Riding the bus gives you time to think. Time to wonder who your fellow passengers are and where they are going. On one particular morning, on one particular 555 bus from Kendal to Keswick, I sit next to an old lady. And as she wakes and knits and eats and writes, I make up a history for her. A history that’s shaped the landscape we are travelling through. A story that precedes the Romantic Poets and their daffodil seedlings. A past that is older than the lakes themselves.
I meet an old lady on a Lakeland bus
Some might say she looks as old as the hills.
I’d say she’s older, from a time before
the limestone wall was shaped from ancient bones
like hers. Before shepherds pushed weary limbs
up steep incline in dwindling winter light
to help broken herdwick recalibrate
and scamper back home, she roamed this place.
I trace her journey in her contoured face.
She wakes from her doze and adjusts her fleece.
When mother nature tired and took rest
she rose and teased out fluffy cirrus nests.
Knit one, pearl one, her needles start to clack.
She tracked the rise and fall of fell on felt,
crocheted seasonal changes into quilt.
She cross stitched gate, tacked mountain onto plain,
sewed glistening sequins onto drops of rain.
She unwraps a sandwich from reused foil.
Back then she cooked and baked. She weighed the dark,
stirred light into river, night into tarn.
She added water. Drew the tide to Grange
and swirled it back again down yeasty shore.
Poached fish from the sea and moon from the stars.
Before the sands first shifted and took life
she salted the sea, shaped the bore with her knife.
She completes a cryptic clue; seven down.
Before the poet ever noticed cloud
she wandered lonely, eulogising cry
of curlew. She sketched thunder in sky,
and charcoaled rain. Carved pain in stooping back
of Coniston’s old Man. Watercolour
brought to life each leaf, and every stem.
She painted pot of gold at rainbows end.
I wipe steam from the centre of the glass
and together we watch her life’s work pass.
Just the two of us. Strangers on a bus.
She offers me toffee; tree bark fingers
clutching sticky sweetie bag. I pop one
into my mouth and chew. It tastes of milk
and caramel and centuries of time
and it lasts until the end of the line.