Nomad is a book about Time – geological, mythic, historical and familial. Following the long journey from a pre-human world to the Gates of Grief, Paul Mills’ new collection tells a story of antler-bone spears, virgin forests, stone-tools, hand-prints on rock, ancestors and grandchildren. It’s about people together, the importance of art and story-making, of compassion and empathy. Above all, Nomad is a book about learning to use technology to survive the natural world without destroying it.
a boy with a book turning the pages The Story of the British People in Pictures Mary facing the block with scaffold composure Queen Jane blindfold over straw the gunpowder plot conspirators And when did you last see your father? a boy stands in the dock about to be hanged accused of theft staring into the eyes of the criminal code later Nelson not much older saying goodbye to his distraught mother SLAVES on an auctioneer’s billboard a Paris street a woman beating a drum history as error and correction The King and Kaiser in a carriage then The spark that set the world alight finally A record breaking train we lived in a semi in a cul-de-sac in the middle of Cheshire in the fifties the co-op by the railway bridge sold Hovis my father umpired the second eleven I was in the church choir we got a dog my mother’s rice puddings were awful history it seemed wasn’t interested in a time and place without events we watched General Montgomery on film shot by shot the ricochet of artillery when did it start? turning the pages back and further back there were scenes of people in their moment how with a puzzled look muscular savages urged a stone the weight of a railway carriage uphill to Stonehenge on wheels of logs while before that a man in skins sat carving an object out of bone there on rock the outline of a horse a woman a man he with bow and arrow wandered about hopelessly in the cold if only they could have climbed on board got away on a record-breaking train all of them missing out on now the boy wondered if any of them were fearful like Nelson’s mother but they knew nothing weren’t even British lost somewhere in the struggle against ice and before that and before that there were others but who? where? in a story beginning with no story
room to room you travel the world downward to its beginnings no life older than stromatolites on sea-bottom rocks grainy as braille blood-bathed hungers ferns that swim something like a pineapple with a mouth then up again and the eye of an ichthyosaur trapped in lias muscle-ringed for power vision catches you as you pass to surface in Anthropology chips of flint with found or made edges one knapped around the fossil of a shell masks that glare through glass towards an opposite tiled wall each one a stopped clock this totem pole three storeys high should be gazing out across the Pacific beaks and wings now husks its spirits flown over the road is a John Lewis store cafe the place to eat lettering in grey across one wall the year our founder took the first step from visionary thought to innovative business Byron born on the same site as our store in Oxford Street then one by Betjeman if the end of the world should come I’d like to be in a haberdashery department nothing unpleasant could ever happen there top floor windows aged complexions city roofs and spires from hunter-killers of the Cretaceous to opens branches in the Channel Islands who you are is always when and where
hands got so far off the ground they forgot about making footprints faces studied them carefully what could we do with these? what could we not? thumbs moved upward to join fingers closed on flint in pits of chipping and clattering stone seemed the point but pointed where? after so many hundred thousand years hands were restless wandered adrift between holes in flutes left their image upright on cave rock feeling the weight of boredom in the palm got it together shook on it arrow-shafts antler-bone ivory planed sharpened burned bound signing this way over there stop quietly more and more animals died spears pruning hooks on and on hands drawing metal out of stone tearing down refashioning making things that make things hands close to exhaustion how are we different they wondered from first-evolved hands? tiny hurricane finger-whorls through the leaves in no time driven to clicking words tapping information and what next? sometimes the forward gaze of the face lost interest so that hands again did what they wanted hands of a woman playing with those of a baby in a railway carriage the long explore of lovers’ hands filling themselves with each other and sometimes hands were lost for words hands laid on coffins hands where they can’t help
this small dinosaur skeleton on a shelf in the Museum of Earth Sciences in Cambridge its hands extended blind as if feeling for something as if flicking away little drops of water the head poised about to conduct steadying the orchestra quite unwilling to turn in our direction designed it seems so carefully like a fern bones like branches intercepted by wind surely when it evolved some sense of beauty must have declared itself because I am this is look no further balanced so finely the whole arrangement stretched out like Asia like a drawing a season in hell of course the music of screams and soon aer the first fossils appeared here behind glass for William and Dorothy apostrophists of the earth rocks and trees were already almost events a child-sized hill of moss an old thorn bush that moment on the lake when the mountain moved towards him through a dream of still-living darkness as if the earth were trying to become a story the dead who have gone down into deep time starting to come back beautiful and bone-swift
to see it you have to hold it palm gripping the curve thumb towards tip point and edge shaped for use to slice hack pierce dents for fingers squeeze it smooth wouldn’t do you can look now at its symmetry an exact bi-face laid flat under this desk lamp delta-winged aimed its reach global ready for take-off seductive not becoming extinct until the millennia it travelled found it so
dawn frost the heating on and condensation already formed on the kitchen’s inside glass beginning to slide trickle in loops spirals spurs wriggling forest vines and a figure between branches climbing out coming through hauling himself forward into a clearing I’ve seen him before imagined him one of the first coming into Europe out of the east following rivers and sunsets climbing a peak of rocks above the Danube he stands in the dripping pane looking around him testing the view where rafts are working upstream generations after him will reach ice will they survive the ferocities of the tundra? he is one of the first sons of the mother who is our mother he will never be rich never be poor through him behind him my garden beginning to shine an apple tree where a wren flits how far will his thoughts carry him? in his domed skull are all the tools he’ll need to survive in paradise and demolish it come no further I ought to say go back! he faces me between pathways of water will he begin to melt when the frost melts? he is disfiguring now in the heat of the kitchen divers reaching a deep recess will find his skull scattered among bones of cave bears
‘With the lightest and deftest of touches Paul Mills delineates a massive swathe of history in muscular and empathetic language. It’s no easy task but Paul’s skill is more than equal to it.’
‘These grounded, tender poems range between the scope and grandeur of prophetic utterance and the lucidity of lyric in an arc that embraces deep geological time and the intimacy of familial history.’
'An evocative exploration of where we came from and what it means to be human, bringing to life our unique experiences of loss, suffering, compassion and beauty along the way.'
Penny Spikins, Department of Archaeology, University of York
‘An extraordinary imaginative achievement, a collection of epic scope and lyric grace. Urgent and unflinching, these are poems I wish I could have written and know I'll go on re-reading.’