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by Michael Mackmin

When I say 'they are cutting the barley'
I am speaking a dead language.
What does it signify? They: are cutting:
the barley: at most an image
out of a car window,
a machine in the corn,
as remote as (also dead) 'Lammastide'.

At new year, at this new year,
a conjecture, 'it is thought'
the ancestors got drunk on old beer,
ate new baked barley cake, put a boy
in a basket, cut his throat, burned him to ash -
first fruits.
Also remote (all, so).

When I say they are cutting the barley
I have in mind various stories,
images, a girl of ten years
holding the neck of a horse,
kissing the face of the horse, or
stooks, stacks,
threshing, (further away are 'flails').

The barn has doors north and south, that way
the wind clears the chaff. the house
has a foot of chaff packed between floor
and ceiling, ceiling and roof space,
a ladder to the attic -
the hired girl slept with the apples -
this is also conjecture, a fiction.

Whoever she is she steps out, mid-day,
with the dark ewers of alcohol,
to find the men, (where are we now?)
They are not mowers with scythes,
all they have is hooks,
sickles: sharp
the cut stubble picks at her ankles.

You will not see her from the motorway,
she might be you, Ruth, not
sure, really, yet. While the men drink
she picks at the skin on her wrist,
stares at a stone on the ground,
all this done much as a
snake licks at the air.

And is this so terrible? A language
invents (love, death, a journey: but my dear
the dead boy is real). Is the field
clear for the moon to rise?
The barley is cut and carted,
the women have milled
a coomb sack of it.

(This poem appears by kind permission of the author and Happenstance Press.)


Norfolk Poems




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