The farmer’s boy



For Redvers

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


The dancing blades of grass which,
in our better lean years
stretched up spiked to tickle
hiking fingers or grew shaped for
oat-ear darts that in innocent minds
could take out a schoolboy eye.
Others too grew flat and wide to make
good cat-calls stretched between
thumbs that knew the art.
They join the Ham Hill breeze with us
in a mournful goodbye dance of eulogy to you.

These long-trodden ruts, with mud like pitch
by farming day and ankle-snapping wallows by
wartime night sucked at your boots and swallowed
the uncapped cigarettes of the part-time tommys
who perched, bayonets ready, over the vents of the
train tunnels. This Summer they bake stone-dry
undisturbed by you.

The secret corners of the meadows, like skirts unhitched
unbuttoned cloaks, let you pick, giggling,
your mushroom breakfast like that day we carried
them back triumphantly as victor’s trophies now
sit doleful and forgotten for wont of you.

And above the moor is the startled cry which
shrieks from the fluttering height of a hawk breed
called by a name none of us left can can bring to mind
yet it sprang to your smiling lips as easy as your
rambler’s stride outpaced us all; though you told me
and we rehearsed the right Somerset burr it passed
through my memory and out the other side.
I should have listened to you.

This Winter, when the hail fills the ditch
and the narrow snake lanes are drawn again
in pastel shades of frost and and the crows
shiver in the bare trees at the bite of a
bone-cutting wind, who will remember to crack ice
on the pond for the fishes if it’s not you?

When classes gather on rowdy trips,
chattering school days out poke at the
billhook and scythe on the hitch,
and with murmuring lips rehearse
the curls of a brogue tongue we’ve lost and
peer at the ruddy-faced sepia snaps of smocked men
crushed by the effort of lofting up those hand-built
hayricks, will they know one of the little boys was you?

Who is left to remember the willow switch
the strike of which peeled the smell
of the sweat steam from mud-dusty hide
to tear the plough through cake-crumb
soil with shrill pursed two-fingered whistles and
shouts of “here boys” and “walk on” to
plait the criss-cross pattern
of our farmland fit to burst later with Autumn
plenty if the who is not to be you?

How will we know the ways of every niche
to string the berry-bearing twine amongst
the nooks and crannys of glass or the bud
to tweak or root to lift and clumping ball
to split? The way to cast, broad and measured
in a cupped hand gnarled by ungloved labour
sleeps unwritten with you.

The joys of horse and rattling, rich
reward for boyhood toil, bucking cart,
riding high on the hay, your father pacing
at the rein; a tiny returning champion, skin
like leather; all now squared into an oil fairytale
to perch in maidenless parlours and picturesque
postcards who know nothing of you.

I knew you. I will remember.

Share on Facebook