Sudis

At mop fairs, men would come
To sell their labour for a fare price;
Days measured by the swinging arc
Of bill hook or adze, sickle or scythe
Or miles of trudging, scuffed leather
Behind the plough, stooking the sheaves
Labourers, lengthsmen – 
Badging, tending, tilling.

Clean cuts to beech knuckles, bent and pinned;
Clean cuts through rich earth, sharp mouldboards
Clean cutting the leaf mould-fuelled loam;
Clean cuts to the crop base, harvest and heap;
Clean cut the oak frame, for barn or byre.

Now, hedges are flailed and thrashed
Fallow and fruitless, gaunt and grubbed;
Now, dispassionate blades, blunt with motion,
Rip and rend, leaving only siege works;
Now, rived caltrops, a vicious barbed sudis
Deter intruders with thrusts and jabs.
Now, the stook of the wheatsheaf long gone;
Days measured by the swinging arc
Of muscle and might and man,
Lost to the clamour of money and motion and time.




Ditch Diggers

They dug the ditches deep back then;
They had to –
Beating back the boundaries
Of nature’s millennia
Never had an adze or briar hook been seen
Until then.

Narrow blades; course hammered,
Drain spades and trench shovels
Lugged and bent
Where the shaft hooked the housing;
Sure footing for the sure-footed boot
To stand on, force, rend, cut.

The Navvy’s forebears,
Local stock, not travelled,
Except by foot or ox cart
Descended like bloody midges, swarming
To the Mop Fairs, hiring out blistered hands,
For work, for women, for wealth.

And they broke –
Broke the turf-sods and clod-soil,
Broke the rootstock and tap shoots,
Broke, with badging tools and sickle-scythes;
Broke, with froes and beet hooks;
Broke their backs for coppered toil.

These days, we dig and cover –
The shovel-scoop of the iron ox forces, rends and cuts
The drains, grey tubes, flushing, free –
But look close,
Where the litter lies in the old hedge line
Where the soft mud gathers, draped in half-mulched leaves –

There, lie the shallow trenches
There, the mark of the old ditch diggers
Cruddy trickles;
Chip wrappers, rusting beer cans
Their memoriam;
Their last will, their testament.