A Sestina For The Trees

Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe

  I heard them, only yesterday. Trees spinning yarns,  

  Yabbering stories older than the oldest 

  Tales; uttering exquisite arborial poetry.  

  Singing soft, soothing lullabies in whispered, wind-long breaths,   

  Sighing at the soft snow settling on muttering branches. 

  Then gently resting, spent, humming contentedly. 

  Tickled by a passing breeze they, contentedly, 

   Laughed shivers of green and gold; giggling yarns   

   Tumbling blush scarlet ribbons from flirtatious branches. 

   At first light, each tree stands tall and chants its name, its oldest 

   History; its ancestral roots woven in poetry; 

    A radicle chorus of rustling, murmuring breaths. 

   They are gossips and grumblers; seasoned branches 

    Cataloguing, with gnarled-weary creaking breaths, 

    Every ache, pain, twisted sinew and knot, the oldest, 

    In wrinkled wrapped, year-thickened coats, contentedly 

    Smiling with earthbound wisdom, sagely nodding at yarns 

    Of fierce fought battles with gusts and gales. Poetry 

    That rustles beneath the dawn chorus of birds. Yarns 

    That, through whispering leaves, unfurls the oldest 

    Adventures. In sotto voce offerings, my breaths 

    Find their pace again. The pause on the threshold. Poetry 

    That crackles from old brown leaves and the snap of dry branches 

    Gives strength for the journey. Trees speak contentedly; 

  Starlight glistening language of wise poetry. 

   Speech that shudders healing through sapien branches, 

   Takes the fractious out breaths and transforms them into yarns. 

   Voices waiting for the waking balm kiss of the in breaths. 

   Placeholders, brushing conciliate peace, contentedly 

   Re-storying the adrift and broken with oldest 

  Narratives. Truths of Kathak dance through the branches. 

   Ancient rhapsodes stitching songs from needled breaths 

   Stretched like pliant rods. Sapling supple threads sewn. Oldest, 

   Sacred performers pulling wood-silk strands, contentedly 

   winding woodland mysteries that code the world with light. Yarns 

   Of magi, griots and shamans; tree poetry; 

  A seer’s zephyr of transformational breaths. Yarns 

  Contentedly old as time. Poetry 

  Rooted in the oldest bard’s consecrated branches. 

The Last Hotel

Jonathan Brown

Just a storm in a teacup?

The last guest was packing up as Wilf cleared the teacups away. He’d wash them as he wanted to keep them. He’d always liked the plain white crockery with just a subtle blue ring. While he wouldn’t need the full set of 25, he’d keep a few for his own use. 

The hotel was quieter than it’d ever been. All he could hear was the gentle rustle of bags being packed and the rat-tat-tat of rain on the window. 

Most people in Britain didn’t hear the rain anymore. They heard it for the first week, as it rushed down streets and splashed on their garden paths. They heard it after the second month on news reports proclaiming it to be the wettest winter on record. They still heard it in the summer, strumming off the top of BBQs that wouldn’t be opened again. 

The rain had come like it always did – but this time it hadn’t left. It’d been over three years now since the storm started. Three years of constant rain, grey skies and wet feet. It made the news at first in a jokey, ‘and finally’ item. 

But it slowly moved up the agenda. Floods came and crops failed. And so did tourism.

Not in the cities that had museums and indoor shopping centres, but in seaside towns mainly. The gift shops went first. Jack Robson’s place on the front had been going for three generations – all it took was 1,000 days of rain to shut it down for good. Then the cafes, amusement arcades and fun fairs. They all cleared out. The less people came, the more attractions closed, the less there was to see through the constant drizzle.

Wilf had held on longest. He’d tried everything from promoting his hotel to business folk to selling it as the last chance saloon. ‘Visit Britain’s last coastal hotel’, he’d declared on his social media site. 

“Wet out again,” said May. 

“What if we said it was haunted?” he asked his wife. 

She rested her head on his shoulder and held his hand. She’d heard all his ideas. Despite the hotel’s beautiful architecture, shining reviews and excellent home-cooked food, they both knew the reason people came to the coast was because of what was outside, not inside. 

“They’re almost done,” said May, nodding to the final guests upstairs. “Let’s give them a good send off.”

Wilf nodded. He was proud of the service he and his wife had provided over the decades. But scared of what was to come next for them. At 55, he wasn’t employable, and he’d not be able to retire on his savings. He could sell the place but he’d be making a loss, even on the price he paid for it 30 years ago. 

“We’re off now,” said the guest.

“Did you enjoy your stay?” he asked.

The man nodded as May popped back in with a paper bag full of freshly baked cookies. 

“I made these for your journey as you enjoyed them so much,” she said as she handed the bag to the guest.

His wife was already putting their bags into their top of the range 4×4. The roads weren’t too bad this week – the flood waters had died down a bit. Enough to give Wilf hope that maybe, just maybe, the rain was easing off, but not enough to clear the back roads. 

“We’d like to come back next year if…” the man said.

“We’re closing. Tomorrow,” Wilf replied.

“Oh. That’s a shame. You’re the only hotel left in…”

“On the coast. I think,” replied Wilf.

“He’s been keeping an eye and ear on stuff. But we’re pretty sure we’re the last coastal hotel,” May said.

“That can’t be true,” the guest replied. 

His wife clambered back up the steps to the open door, not bothering to shake the rain off her high quality mac. It dripped on the rain grate Wilf installed last year to stop the hallway from flooding.

Wilf just smiled at them.

“Honey, they say this is the last hotel open on the coast,” the man said.

“No, there’s Gordon’s in Bournemouth,” she said.

“Closed May 21. He held out well. They say there’s days in Bournemouth when it’s just mist and you can almost feel the sun again. But the numbers just aren’t there,” Wilf said.

The couple looked at each shocked, the man holding steaming biscuits, the women hidden in her head-to-toe mac. 

“Car’s packed,” she said to break the silence. She started off towards the car. The hotel wasn’t her problem. No doubt, the rain caused issues that were personal to her. 

“Thanks for the biscuits. And, well, good luck with whatever you do next.”

Wilf nodded. If he spoke he feared he’d cry. He couldn’t remember the last time he cried. 

“Many thanks,” May said. 

She shut the door behind them and went to the fire-place, putting more coal on. They’d be warm tonight. 

“Tea?” she said as she headed into the kitchen, picking up the tea-cups Wilf hadn’t yet cleaned up.

Wilf stared out the window, looking in between the greys to find a lighter spot. When he found one, he’d investigate it for any signs of blue. He knew it was too late now. Even if the sun shone tomorrow they didn’t have the funds to open the hotel again. 

It was over.  But still, he thought, it’d be nice if the sun did shine for a bit. 

He picked up one of the many estate agent leaflets that seemed to be gathering in the hotel. A young, happy man smiled at him from it. The sun was shining on him in the leaflet. 

“Sun always shines in these bloody adverts,” Wilf muttered to himself as his wife handed him a fresh cup of tea in a freshly washed white cup with subtle blue trim.

I wake up on the 9th of August

Imogen Brewer

I wake up on the 9th of August on a Sunday morning and turn over to look at the clock hung on the wall. Hanging on the wall are the pictures I hung up last year: me and Phoebe riding the roller coaster that came to the village; my mum helping me ride my first bike when I was five; my dad and I on our bikes when we went to Portugal. The clock read 9:00, it should be light by now, but the clouds look full of rain. I hope that a storm doesn’t start. When I open my wardrobe I see my clothes and know what I want to wear. I pick out some denim shorts and the top my mum bought me for my birthday (a plain black crop top) and pair it with a zip up hoodie. After getting ready, I open my bedroom door and go downstairs. My mum bought a loaf of bread yesterday so I have toast for breakfast. I run outside to explore the garden. We have just moved into a farm. I stop in my tracks and see the clouds loom over the chicken coops and stables threatening to start a storm. I decide to go out anyway since it is our new house and I haven’t seen past the woods yet. Running down the wood chip path, I stare upwards towards the rain filled clouds, but they still look like they are about to burst. Something catches my eye. In the overgrown grass, a garden gnome sat next to a tree, but he was half the size of me. I walk over to him and see he is crying. I bend down, careful not to frighten him and ask “why are you crying?” He replies with a sniff “My home was-was d-d-destroyed by the t-trolls.” Confused, I ask again “The trolls?” He looks up and stops crying. “Miss, c-can you can help us? The pixies and the fairies all need help. We are in danger.” “I- I don’t know how to help, what do I do?” His voice drops to a whisper. “Follow me”. I follow him for a few minutes until he stops at a huge tree that is surprisingly taller than the other trees. Then I see him inspect the trunk and press his hand into a knot on the side of the tree. Moments later, a wooden door just big enough to crawl through appears on the tree. I’m stunned into silence. He opens the door and walks through. Since I am too big to walk through, I have to crawl through the small door. After getting up and brushing the wood chips off my clothes, I look up and my jaw drops. In front of me is a world full of fairies, gnomes, pixies and all other sorts of magical creatures. The grass is perfectly green and there are little hat shops for the fairies and cobblestone paths. However, it only takes a minute to see past the magic and see that there are trolls everywhere. The gnome looks up at me “They are trying to overthrow Queen Georgie, they have tried everything but have not yet managed to get inside her castle, she has magic spells that are so powerful, but the trolls want them.” “How can I help?” I ask. He replies in a whisper “we need to find a way to get rid of all of them” My eyes light up “I have an idea, do you have a library?” He replied “Yes, it’s just down the road follow me!” When we reach the library, I walk inside and go straight to the very back shelf, all of the oldest books are kept there. One immediately catches my eye, ‘A History of Trolls’. As I read the book, a paragraph catches my eye ‘Trolls are creatures who love powerful magic, in 1862 Margot Daunt got rid of the trolls by luring them to the dungeons. She made a fake treasure map and dropped it next to a troll, he picked it up and the ‘treasure’ was in the dungeon’ and that’s what I decide to do. We spend about half an hour making the map and then we drop it next to a troll. Carefully, we hide behind a bush and watch to see what happens. The troll immediately calls his friends over and after a while, all of the trolls are gathered in the town. They travel in a large group towards the castle. We carry on behind them and see them go down the steps to the dungeon. We run to catch up because once they realise there is no treasure they will be angry. As we run down the stairs, we see the trolls enter the huge room. “Quick where is the key!” I say. He passes it to me and I lock the door. Horrified, the trolls turn around to see us cheering because now the pixies and the Queen are safe. I walk home on my own, excited to tell my mother and father, but already knowing that they won’t believe me. When I have crawled through the door, I hear my mum shout me for dinner. Pizza and chips, I almost forget what happened. 

The squirrels, the boy and the bread

(based on a real story)

Susana Cortés

The squirrels

It had been a long winter, and it didn’t seem to be getting to an end yet. As much as the squirrels, ravens, hedgehogs and all the other denizens of the park had worked hard during spring and summer getting a good stash of food for the winter, their rations were almost gone. The squirrels were therefore adventuring near the humanly inhabited areas of the park, searching for food that did not grow from the trees.

The boy

It was a beautiful freezing morning: blue sky, spongy white clouds, and crisp air. Valentín and his mum left the house and headed to the playground, stopping on the way to get a freshly baked loaf of bread, his favourite. He got a little bit of the bread and munched it while riding the pushchair, on the way to the park. The rest of the loaf was wrapped in a paper bag, and put into the basket under the pushchair. When they got to the playground, Valentin went down and ran to climb the pirate ship, the slide and the net.

The bread

Something smelled good near that area of the park where little humans played. Two squirrels tracked the smell all the way to the pushchair. They knew there was something good in there, but it was all wrapped and it was big. They called two more squirrels and studied the situation. The ravens had smelled it too, and they were nearby, paying attention.

Valentin’s mum said it was time to go home. He didn’t want to go yet, so she said: one last slide. When they were ready to go home, they walked towards the pushchair. Then they saw (or didn’t see) something strange: there was a squirrel on the pushchair seat, and the bread was missing!

A few meters away from the pushchair, a group of squirrels were pushing the loaf of bread while biting it, and two ravens were eating a couple of bits left in the way. The squirrels had saved the day! Or actually, a few days.

Valentin had mixed feelings: a bit sad because his favourite bread was gone, happy for the squirrels, but overall quite amazed that they had managed to carry a huge loaf all the way out of the pushchair towards the trees!

A Park Bench Love Story

Gavin Lewis

‘I remember when this were all trees’ said the man, his grey whiskered face set in a look that said he was busy remembering some distant past.

‘It still is all trees’ said the woman next to him on the bench, without looking up from her newspaper. 

‘Yes, but I remember when it was… more tree-ish’ he nodded to himself, happy that he had navigated a tricky observation from his wife.  She was good at those.  Good at them and good at knowing when he was avoiding doing the chores he had been designated custodian of.  As he sat basking in the freezing cold winter that York occasionally gave into, he relished the fact that normally at this time he would be elbow deep in peeling spuds, carrots and parsnips, but quick thinking and a small win on the lottery had made him suggest Sunday lunch out, with a stop off at the park on the way.

‘You’ll find that Rowntree Park was created in 1921 and since that time, has largely stayed the same’ she said.  When he least expected it, she would know these types of things.

‘Well, I don’t think they had skate parks or basketball courts in 1921’ he guffawed, as only someone born pre-1960 could.  Anyone born after this time laughed sarcastically.

‘Of course, they were a later addition, dear’ It puzzled him that he wasn’t allowed to get away with tricky observations himself, that there seemed to be an unwritten rule that his wife was the pre-eminent holder of tricky observations in their marriage, whilst he was seconded to the role of a subordinate lackey. Ok, there were occasional instances when he was allowed to have free reign over decisions, as was right and proper for a man in a relationship where he was number two breadwinner, and second in line to the throne of matriarch (though lately he suspected that should the throne be contested, his eldest daughter would unfairly claim top spot on the technical point of being a woman).

Right here and now though, he was master of his own domain, king of the park bench, this quiet corner of a properly ordered garden, with the sounds of the gentle if chilly wind blowing through the trees (which he was sure there were more of when he was younger), and the odd snippet of overheard conversation as fellow people wandered around for a constitutional.

He wondered for a moment what a constitutional actually was, but deeming it pretentious at best to use in actual conversation, discarded it as unnecessary to know.

A squirrel, one of them grey buggers that he’d been told had invaded Britain to the detriment of the reds, came loping over the grass, bold as brass towards them. 

‘Look at him, plucky little fella.’ The squirrel dodged closer past unseen possible swipes and stamps, until he was sniffing the toe of his shoe. ‘Are they supposed to be out at this time of year?’ he said quietly.

‘I don’t know dear’

‘Hmmm.  I thought they hibernated or something.  Like bears.’  He thought, staring into the unblinking eyes of the squirrel that seemed to have frozen to the ground. ‘And dormice.’ He saw her nod out of the corner of his eye.  He was on safe ground; she really didn’t know what creatures hibernated. ‘And of course, your turtles.  Little known fact that.’  Victory.  He was pretty sure he’d read once that a type of turtle hibernated, or seen it on an Attenborough documentary.

‘Turtles?’ She asked.

‘Yep, turtles’ A victory for husband kind.

The squirrel was still there.  He gently rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out the handful of nuts he brought with him every time they came to the park, just in case one of the squirrels, just like this one, was hungry. 

‘I don’t think you are supposed to feed them, dear’ she said without looking up.

‘Hang on’ he looked around, ‘nope, the park police aren’t around so I think we’re safe this time’.  He scattered some nuts on the ground and the squirrel moved like lightning to start picking them up, oblivious to his tutting wife.

‘Do you reckon they are happier than us?’ he said.  He didn’t know where that thought had come from, as it didn’t sound like something he would say, and that was himself thinking that.

She had looked up from her paper, a sign that what had just been said had been of serious enough concern for her marital radar to warrant the raising of the Wifely Periscope. ‘Are you happy, dear?’

‘Yes, yes, I didn’t mean I weren’t unhappy.’ He pulled out his best “everything-is-just-fine” smile and went back to watching the squirrel.  She hadn’t gone back to looking at the paper, which meant another question was on the way.  He needed to appease her so he could get on with observing the squirrel in peace.

‘You’d tell me if you were unhappy, wouldn’t you dear?’

‘Oh yes.  I’m always happy though so no need to worry.’  He could feel her regarding him for a moment longer before the periscope of worry went back down into reading the paper.

The squirrel meanwhile had gathered all of the nuts in a mad toing and froing from base of bench to some safe nut house in the trees, and was busily checking the ground for any it had missed.  Amazing creatures really, so busy and living in the, now he looked around him, quite a few trees that inhabited Rowntree Park.  All in all, it was a wonderful place to pass some time on a lazy Sunday, even in winter.

He caught sight of the Spartan helmet statue.  What on earth was that all about?

The paper rustled beside him as his wife folded it away.

‘Ready for a spot of lunch?’ He asked.

‘Oh yes.  I might even have a g&t’ she smiled at him.  God, she looked good, even after all these years.  The squirrels and their busyness, and random Spartan helmets would all be here next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and all the Sundays he could want to foresee, but here and now was the best Sunday, as they got up from their bench and slowly their chatting voices faded as they walked out through the trees.

The Painted Lady Dances 

Rebecca Sutcliffe (age 12)

The painted lady dances,

Upon her summer-time stage,

Her dress is white, and orange, and black,

But yet she cannot stay,

When the weather begins to cool,

When the evenings darken,

When the blue cornflower,

When the scarlet poppy,

When the mane of the dandelion,

When the delicate cow parsley,

All begin to fade,

Then the painted lady,

The painted dancing lady,

Upon the curtain will fall.

Our Bench

Duncan Bartlett

I remember being captivated by the cascading waterfall,

As it crashed over the rocks by the long gone ice cream stall.

I remember fish in the still waters under Mercury’s watchful eyes,

And listening to the brass band underneath summer’s azure skies.

I remember paddling and splashing in a pool in the open air,

My red yacht sailing on the pond with the slightest breath of air.

I remember moving away and leaving all the memories behind,

Pastures new were calling and there were new adventures to find.

I remember the years rolled by and the wanderer made his return,

Many changes filled his eyes in the city that he yearned.

I remember my blushing bride clinging to me as we walked,

First along the riverbank, kicking leaves up as we talked.

I remember returning to the park and the memories from before,

Now with children of my own it was time for them to explore.

I remember the pool, the fish, the bandstand had sadly disappeared,

Long gone was the waterfall, no ice creams and my eyes teared.

I remember times move on, we could see a board and roller park,

Basketball hoops, table tennis had now taken up their mark.

We remember walking a little further, there was a stirring in my soul,

There it was, in front of us, my rock, my fort, my goal.

I remember that was my bench, slightly warped, a split, a crack,

There it was with open arms and that sturdy oaken back.

I remember seeing initials carved which somehow gave it charm,

Memories of lovers, just like us, sat gazing in each other’s arms.

We remember all those times, sitting, watching our children grow,

Now the bench takes on a different form which nobody could know.

We remember, we will always remember 2020 and time beyond,

We sit on that bench with our memories in the reflection of the pond.

We remember the loved ones who have left us sadly all too soon,

We reflect on their lives as we sit there howling at the moon.

We will always remember sitting on our bench, it’s our escape,

As we sit and watch the world go by in this meaningful parkscape.

Rowntree Park Lake

Bill Beaumont (York resident and friend of Rowntree Park)

(With acknowledgment and apologies to Kenneth Grahame – Wind in the Willows)

In Rowntree Park, down on the lake,

By the grass and trees so tall,

Ducks and coots are a-dabbling,

Up tails all.

Ducks and drakes and coots tails,

Pointing up toward the sky,

Their heads down underwater,

No sound, no call or cry.

Feeding as they float along,

Just where they love to be,

Heads down and tails up,

Dabbling free.

Throughout the park folk come and go,

Children run and play and fall,

And the water fowl are still a-dabbling,

Up tails all.