800, linked it with the Amazon, and refuted Columbus’s notion.


11. At Wallowbarrow Crag

Quickdraws and Friends are means of securing the rope to the rock.

VS4c is a way of grading a rock-climb (VS means Very Severe and

4c means the smallest holds are not less than, say, 15mm deep)


14. At Seathwaite Church

The poem on display is Wordsworth’s Duddon Sonnet 18, about “Wonderful Walker,” a one-time vicar of the Church.


32.  What dead Norman’s Neighbour Replied To Willie

Norman Nicholson lived almost all of his life at Millom

The Brew is a colloquial expression for monies paid by the Benefits Agency.