Quelm Lane ran river-wise beyond the chestnut paling,
Across the bluebell belt and oak tree,
Where cultured garden ended.
On the other side lay the Sandy Hills and Jeans's Pond,
Where bikes and dreams would fly and stones skim high,
Where lowly lives ascended.
Past the wall that set aside Makepiece Road from Paradise,
Past the Ant Tree where friends would meet
To descend the foot-worn way;
There Quelm Lane lay, as certain as the River Thames,
Umbilicus mundi, to a greater life,
To wherever that lane would stray.
Hoof prints turned and cupped the quaggy winter soil,
While bi-valve spray peppered careless legs
And sucked the boots from skinny feet.
In endless summer that same baked way was fossil-bound,
Hard cast in clay by season's hands and time-worn trace of man;
Always on the spin and incomplete.
Past toxic myths of cuckoo spit, wolfsbane bite and digitalis death,
Fearful of the dragons in the tramp's-beard grass and
Ghosts in the bark of each old tree.
Past spring onion fields that stained the air with taboo bliss,
Where the smack of outlaw dirt was Fry's delight,
Where each tasty larcenous tingle set us free.
Where Quelm Lane died, lay Heaven and Rainbow's End,
Amble reward, for the rabble that had rambled;
A chance to mud up and wet our hands.
The brook, Ganges-bound, always in sun and speaking in tongues,
Slipped beneath the great Iron Bridge, a giant's stride,
Forever on, towards exotic lands.
We would fall upon the bank like soldiers, armed with nets and jars,
To yuk and wretch at the glutinous, heaving mess
Of a million tadpoles looking for their legs.
Curious sticklebacks would recklessly denude themselves,
Come to look at all the fuss and end up tasting jam,
Along with a hundred, one-eyed eggs.
At end of day, we'd leave palm prints in the mud and mud upon our face.
Some would release their hostages, like kindly kings,
While others took them to unransomed fate.
As we limply roved the well-worn way, we would boast
Of shadowy boatmen, natterjacks, nymphs, and whirligigs,
Tall tales, small boys and endless summer days.