They line up around the towns;
dark faces hang over fences,
gates, stable doors.
They don’t turn away.
They flick at flies,
shuffle, jostle a little.
People stop looking, drivers
keep eyes ahead, windows
on trains and buses blinded
by newspapers, coats, bags.
in petrol stations. Badgers play
on motorways. Verges widen.
The horses toss their heads
at changing weather,
blow gently, don’t whicker
They stay in line,
creak light from their joints
as they stamp, swish tails.
Grass grows a thrum
beat green green
and daisies plink plink
here there over there
hearts twang along
a stem arching
over snowy mountain stars
tulips wail from buds
blare their passion
Peer into hedgerows,
part thickets and look
in their dark centres,
trail through pine woods,
kick through leaves under beech trees.
Clear the ditches,
drag the pond, examine each tangle
of weed and scrap of metal,
use a pole to prod deep
until you know there’s nothing there.
Check the outhouses;
move the old bikes, the mower,
the paint cans and scraps of wood.
Rake through the dusty nuggets
of coal in the corner, pull cobwebs
away from the shelves, ignore
gritty smears on your hands.
Go home. Search the cellar,
the attic, pull out boxes from under beds,
chests from closets. Look inside.
Learn to wait.
Cunning, we never caught her cheating
at cards. No aces up her sleeves nor tucked
in the leg of her bloomers; no mirrors
at sneaky angles nor thumb-nailed corners.
Rummy in the evenings and cribbage
with the old man, used matchsticks
marching along holes on the worn board.
On Boxing day, always Newmarket,
old pennies and ha’pennies saved
for betting on the picture cards
from another pack laid out
in the centre of the drop-leaf table.
Calls of Nanny! You’re cheating!
made her grin or cackle
as the pennies piled up by her elbow
and her glass of stout emptied,
creamy froth making patterns
like tea-leaves for reading.
Remonstrations of Really, Mother!
brought winks and gurning,
her sideways twinkle at us
making sure we knew she cheated
when it didn’t matter.