Hooded men, they told us, well above the ground
on the far side of the hedge, and moving a strange way
– not walking, not on bikes.
City boys, they had never seen a man on horseback:
it was weird, they said,
and they left the Muir as quietly as they could.
We hardly needed to ask them where
– beside that old stone, the one with the funny writing.
And they seemed to us to be genuinely spooked.
I suppose the village kids
might have put them up to it – but then,
how much would the village kids know?
All this time, and nobody talks about
the religious wars, or the ambush
on the east road. The government’s man;
his daughter, who survived it;
or the men who rode the carriage down,
who refused to answer the court when they were taken
– unabashed, as if
it was something to the greater glory.
In the end, it was their side
who won. And on the Latin stone
at the scene, they’re named as martyrs.
Late Saturday morning, December
The light is low and sidelong.
It warms some of the grey flowers in the curtains
pink and yellow, but only some.
We can see a sliver of white sky
and we know outside the frost is lying
undisturbed in places daylight hasn’t been for days
– in corners, under edges, behind trees.
It’s pale, with a sheen like finery.
It’s all set to unbalance us.
We wish we had held a bonfire on the shortest day
and told the sun how we loved
her brassy, forward style.
Now we wait as she sidles - hunched, hung-over –
around the edges of her stamping-ground,
smoking a fog, trying
not to meet the public eye.
We hope she’ll be back again;
that nothing will keep our red-hot mama down.
But for now we lie long in our little warmth, reluctant
to commit ourselves to the smooth world
she wishes she had not embraced:
the suave, pearly surfaces that tempt us on
to take another step, the one
that betrays us.
From a dream: Strathmore
is colonised by Australians
of Scots descent. A taciturn folk
who keep themselves to themselves:
and yet at any turn of the road now
– in the middle of berryfields, grain,
dairy pasture – you might happen
upon a cattle-station,
and white verandahs shadeless
under its bony eucalyptus trees.
It is trapped in a well of its own
harsh conditions, the only dust for miles
clagging it, and the air shimmering
over it, and nowhere else.
It ignores you.
The lean dogs and the fierce
recalcitrant horses never stir.
If you watch for long enough,
then maybe you’ll see
the farm woman, in cotton frock and apron,
move behind the screens;
or the man, shaded under his hat, emerge
and ride away.
But they never greet you
and they’re never seen
about, in the sway of barley, down
the raspberry lines. They don’t remember
what it is
to have near neighbours: fading through,
they work their distant, underlying Australia
where the herds scatter in scrub
as far as the red horizon.
What could they have to say to you?
Could they tell you how they were fetched
here, their hard lives intruded
into this cold, suspiciously lush place
in the old country? Or how you
appear to them: a mirage, perhaps,
they have more sense than to follow?
which of you sought the other out, or where
this is, that your eyes almost meet
again and again. Is it your dream, or their own?