Dustsceawung by Ben Egerton




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.

Go high.

Look down


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.


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