V Drip — icicle’s gone. Slur, ratio, tone, chime dilute what’s done as a flute clarifies song, trembling phrase fading to pause then glow. Solstice past, years end crescendo. Winter wrings pigment from petal and sloth but thin light lays white next red on sea-crow wing, gruff sole cormorant whose grief turns carnival. Even a bangle of birds to bind sleeve to wrist as west wind waves to east a just perceptible greeting — sinews ripple the weave, threads flex, slew, hues meeting, parting in whey-blue haze. Mists sets lace of frost on rock for the tide to mangle. Day is wreathed in what summer lost. Conger skimped at the ebb, lobster, neither will I take, nor troll roe of its like for salmon. Let bass sleep, gentles brisk, skin-grey, group a nosegay jostling on cast flesh, frisk and compose decay to side shot with flame, unresting bluebottle wing. Sing, strewing the notes on the air as ripples skip in a shallow. Go bare, the shore is adorned with pungent weed loudly filtering san and sea. Silver blades of surf fall crisp on rustling grit, shaping the shore as a mason fondles and shapes his stone. Shepherds follow the links, sweet turf studded with thrift; fell-born men of precise instep leading demure dogs from Tweed and Till and Teviotdale, with hair combed back from the muzzle, dogs from Redesdale and Coquetdale taught by Wilson or Telfer. Their teeth are white as birch, slow under black fringe of silent, accurate lips. The ewes are heavy with lamb. Snow lies bright on Hedgehope and tacky mud about Till where the fells have stepped aside and the river praises itself, silence by silence sits and Then is diffused in Now. Light lifts from the water. Frost has put rowan down, a russet blotch of bracken tousled about the trunk. Bleached sky. Cirrus reflects sun that has left nothing to badger eyes. Young flutes, harps touched by a breeze, drums and horns escort Aldebaran, low in the clear east, beckoning boats to the fishing. Capella floats from the north with shields hung on his gunwale. That is no dinghy’s lantern occulted by the swell — Betelgeuse, calling behind him to Rigel. Starlight is almost flesh. Great strings next the post of the harp clang, the horn has majesty, flutes flicker in the draft and flare. Orion strides over Farne. Seals shuffle and bark, terns shift on their ledges, watching Capella steer for the zenith, and Procyon starts his climb. Furthest, fairest things, stars, free of our humbug, each his own, the longer known the more alone, wrapt in emphatic fire roaring out to a black flue. Each spark trills on a tone beyond chronological compass, yet in a sextant’s bubble present and firm places a surveyor’s stone or steadies a tiller. Then is Now. The star you steer by is gone, its tremulous thread spun in the hurricane spider floss on my cheek; light from the zenith spun when the slowworm lay in her lap fifty years ago. The sheets are gathered and bound, the volume indexed and shelved, dust on its marbled leaves. Lofty, an empty combe, silent but for the bees. Finger tips touched and were still fifty years ago. Sirius is too young to remember. Sirius glows in the wind. Sparks on ripples mark his line, lures for spent fish. Fifty years a letter unanswered; a visit postponed for fifty years. She has been with me fifty years. Starlight quivers. I had day enough. For love uninterrupted night. Coda A strong song tows us, long earsick. Blind, we follow rain slant, spray flick to fields we do not know. Night, float us. Offshore wind, shout, ask the sea what’s lost, what’s left, what horn sunk, what crown adrift. Where we are who knows of kings who sup while day fails? Who, swinging his axe to fell kings, guesses where we go?