MAIRU BARATZEA (© Words by Paul F. Cowlan)

Vultures cluster against the skyís axis
and hang among blinded stars
while the planet scrolls beneath them.
Their meridians are needlepoint copses,
shaved scarps, a knotted cord of mountains,
or freshets running perversely eastward,
over two hundred miles to the bays of Perpignan and Rosas,
while Biscay is a wingbeat to the west.

Climbing from Iratyís beech glades
and the crumpled Spanish border,
breath settled, muscles tractable,
itís dust, bracken, butterflies and tattered shade,
with the sun just high enough to keep me hanging,
dazzled, almost branded,
like a scorpion in oil.

An hour to the summit,
grinding up the parched ascent
with coruscations of lark song
and grasshoppers thrumming up from the bents.
But when the slope finally rounds out,
and I can draw breath to take bearings,
there they are!
A ringworm scattering of stone wheels.
Mairu Baratzea. A Stone Garden.

Hut circles? Grave-mounds?
The centuries have peeled away since they were grounded here
on this turning crest, among a sage tide of mountains;
wave after wave rolling in out of the sky.

I cross the dip and lie back,
head centred, face to the zenith,
a guest of these old settlers
who buried their dead so close under the blue coping
that breath condenses on it in white clouds and dragon-trails.
Short, surly, hard-skinned folk,
self-pivoted, adrift on a fenceless planet.
Strangers to any concept of remoteness.
Itís hard to shrug thoughts into such consciousness
and imagine how it might have been,
preoccupied with half-tamed aurochs, sprouting emmer,
grass-seeds and wild strawberries.

By contrast with the artists of Lascaux and Niaux
these are close neighbours.
Even so their voices red-shift into dreams;
a dwindling murmur, with long silences.

An hour passes,
and a single vulture wheels sunwise
as the moonís shocked skull begins to kindle,
burnt mouth rounded in reproof.

My time is up.
Eavesdropping in this unclaimed space,
affecting the Time-Lord or secular martyr;
supine among fading whispers
with an aureole of stone.