Poetry

from Huntingdonshire Elegies; Elgar

I

They are trimming the English elm at the farm, the one that leans

and reaches and begs to be spared. “It’s good to be alive,”

calls Farmer Tradition, who woke one morning to headlines

declaring his wife had come back from the dead. I wave

and aim for the second surviving elm, a mile down the bridleway

into the next county, where Farmer Grudgingly once drove

his pickup at us for trampling the grants on his nest-edge

(our last walk here before my mother died), and reach an invisible

tunnel Farmer Enlightenment thought he must exorcise and purge

of its dancing white magic. The place tries to hum the steps

but it’s mute. Only two swans, letting their silent springs

run down across the ploughfield, the keep-out sign, the rape

will join these floaters in my vision; while the high warbling

larks, the lapwings’ beep-and-sweep may distract from tinnitus

like digital toys above that Boys’ Own castle drawbridge

Farmer Templar-Knights says he uncovered there, and burned.

                                                                       

II

Blossom that falls almost as soon as it’s shrouded the bones

of our apple trees—the three of them, two from the long

banished auctioneer, Warner’s King, and one Orleans

Reinette, rough, acidic still, never the sweet

regime the Brigadier promised. Since it’s Bank Holiday,

we thought we’d drive to the Orchard Tea Garden, meet

Brooke, Woolf, Russell, Forster—but so many cars

and it’s raining, we might not even make it out of our books.

Home, then. Free verse. Let others crowd at the bars

to Jeffrey Archer’s house. Tiny apples have appeared

as the boughs round off their pole dance. May, and my pencil

is plaiting music to which only she knows the words.

                                                                       

III

Soon, the karts will have started up and scared off the lark

idling invisibly over Rookery Farm. On the airfield road,

May blossoming into rape and high cirrus, I snake

around nothing, though there were hedges once, elms, and huts

where girls sprawled out of nose cones into prairie dreams.

From converted station to chapel to where the A-road cuts

Spaldwick from all the Giddings with its psalm to residual

nesting ground, meadow, set-aside, I freewheel home.

Twenty-five years ago I walked through the middle

of a summer night to reach you. At this Z-bend, I still

remember finding the sign I had been looking for, where today

there is a fox, tame, in someone’s garden, with collar and bell.

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