Not a Victorian orchard tree

which ladders wobbled round,

no rose-red pippin, whose veined flesh

old men in Kent once found,

not Evesham’s young grafts, weighed by fruit

a tractor’s grab from ground.


A tree not quite as old as us,

not damson or true plum,

it straggles down our garden’s end

where only wild bees come,

sucker from market garden trees

above the railway’s hum.


With blossoms fat as newborn’s fists

it sails into the sky,

blind white on blue, before late hail,

squirrels or frost come by.

It bears sour fruit. Yet every March

it seizes, stuns the eye.





Since it had always puzzled her

what her lands brooded in green mounds

in empty days before the war

she wrote her brisk list: Mr Brown,

hired expert; her own gardener;

the gamekeeper, between his rounds.


‘Dig the first trench,’ called Mr Brown,

‘until you reach the bed of sand.’

The gardener nodded. So the tomb

had grown from his fine silts? Unplanned,

he laid his best spade slowly down,

turned an iron rivet in his hand.


It was a ship. King Radwold slept

with his fine swordbelt on his back,

a gold clasp on his treetrunk chest,

his silver plates, for feasting, stacked.

Cleaned by the gardener’s rags, they pressed

in moss, like perfect peaches, packed.


The scholars came in chugging cars.

This was the King who left Christ’s fold.

The keeper left, to sink his jars,

hoped for his cut if plate was sold.

The mound rose silent, carved by scars.

The landowner felt briefly old.


The gardener scraped both workboots clean,

surveyed the jobs which lay before.

Unpruned buds weighed her favourite vine.

Six dozen leeks? He stretched up, sore,

watched sun join King; then, perfectly,

in fluent Anglo-Saxon, swore.






Because we both sit here alone,

she speaks, lips broad unmodish red,

by pinnacles of fretted stone.

‘How did they build this, then?’ she says.

‘Barrows?’ I guess. Pulleys’ long jolt –

From blinding glass, spears glare by kings,

Christ’s thin bared face crowns ranks of wings.

But where a lesser light is thrown

one ledge, hacked from rough limestone, shows

a boy, who tumbles down the vault.


Apprentice, he hangs from his stone.

His arms are spread, his legs are curled.

Did drink or dizziness descend,

too long a night with his first girl?

High on a platform, weighed by sky,

his master stretches helpless hands

to boy, hair like an angel’s, streamed.

Unskilled in suffering, alone,

he crouches on unsoftened stone.

His God is dead. He carves our cry.
Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire in 1953, and is descended from many generations of skilled farm workers. She is or has been a metal finisher, Oxford student, technical librarian, parent, impoverished horse owner and grassroots political activist. Alison has published nine poetry collections, won an Eric Gregory and a Cholmondeley Award and has had many poems broadcast on BBC Radio. Her latest collection, Skies, is published by Carcanet in March.