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A breath of air

Friday 8 May 2009

We drove between Wiltshire and Shropshire this Bank Holiday weekend, and saw a lot of sheep and lambs in the fields, and various kinds of cattle in other fields. Exposure to so many livestock made me remember a poem i wrote at the height of the devastating foot-and-mouth outbreak.

(If you’re not familiar with the counties of England, there’s a map at ITravelUK. In fact if you are, the map’s still there. Wiltshire, though Wikipedia includes it in the West Country, isn’t quite in my opinion. (Is it a matter of opinion? I wonder.) If you find Dorset on the south coast, Wiltshire’s just north of it. Shropshire is on the Welsh border, light grey on that map.)

2001 was our first summer here, and a chilling introduction to being country mice instead of town mice. The atmosphere of plague – hurriedly-painted signs at gateways begging drivers not to use them for turning, for fear of spreading the virus; roads blocked by thick layers of straw functioning like the red cross that signified a house touched by the Black Death; billowing columns of black smoke where farmfuls of animals had been culled – made me, mainly townie, deeply aware that agricultural life is not all cider and sunsets. Not that i’d thought so, but this brought it home.

A breath of air

© mmSeason 2001

Out from town scents to lungfuls
of unsubtle healthy country
and I remember children’s farms at lambing:
indoor muck and mess,
outdoor odours penned with the ewes,
straw-strewn mud receiving blood-streaked babies
bleating and teetering even as their mothers lapped
the wool-veined afterbirth. I felt for them,
heavily couched on muddied straw, stilled by birthing.

Out now in fresh fields those lambs, leaping
and stop-steppingly grazing, dart
among their unexhausted dams;
one I see alert, stiff-limbed, sniffing spring
or departing winter. Or does he smell,
across acres, his cousins’ pyre?

photo © Sarah Macmillan

photo © Sarah Macmillan

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday 11 May 2009 11.40 pm

    Ha–I like it. 🙂 A little distracted at the moment, but no nits for it.

    • Tuesday 12 May 2009 11.05 am

      Nits? What, from the sheep?
      Thanx for liking it. And very much, for showing your face here. 80)

  2. Monday 11 May 2009 4.48 pm

    Wiltshire is West Country …the accent 🙂

    Nice poem…need to escape Swindon & get on the downs

    • Monday 11 May 2009 5.44 pm

      Thanx for your comment, Sean, and welcome to the Travel Hopefully Blog. 80)
      I agree, outside-Swindon is definitely better for the soul than in-Swindon!

  3. Sunday 10 May 2009 1.28 am

    I love this, and I really liked “stilled from birthing.”

    • Sunday 10 May 2009 12.50 pm

      Good to see you here, Heather, and thanx for your comment. 80)

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