at Nymet Tracey
once a common sight
the Red-Kite hovering
over this remnant of the sacred wood,
a site whose lanes sink west toward
Devon’s Stonehenge with its bevy of sister sites,
then lead to Denbrook, blot
on mid Devon’s landscape,
where at the rooted foot of this gnarled oak a spring trickles
from under the road
then, a stream, makes its way away
from under the road beneath red earth into an edging copse.
Often now the well is a hive of forked sticks and dowsing rods.
Rod-swivelling, the diviners, like me on this anticipating page
are eager to decipher that displacement of time and space
whose yet unfathomed silences withhold from sight these ghosts
of our long-shadowed past, who regularly passed along the green-laned ways –
though seemingly left no trace before dispersing under earth
the shifting ashes of their bones, glinting shards of flints.
This place is as much stranger to me as are those of our family blood
that handful of centuries before
whose names stipple our long-lost tree –
a retreating ancestral line that
like others unfolded life-journeys within the bounds of the encircling parish.
We may not inherit a specific trait as we trawl along our own genetic-line,
yet some vestige, a hidden genomic chunk, is likely still to live in us,
flecks of our story surface from the deepest well of pedigree.
The absence at the black-hole of well’s hollow is container of sacred presence,
we’re drawn to this site of rited wilderness
as much as those once at its heart
are now love fractured to bone.
My literal visit here is simple.
I want to make a journey with other dowsers to Nymetland’s heart.
We look for rest. Solace.
Wish to listen to wisdom, the will-of-the-land,
– in the prevailing wind she catches her breath.
Where water-pepper nudges willow-herb
air’s spiced with meadow-sweets’ heady scent by the hedge,
there’s tree-speak beneath ancient oak’s laden crown,
a frisson of leaves as they dip into well’s marginal zone.
Like you, I want to believe in innocence.
But on the far bank
red hips and haws splash across day’s sunlit sky
reminding us of the solitary site’s sacral significance.
Folk-tale says Druids once
dwelt in Dumnonians’ deep-groves –
those blood-curdling caterwauls
of head-chopping head-hunter Celts’
once ritual violations.
Is it Her who haunts this grove?
Those of us who still cling to the myth of tender Dryad,
wood spirit, guardian of the Nymet-Woods
must get to know our other abandoned selves,
must have courage to look above at those
who stare back, hold us in their rapacious hawk-like gaze.
Shatter us out of the ease of our complicit complacency.
(Author’s note: See ‘The Sacred Groves in Devon’ in Roger Deakin’s Wildwood for an account of Devon’s woodhenge near the village of Bow, which he compares to Stonehenge. The ancient well at Nymet-Tracey is near that site. Traditionally named Puddock’s Well, I have taken the liberty of re-christening it as Kite’s Well.)
In recent years Julie Sampson‘s poetry has appeared in a variety of magazines, including Shearsman, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Journal, Amaryllis Poetry, The Algebra of Owls, Molly Bloom, The Poetry Shed, The Lake, Amethyst Review, Poetry Space and Pulsar. Shearsman published her edition of Mary Lady Chudleigh; Selected Poems, in 2009 and a full collection, Tessitura, in 2014. A non-fiction manuscript was short-listed for The Impress Prize, in 2015 and a pamphlet, It Was When It Was When It Was, was published by Dempsey and Windle, March 2018.