A quarter acre of it, mowed
down the low meadow for the clearing.
Frost and stubble among the rides.
Dominant and too coarse to bale,
a day’s work, with rake and fork.
An aesthetic of summer justified
by muscle memory in February,
slung from hip, back, shoulder and wrist –
the idea of the nectar-rich; marsh orchid,
ragged robin, hemp agrimony
and what it all might mean. High talk,
but none of it bluff or bluster;
hard-pronged, our true vernacular sworn
and sweated by the good tonnage we heap,
taller than a big man. Purposeful.
The stack will grow warm as a body inside;
a hibernacula of predator and prey:
grass snake and her leathery eggs,
tunnelings for vole and shrew,
all bedfellows of the rat, three feet down.
A glass of warmed milk before bed
Mid-February and minus five below,
so I raise this for those in labour down their earthworks,
the pink and blind, suckling in the warmth of the sett;
and for a cull on worry under strip-lighting
in the dairy sheds; for immunity of all herds;
this day done and the deeper movings of worms.
Clouties at Madron
August sweating the fields and water.
The reek of last night’s rain, something larval
through the baptistery; a roofless pest house
where gnats bite, red-eyed flies rub legs
and beetles busy in the joints of the walls.
While you sat and closed your eyes
I heard the thin cry of a luckless shrew,
and wind stirred that thorn bower –
its chasuble of rags scrabbling, all knotted higher,
each at the cost of someone else’s child.
Matt Howard lives in Norwich, where he works for the RSPB. Matt is also a steering group member of New Networks for Nature, an eco-organisation that asserts the central importance of landscape and nature in our cultural life. His debut pamphlet,The Organ Box, was published by Eyewear. Recent poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, The Dark Horse and The Rialto. Image by Mark Cocker.