The clump of gawkers stood around to watch
a digger lift the dead calf from the beach.
A Devon Red, it’s beaten hide sand-caked,
twisted legs flung out, lying like it might
have dug it’s way up from a darker place,
to die, satisfied, in ozone and light.
The driver heel-screwed his cigarette,
climbed in the cab and turned toward the calf.
Its clouded eye stared up, blindly pointing
at the canvas sky. A polished pebble,
quartz and slate embedded in a slab
of sand and hair. An eye that once looked
through a thin fence without understanding.
The digger chuntered in. We turned aside.
Fish and Stone
Granite once flowed from this river.
Hewn from the high moorland quarries
then shipped to build new London Bridge.
Those quarries now are brambled pools,
though the grey rock still hunkers there,
brooding in its flooded prison.
After weeks at sea the doggers
of the Newfoundland fisheries
landed their salted catches here
until the cod were overfished
and the scattered shoals sent boats home
with empty holds to hungry docks.
Now white kaolinitic clay,
graded from the Bovey basin
fills the dockside sheds and coasters.
Mica chips from forty million
years of granite degradation
brighten porcelain and toothpaste.
In trade: fertiliser arrives,
made from the ground bones of livestock,
bones white as ball clay or cod flesh.
The wharf side cranes swing out and reach.
Fish, clay, feed and bone. Their huge weight
dainty on a thousand years of stone.
Two men ignited the bones of the past
one Monday, late in the year’s dark corner.
Boats weighed anchor off the Ness on Tuesday,
awaiting high tide and a hold of lime.
By Wednesday combustion was well progressed,
with a caustic stench and skin-peeling heat.
In Thursday’s moonlight the smoke ascended
like the twisted spire of Ermington church.
On Friday the pall-bearer night wore no gloves;
it shattered wherever it laid its pale hand.
Only the blistering lime kiln was spared
and the two men who slept close to its wall
flanking their deadly charge. During the night
the young burner rolled into the fire.
Whether the boy was choked by toxic smoke
or wooed the heat too closely none could say,
but he burned with insufficient fuss
to rouse the slumbering quarryman.
Saturday the kiln was cooling, ticking down
to Sunday when his riddlings could be raked.
Born in the USA but a long time resident of Devon, Marc Woodward is a musician and poet whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and web zines including The Poetry Society and Guardian web pages as well as Avis, Clear Poetry, Ink Sweat & Tears, Message in a Bottle, Prole, and anthologies from Forward, Ravenshead, Sentinel, and OWF Presses.
His poetry draws heavily on his rural surroundings and interaction with the environment.
His chapbook ‘A Fright Of Jays’ was published in 2015 by Maquette Press ( http://andybrown5.wixsite.com/maquette ) and he is currently working on a collaborative project relating to the industrial history, archaelogy and ecology of Devon and Cornwall with Andy Brown.
His blog can be seen at marcwoodwardpoetry.blogspot.com