A Smallholding in the Fens

We began with myths and later included actual events – Michael Ondaatje, Handwriting

There was an attempt at a pond,
but it was never lined
and the water didn’t want to be contained
by that black earth.

I don’t like to think of the fish,
their gills silvering the soil.

*

There was a drought one summer.
It made my mother thirsty.

Irrigation dried up most of the dykes,
but I still dreamt of wading birds.

*

Once my stepfather caught a linnet:
as his hand tightened around it,

it pecked at him,
but it was the small heartbeat

he felt through the gourd of his palm,
that made him set it free.

*

It was a place of hooks: for fish and for game
(sometimes there was a right hook).

When he was a boy, my stepfather saw a pike:
it was so huge, it had to shunt back and forth
at the river’s mouth in order to turn.

My mother hung game-birds in the kitchen.
They looked like upside-down bouquets.

There was an otter skin on the wall.
My stepfather said he shot it by accident.
Its whisker holes were pink on the inside,
as if it had measles.

*

The boy we called The Milky Bar Kid
peed himself in the corner
after his dad punched his door,
his room smelt of particle board and vinegar.
Some nights his mum gave him cat-food for dinner.
After he scraped the jelly off
he said it tasted like Fray Bentos.

*

There are mini-twisters in the Fens.
They bustle along the headland,
chests puffed out like bossy toddlers.

*

Things about my eighth summer:
I cracked a toe-nail on the pavement.
I bent down and huffed the tarmac
when it started to blister in the sun.
They used a hose on the soles of my feet,
when only sand-paper would’ve done.