A breath of air
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?