Stephen Robertson

Slanting Lines

Iken Hall

Later, my mother will describe the house itself

as ugly.  No such thought would cross my five-

or eight- or ten-year-old imagination.

It stands within a grove of trees, a very few

of which I can discern, even perhaps

identify across the years.  A copper beech

stands out, a clump of pears whose fruit

is hard as stone.  (But when stewed overnight

in the oven of the pre-war Aga, they will emerge

a startling deep red, and taste delicious.)

Another tree, perhaps a beech, but green

(I think that I can see the nuts it sheds)

on the grove’s outer edge, contains our own

tree-house, a canted deck of ancient planks,

nailed across two angled branches, reached

by clambering the branches by the trunk

or (better) by the real rope-ladder, which

we can then haul up behind us, ready

to defend against the next attack.

Towards the river is a group of firs

—the kind you sometimes see in lines across

the Suffolk countryside, each tall bare trunk

gnarled and twisted by the wind, supports

a wild, tufted crown—quite unlike

the planted forest, serried ranks of Christmas pine

which begins a mile down the road

and into whose dense interior

we sometimes venture.

Beyond the fir-trees lies

a bracken-covered heath.  The summer fronds

rise far above our heads.  In this bright green

we wander, hacking out our paths, or creeping through,

maybe chancing on a hidden hollow which

will make a temporary home, until

the next adventure.

(One time, though, the hollow holds

a real live snake, standing up and hissing

at our approach.  We turn tail and flee

as fast as breath allows us, not to feel safe

until inside the house.)

The bracken spreads across a gentle slope

towards the river.  A line of ancient oaks

(one blasted trunk is hollow through, and can be climbed

inside) mark out the sandy/grassy bank that is

the cliff.  A narrow sandy beach past which

the falling tide reveals the deep black mud

which oozes softly up between our toes.  Across the river

lies the lagoon, a field flooded and then left

to the encroaching mud.  On the far bank

of the next bend, another sandy beach

to reach by boat.  That place we call Japan:

against the sky, a line of those same firs

looks vaguely oriental.


Since then, of course, the bracken

has been ploughed, the edges fenced, the house

demolished and rebuilt.  The trees remain.