A space for poems you like to read again and again.
This weekend we have poems by Lesley Quayle, Ian Duhig, Brian Johnstone and Mandy Macdonald. A small group of poems will be published each weekend, usually on Sunday.
For earlier poems see the August Archive. How to send, see first post of the month.
The Herdwick Tup
As I unlatched the barn door’s creaking hasp,
The grey ewes gathered, hungering, at my back,
Dawn’s sallow glimmer pricked the tine and cusp
Of hawthorn crowns and slipped across the beck.
He wasn’t in the clamour for fresh hay,
Nor by the mistle, so I went to seek,
Hurrying through the damp grass, till I saw
The great, slumped shadow against the lambing creep.
A rim of light, pale cuticle of day,
Peeled back the shroud of night and, naked, trembled
About his corpse. The scavenging jackdaw
Retreated where the briar thickets scrambled
Down the banking to the weedy waters.
I knelt beside him in the soft churned mire,
Clasping the thick, coiled horns, whorled tortuous
As giant ammonites, and pulled him clear.
Thirteen winters toiling on the fells
Had earned him old age in the lower pasture,
And easy forage from the brimming pails
Of plump, flaked barley; shelter, a placid cluster
Of shearling ewes. He thrived for two more years
Before his withering heart curled like a leaf
And snapped its sinewy stem. Caught unawares,
Hot tears sprung, overwhelming me with grief.
Beneath the rowan tree we dug a pit,
No knacker’s hacking blade to slit and skin
The heathery fleece, or spill the ripening gut
In heavy slicks, no splintering of bone
Against blunt cleaver. The sharp spade sliced the turf.
The rowan, giving up its dappled greens
For brief fire, spilled a russet blaze of leaf
And blood-spot berries across the earthy wounds.
The grey ewes move like shadows down the slope,
Blue smoke, straight up, from ashed and riddled fires,
Dogs bark, the wild, black geese reclaim the lake,
A cockerel’s cry eviscerates the air.
‘The Herdwick Tup’ was a winner of the BBC Wildlife Magazine Poet of the Year competition and was first published in 1999. The author read it out on Radio 4’s Poetry Please and it was repeated twice on Pick of the Week.
Harada O-kinu of The Storm in the Night
was cherry-fresh; her shaved eyebrow
borrowed violet from the rainbow’s edge
the day she was sold to a pawnbroker.
She redeemed herself, shaving bamboo
into his sticky rice. The son of Osaka,
they say, ruined himself because of food.
The headsman served Takahashi O-den
with his cutter’s bill. She had murdered
for her lover, indebted over his brocade.
He left her in the cemetery, her haiku
cut in stone. A public lavatory stands
by her grave now. The son of Kyoto,
they say, ruined himself over clothes.
Hanai O-ume was a theatre woman
who became the subject of a play:
from geisha saving for a teahouse
to the pimp eyeing her up there…
By willows, in a fine soft rainfall,
she cut his lights. The son of Edo,
so they say, ruined himself looking.
originally published in ‘The Bradford Count’ from Bloodaxe in 1991.
Slap it hard with every beat, play
percussion on the back seat of the car
until the driver gets the notion
that it’s time the radio was off, time
he drew the line, his fatherly concern
for welfare more towards the leather
of the vehicle’s upholstery
than distraction from the road
he’s steered down many times before
taking the 60’s family for runs
he’d sooner have declined, since
he’s driving every working day for pay
to keep the wolf he’d spotted lurking
at the corner of the street as far
from his front door as effort can, only
to find the wild thing howling in his ears
from pirate stations sons insist upon,
his own boys loudly baying for the chase.
First published in Magma 53, May 2012
knowing one’s place
I have taken careful note of
the precise point between ear and lip
where it is permissible to kiss you
have memorized the delicate
I never stray from the path
when I am with you
as they say the north star is
……………………………..we two against the world
……………………………..alone in a room together
……………………………..whoever else is there
in dreams I throw away the map and venture out
into less charted and more
first published in Pushing Out the Boat, issue 11, 2012.