Afar, a thin lichen blotched steeple
And badged with green
Like a lanky Boy Scout.
Ahead, a blackthorn hedge
Cleaved near the root
By billhook and determination;
Muscled over, sloping branches,
Silhouetted like nature’s tally-marks.
Up close, the ridge and furrow:
Broad ridges, a yard across;
Furrows, a yard wide, and half that deep –
Fixed in earth, these fossilised waves,
Collecting the winter sun,
Refracting light, vivid outlines.
They do not crash or break
They billow only over a lifetime’s course
There is no wash or rip
Every seventh is the same not higher.
The pull of the moon does not mould
These ripples of turned and re-turned earth.
The sound of the oxen still echoes here
And the Medieval plough casts ancient shadows.
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.
On the scrubland, up by the pool
Is a hedge, bird-planted,
Irregular, gnarled, bowing –
Part-clipped by passing walkers,
Rubbing shoulders with dangling limbs
Of dappled haw and speared blackthorn;
And just where the path forks,
Where the blackbirds forage,
Is a runt of a tree –
Leaves, blotched and marked –
Feral street kids
Searching for favour
Amongst the big lads.
Yet the fruit shines as it falls now,
Some glossy where it’s smiled at the sun,
More, lime green and bashful,
Most, tumbled and fallen,
Littering the path – a cider-mulch
Sweet like Valhalla’s mead –
The only Gods here, the hawk moths
And feasting crows.
No orchard this –
No tending, nor pruning,
No skirting, nor grafting –
Just the illicit love children
Of a discarded Orange Pippin
And – who knows? Perhaps noble lineage –
A Foxwhelp or Peasgood’s Nonsuch?
For now though, these bastard children,
These wildings, rule the republic
The shrill penetrating attack of a Greenfinch
Insistent, urgent, agitated – calls for a lost love up above.
In the hedgerow, the calmer, bass, wooing
Chitter-chat of a love-struck Great Tit.
Away, under a straggly drooping laurel,
The guttural, dirty laughter of flirting pheasants;
And in the distance, the boorish, drone
Of a chainsaw; tediously barking the mating call
There was a den under that hedge
Between the knurls and knots and twists
Of the haw and blackthorns;
An occasional nip, a reward –
The beads of blood like wax drops
Greedily sucked back
No time for pain to get in the way of war;
Of battles or fights or surreptitious
Innocently illicit; longed-for yet alarming
The long grass; rich green with pigment
A bushel of knee stains, unmovable,
And wheat grains, masking the entrance –
The hedge cave MUST STAY secret
From the unknowing eyes of authority
And n’er do wells of the grown up kind.
In the corner, the hill fort (without a hill)
A flattened ring of pitching legs
And flaying arms combining
To harvest everything but crops
The imaginary machine guns
Trimmed the field; close-cropping the infants
And juniors alike – let them play tag;
They’re not welcome here anyway –
The last defence may await: the skin-stun
Of nettle rows, a barbed right of passage
Yet in that moment, that brief moment
With the June sun pulsing down
And pushing out the latter day hedges
I snapped back to –
To today, in Needwood,
And a hedge in distant lands
Brought back by hot grass under the sun
And by the smell and the song of the fields