Owen Sheers: Poetry Poem Text

Owen Sheers: Poetry Poem Text

Mametz Wood

For years afterwards the farmers found them –

The wasted young, turning up under their plough blades

As they tended the land back into itself.

A chit of bone, the china plate of a shoulder blade,

The relic of a finger, the blown

And broken bird’s egg of a skull,

All mimicked now in flint, breaking blue in white

Across this field where they told to walk, not run,

Towards the wood and its nesting machine guns.

And even now the earth stands sentinel,

Reaching back into itself for reminders of what happened

Like a wound working a foreign body to the surface of the skin,

This morning, twenty men buried in one long grave,

A broken mosaic of bone linked arm in arm,

Their skeletons paused mid dance-macabre

In boots that outlasted them,

Their socketed heads tilted back at an angle

And their jaws, those that have them, dropped open.

As if the notes they had sung Have only now, with this unearthing,

Slipped from their absent tongues.

The Light Fell

The weather was confused all day

So who can say why it was just then

The light fell that way –

The sun riding slow, burnishing

For a minute, no more, the tops of the hills

Against a curtain of cloud, ashen with rain and snow.

Or why it was then the deer chose to show their faces,

Lift their heads from gazing, step near, pause

Before coming on again. “Oh human life, mysterious”

I heard a woman cry, “not gone, oh no, not gone”.

There’s electrics you know.

I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it to be so”.

And as the light fell drew our eyes, a thinning seam of amber

Compressed between the land and sky, I could believe it too.

That your guiding hand had motion still

And influence among these hills, to light the

Crag and Michael’s Vale Just so, according to your will.

And as the soil hit the wood and the gathered crowd moved,

Pressed arms, said what they could, wished well and farewell,

That it was just as much you as the still lowering sun

That threw one flank of the valley dark

And left the other lit,

To illustrate, as the land here always did,

What we’d but sensed within ourselves.

How at once and from the very same source,

A light could rise, as the same light fell.

The Hill Fort

On a clear day he’d bring him here,

His young son, charging the hill

As wild as the long-maned ponies

Who’d watch a moment

Before dropping their heads to graze again.

When he finally got him still

He’d crouch so their eyes were level,

One hand at the small of his back

To the other tracing the horizon,

Pointing out all the places lived in

By the fathers and sons before them:

Tretower, Raglan, Bredwardine…

And what he meant by this but never said, was

“Look. Look over this land and see how long

The line is before you – how in these generations

We’re no more that scattered grains;

That from here in this view, 9, 19, or 90 years

Are much the same;

That it isn’t the number of steps

That will matter,

But the depth of their impression.”

And that’s why he’s come back again,

To tip these ashes onto the tongue of the wind

And watch them spindrift into the night.

Not just to make the circle complete,

To heal or mend,

But because he knows these walls,

Sunk however low,

Still hold him in as well as out:

Protect as much as they defend.

The Farrier

Blessing himself with his apron,

The leather black and tan of a rain-beaten bay,

He pinches a roll-up to his lips and waits

For the mare to be led from the field to the yard,

The smoke slow-turning from his mouth

And the wind twisting his sideburns in its fingers.

She smells him as he passes, woodbine, metal and hoof,

Careful not to look her in the eye as he runs his hand

The length of her neck, checking for dust on a lintel.

Folding her back leg with one arm, he leans into her flank

Like a man putting his shoulder to a knackered car,

Catches the hoof between his knees

As if it’s always just fallen from a table,

Cups her fetlock and bends,

A romantic lead dropping to the lips of his lover.

Then the close work begins; cutting moon-sliver clippings,

Excavating the arrow head of her frog,

Filing at her sole and branding on a shoe

In an apparition of smoke,

Three nails gritted between his teeth,

A seamstress pinning the dress of the bride.

Placing his tools in their beds,

He gives her a slap and watches her leave,

Awkward in her new shoes, walking on strange ground.

The sound of his steel, biting at her heels.

Not yet My Mother

Yesterday I found a photo

Of you at seventeen

Holding a horse and smiling,

Not yet my mother.

The tight riding hat hid your hair,

And your legs were still the long shins of a boy’s.

You held the horse by the halter,

Your hand a fist under its huge jaw.

The blown trees were still in the background

And the sky was grained by the old film stock,

But what caught me was your face,

Which was mine.

And I thought, just for a second, that you were me.

But then I saw the woman’s jacket,

Nipped at the waist, the ballooned jodhpurs,

And of course the date, scratched in the corner.

All of which told me again,

That it was you at seventeen, holding a horse

And smiling, not yet my mother,

Although I was clearly already your child.

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