After her mother dies she thinks it good to dig her plot:
nineteen metres by thirteen, and given
over to goosegrass and offcuts of carpet, tucked
in the far corner of the allotments. Handing
her keys—one for the height-restricted access gate
(Keeps travellers off the land), one for the well lid—
and a rabbit trap, the Association Chair
warns: Sure you know what you’re in for? It’s not something
to be undertaken lightly. It’s dark for May
that stormy dark before clouds break, before rain pelts
and veins as blood in rivulets and streams, and scabs
as puddles, before it skins stalks, leaves, fruit, road, town.
A cortège of early starts and warm mornings: she
scythes the weeds, unpeels sticky carpet-plasters
to expose, each time, fresh dirt sores. And each time bugs
of polished black skitter into the lace tangle
of grassroot. Worms bore for cover. For borders she lays
long lengths of scaffold plank, runs a rotavator
through the matted soil, takes with good grace handouts
from Alberto, her neighbour (You know, while you wait
for yours to grow), and swaddles the grazed wound of earth
with a pall of thick plastic sheet. Then she sets to work
in her new feint-lined notebook, a plan: carrots, beans,
cabbage, currants; sketched orange, green, blue, black.
Bonfire, from bone fire, bone fyre, bane fyre,
bane fire: fire in which femur, scapula,
skull, ribcage, spine (frequently still an integral
part of the martyr, heretic, criminal, book)
and other flammable, disposable items burn.
Regulations state wind must not blow from the west
so as to prevent a smoke hazard for drivers
on the adjacent dual carriageway when bonfires
are lit. After weeks of unseasonably late spring sun
her pile of skeletal grass is ready to light.
She wonders whether a square of carpet will burn.
Decides not. Instead she flaps it to fan the flames.
Alberto’s allotment is Arcimboldo’s oil painting
Reversible Head with Basket of Fruit:
beet, carrot, courgette, plum, radish, all organic
in shade, shape and imitation of body part.
His soil is immaculately tilled: no weed,
stone or footprint. He protects paradise with roof
and walls of half-inch gauze, tacked to a pergola
that runs length and width. More delicate fruits of his
labour stew under greenhouse glass. At the overlap
where net-ends meet no white-clad angels stand guard
with swords aflame—just a thick, raised, ring of potash
and small blue pellets keep snails and slugs at bay.
Collusion of head and heart. A rabbit—grey scrag ears
taut like beech leaf, like mussel shell; barely a pulse—
presses himself so far back against the cage end
that he square-inches his fur on the wire. Two
almond eyes follow her. Once he scents her half-chance
of indecision—too squeamish to put him out
of his misery; too sensible to let loose—
he’s up, paws on the door, thumps in sudden palpitation.
Now zoom out.
on each small plot
with its own trapped rabbit. Higher yet, arrhythmia
as far as the eye can see. She mutters an oath
under her breath, sets this heart free. Go on, beat it.
A word for the contemplation of ruin, decay, dust
and its associated melancholy: ‘dustsceawung’. Common
or garden dust? Before us, before her, before all of this
horses free-rein’d here on Abingdon Common.
The main road west through Marcham little more than a bridle path,
a packhorse track rutting up the hill past the Crown
to Frilford and out to the Bath-Oxford coach road. South,
flat country to the Ridgeway, floodplain bordered north
and east by river and town. Open loamy land, unshadowed,
and sown with teasel and hoofprint is, for her, parcelled off—
her portion and her cup, her considering of the dust.
Now with her whole lot secure she takes her blinkers off.
Originally from Wiltshire, BEN EGERTON now lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where he is studying for a PhD in poetry and theology. Ben’s poems have been published online and in literary journals in England, Australia and New Zealand.