Salter's Gate

There, in that lost
       corner of the ordnance survey.
Drive through the vanity —
       two pubs and a garage — of Satley,
then right, cross the A68
       past down-at-heel farms and a quarry,

you can't miss it, a 'T' instead of a 'plus'
       where the road meets a wall.
If it's a usual day
       there'll be freezing wind, and you'll
stumble climbing the stile
       (a ladder, really) as you pull

your hat down and zip up your jacket.
       Out on the moor,
thin air may be strong enough to   
       knock you over,
but if you head into it
       downhill, you can shelter

in the wide, cindery trench of an old
       leadmine-to-Consett railway.
You may have to share it
       with a crowd of dirty
supercilious-looking ewes, who will baaa
       and cut jerkily away

after posting you blank stares
       from their foreign eyes.
One winter we came across five
       steaming, icicle-hung cows.
But in summer, when the heather's full of nests,
       you'll hear curlews

following you, raking your memory, maybe,
       with their cries;
or, right under you nose,
       a grouse will whirr up surprised,
like a poet startled by a line
       when it comes to her sideways.

No protection is offered by trees —
       Hawthorn the English call May,
a few struggling birches.
       But of wagtails and yellowhammers, plenty,
and peewits who never say peewit,
       more a minor, go'way, go'way.

Who was he, Salter? Why was this his gate?
       A pedlars' way, they carried
salt to meat. The place gives tang to
       survival, its unstoppable view,
a reservoir, ruins of the lead mines, new
       forestry pushing from the right, the curlew.

Anne Stevenson, “Salter’s Gate” from Poems 1955-2005. Copyright © 2005 by Anne Stevenson. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd.
Source: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2005)
More Poems by Anne Stevenson