metal roof folded
with a century’s dung
its surface an ooze
on which old Tom
has her roped down
with black pigment
shaved hide around
the red yolk wound
the vet pushes
his forearm inside
probing for the calf
the dark fish body
slipping out among
pallid slicks and skins
old Tom witnesses
again the coil in
those first slow breaths
to topple walls.
For days he’s watched the sky’s
whipshifting terrain leaden.
Now the storm’s blowing
and he’s up on the roof.
So close to the rim of life
but still he can’t see over the edge.
He senses only what his senses lack
how the world obscures beneath
the billowdown of snow.
His lips fail to differentiate
temperature from state.
This dissolution of shadow,
the milk light so like darkness
emitting not from a pinpoint
but from everywhere at once.
He sees indistinct shapes on the mountain
perhaps a dog chases the ghost of a hare.
Everything is running for cover.
The stonefalling cold has cleared
a road for the statues to walk
and for him to discover
the fixity of every step.
He closes the gate, snaps at his pack,
the sheepdogs swim through bracken,
through the broken barn to the house
slumped against its own walls
trying to pick itself up for winter.
Joe’s last winter – he’s too old for this,
grey heron flying backwards against the wind.
He’ll sell his flock, let the house blow down,
let the hill heal the burns from his boots.
But not tonight. He climbs into his truck,
the sick ewe shaking in the back.
He’ll watch over it all night
staring through the keyholes of its eyes
into dim, still unfamiliar rooms.
James Roberts lives in the Black Mountains. Recent poetry and essays have been published by Agenda, Envoi, Earthlines and The Island Review. A small collection of poems is due out from Cinnamon Press in August. He is editor of Zoomorphic, a new online magazine of wildlife writing.