James Simpson poetJames Simpson is a Jerwood/Arvon writing fellow and a prizewinner in the Thomas Hardy Society’s James Gibson Memorial Poetry Competition. His most recent collection is The Untenanted Room (Agenda Editions).

 

from Wind from the North

WIND FROM THE NORTH
ἅπαντα τίκτει χθὼν πάλιν τε λαµβάνει
Antiope (Unplaced fragment, line 195)

I

One hundred and fifty six remain
in the ash of the merchant’s house;

some struggle, some seem resigned,
some tuck in their knees

to return to their mother’s belly.
We dowse for water waiting

for the hazel twig to twitch,
but there are still eight loaves

cut and ready to be sold;
cracked walnut shells in the tavern fireplace.

II

Men with mattocks
are cutting
into the cuckoo hill;
the place they say
befitting of maidens.

Wheatear, wheatear,
from one tussock to another;
horse smatch, fallow lunch,
from there to the other.

They are breaking open
the mound
with bare hands,
some with axes;
to find a child woven,
swaddled and swollen.

Wheatear, wheatear
from here to another;
stonechacker, snorter,
from there to the other.

They are breaking open
the mound
with bare hands,
some with axes;
to find a child woven,
swaddled and swollen.

Wheatear, wheatear
from here to another;
stonechacker, snorter,
from there to the other.

Brushing soil
from the baby’s face,
resurfacing again;
like an owl drowned
in a cattle trough,
through the lutterings
and lettings of rain.

Wheatear, wheatear
from one burrow to another;
horse masher, jobbler
from here to the other.

And somewhere
in the chalk, in the folds
of her shawl;
three riders
on a bronze bull.

Shaking the buried grain,
cradling the infant
like a hare
laid in a field
which comes
alive again.

III

Cyclamen petals
on window sills
fade in exhaling light.
The hills have horses;

riderless
they graze freely
without the
paraphernalia of war.

And now
and again
they look up
from the bracken;

while women
bend attentive
sponging pale limbs,
talking in whispers.

IV

There is no weeping for a fox;
fur flat with rain,
shrunk over hunched ribs.

Propped against a fence post,
almost casual in its demise:
but without that warm black mollusc of a nose.

It is raining again from the north,
wind weaving flocks
of birds like withies:

an immigrant host, massed sodden heads,
pick through stubble
and red earth.

Where the barbel sit is bloody with soil:
and the river lays sediment
over new wheat.

November’s bonfires rest unlit,
too late to encourage the sun:

the dead have been drawn back to the dead
and the bull is buried.
 
 
[“Wind from the North” first appeared in the Poetry and Opera issue of Agenda (volume 47 Nos 3-4).]
 
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