Imagine my Great-Uncle Mick, a young man then,
working with his father and Tommy, the hired man.
Imagine the father, swearing at Tommy as they worked
felling trees, or fencing, or whatever. Imagine
the swearing and the bullying and Tommy’s meekness –
he needed, not just his wages, but his keep.
And Mick’s placid nature, you’ll have heard of that?
How he was always cool as cool and hard to rile.
That day he turned and swung for his father,
hitting him hard with his fist and letting him know
that there’d be no more making a mockery
of the hired man on this farm, that Tom
was welcome on his own terms, so long as he worked.
That put an end to things – that set things straight,
and Tommy Burke lived there until he died.
Some say home’s a place you haven’t to deserve.
When Mick threw that blow it only went to show
that deserving makes no difference, that the boy
with the blue mongrel on a piece of string
outside the supermarket had maybe
no-one to throw for him when it counted –
or that the wayfarer who turns up
in Monkton Wylde three or four times a year
and speaks of how he was brought up in care
‘when mother died of a floating kidney’,
was married once, and once was in the army,
could have done with more of a hand up,
more of a lift, when the time was right.
See there – the leery moon’s as bright as ever.
The earth breathes gently under her cold swell
and the seas rise up to greet her. I lay to rest
that house where Tommy dandled my small shape
and boiled our eggs for tea. Since then, my fist,
though smaller than Mick’s great ham,
can throw a solid punch, could take the ground
from under you, for example, knock you flat,
or even lift you up and dust you down,
or furthermore (stop laughing at me) ruffle that quiff
that runs along your crown, your leaning head.
And as for home, why, I’ll take it where I find it,
just as a cloud might hit or miss the moon,
yet continue her trajectory through the sky.
He lived down the Littleton Road in his bender,
a homemade number, just a piece of green tarp
pulled over bent willow. There he tended his she-goat
and minded the fire with bit-sods of turf,
old pieces of timber. A gentle old man,
he came up to our farm only for water.
It fell into the pail from the tap in the yard.
As shy as a wild hare he’d nod his head,
we’d nod back at him, and then he would smile.
When the bucket was brimful, it was back to the bender,
to the shaggy white she-goat with vertical pupils
and dung-yellow eyes. Well-mannered tinker!
When once I swore, out of plain wonder,
with that flowery vocab country children acquire,
one hot afternoon as I passed by his site
with its smoky smell, its olor gitano,
‘Lord Jesus Almighty! She has only two tits!’
(for all other beasts in the known world had
four, or eight, or sometimes twelve,
except for us, to my girlish knowledge),
he coloured and flushed, and a ruddy tinge
seeped up from his neck and raddled his face,
and further rose, this fiery blush,
to his freckled ears, their hot, translucent tips.