Response to Finding a Fossil at Writhlington Coal Batches


    A Fossil (a Fern) on Writhlington
    Batches Re-Take (Pt.II)

    Time not as we know it
    but another time quite skilled in losing things.
    Time pressed flat in a thousand directions;
    in which
    the fern’s delicate gap persists;
    a small leaf-sleeve of paper, a message meaning nothing;
    a small cough in the brittle stillness of earth floating on rock;
    a mere bent bit of triumph stubbornly resisting
    the deep weight of billions of tonnes
    of death
    carpeting a drowned wet bog,
    a drowned dead mineral rising
    under the felting and pressure
    of another forest under another horizon
    so vast it has forgotten it is curved, connected
    to every second of this Earth
    over the swamp of rock, beyond the difficulty
    of birth;
    a mere fern made of matter;
    a split second of consciousness;
    gone into seeing, seeing what the beauty shines with,
    seeing the queer entity of its coffin cracked open like a nutshell
    in the hand of a five-year child, here, before me,
    in time off from school.
    We heard it like a collar bone flung to the floor;
    better than it was, here,
    better than it was fluttering in the bright mid-morning air of a young day;
    waterless and lightless and virtually free
    of the pulse of dinosaur and giant flies.
    It is precisely cut
    like the inside of a watch
    which counts nothing, and serves nothing, and wastes nothing.
    The rest is the black torpor
    of unsung carbon;
    this batch, this spoil heap settling to a steep mound
    used by boys for bike-tracks. Black glitter.
    Rubbish-heap testimony
    which may as well be
    heaped up TV sets, Bakelite phones, fire grates,
    old men in filthy armchairs
    jammed up among their ash trays.
    Perhaps one or two, you could imagine,
    their spectacles would persist, or their lungs
    breathe on in captivity,
    their expression
    print to the hardening festoon of each grave,
    the hand deep in its pocket
    fumbling for a key, just paused,
    a key whose jagged shape is copied
    from the parent of all keys;
    and just then the negative brilliance of a minute detail
    would also come to rest, finally, for long enough;
    a creature disturb its ancient dreaming
    for the income it might proffer,
    the useless income.
    Or it would kill an incident for access to value,
    a value so tiny, so briefly mistaken for an answer
    to the cold and the dark,
    abstract and flapping its gritty feathers in the fire
    to get to the light, to sit by the blaze, to hear the story
    tell its ends,
    terrible and ancient, and weak, so weak
    by the warmth, saying, it was better, it was better,
    by the virtual fact of its knowledge, through its words;
    better too than it was before this, much better.


    Sean Borodale works as a poet and artist, making scriptive and documentary poems written on location. His first collection of poetry, Bee Journal, was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award and the T. S. Eliot Prize. His documentary poem Mighty Beast was produced for BBC Radio 3’s ‘Between the Ears’ and won the 2014 Radio Academy Gold Award for Best Feature or Documentary. In 2014 he was selected as one of twenty Next Generation Poets. He is currently Miriam Allott Fellow at the University of Liverpool.