Stubborn Cow

Your standoff with the boundary fence continues.
You lean your weight into it. Not your full weight
or you might topple. Just a lumbering
steady pressure. You pull back when the jolts of pain
become too much – your bullwhip tail powerless
against the low-voltage assault. Largely
you absorb the shocks. Unfetter the odd bellow
at midges furring the slurry pit. As days trudge by
you feel your opponent yield, inch-by-inch
under half-a-ton of black and white burden.
You chew on that thought – cool as a gunslinger
before the draw, barren eyes drilling into the future.
Inevitably, raw heft buckles the fence.
You tie your tongue round wire to drag it clear,
gag on mouthfuls of electricity.
But the grass on the other side is emerald green
and you ease into the long grind of breakfast.
Later, slumped and flanked by horseflies, you wait
for the gentle scratch of rain. Blink at a dry-stone wall.

First published in The Rialto

Coalscar Lake

Night-time throws me back again
to Coalscar Lake – silenced birds,
midges fat as flies, the broken plough
and sunken car, a playground dare,

that first dash across the field of Friesians,
blankness in their eyes, a child-size hole
slashed through barbed-wire, my cousin’s
torn parka, one pasty to share,

felled warning signs,
‘Danger’, ‘No Swimming’, ‘Keep Out’,
the twenty-yard march of thorns,
it hooks our jeans and scores flesh bare

and then the greasy slick of water,
black as the poacher’s shotgun,
coffin black with a lid of green, keep back,
don’t look, there’s something there

the policeman shedding his hat,
a rowing boat, voices cast across the lake,
shadows dripping, dragging it
to shore. The chaplain’s prayer.

First published in Butcher’s Dog

Telephone Box

It’s stranded on the edge of town,
open all hours for the disconnected.

I step inside to confess to my failings.
The afternoon sun hallelujahs hope

felt-penned onto glass:
Gaz & Jen 4ever   United   Rise up!

On the concrete floor, a cigarette end
spices dog-damp air, rasps its last breath.

A kilim of lichen and daisies
uncurls through the ventilation gap.

Then I notice the sign: Out of Service.
The handset is a brick in my fist.

I’m about to hang up when I catch
scratches of a voice, a lost soliloquy.

It’s only static, but it sounds like someone
praying for forgiveness. I stay awhile,

count the cars slipping by, one by one,
like beads through my fingers.

First published in Prole