Poems

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

Nora and the Flood

A yellow tractor glimmers gold until a scrim of rain
blurs the buttercup meadow. Two rainbows
arc Widdop Reservoir before fading to drizzle.
A pylon steels itself, static against sodden wind.
Swallows on wires dream of South Africa.

The storm builds, boils, pitches hail
at a corrugated iron cowshed. Lead-shot clatter
rattles grouse nesting on the moors.
Wadsworth Mill’s soaring smokestack
splits a flypast of geese that trumpet their exodus.

Chased indoors by thunder, a collie flattens to a rug,
nuzzles slate tiles under a farmhouse table.
Down in the town, sandbags slump to attention
in the dripping doorway of the abandoned chip shop.
An inside-out umbrella cartwheels along Market Street.

Later, in coal-black terrace, Nora Murgatroyd
plays On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at by candlelight –
at a piano raised above floorboards on two slabs
of Yorkshire gritstone. She feels fifteen again
as she pumps the pedals, her naked toes tickling the river.

Third prize in the Watermarks Poetry Competition 2016

Judge: Clare Shaw

Telephone Box

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

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

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

On the concrete floor, a cigarette end
fragrances the 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.

A woman in tweed and wellingtons
stomps by, barking at her dog.

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