Faltering up from the flags and hay-strow,

the damp calf, back-licked and roguish, tries

to stand behind the half-door swinging with its own small cry.

Thrilled kids, we cheer, being its infant kindred,


then, in borrowed wellies, trudge

through the barnyard muck to the back kitchen

knocking off the clay clodges,

hopping and falling about like the just-birthed calf.


Andrew was crowned himself with a shook of hay,

blue-eyed as the cow-pond,

his attentiveness reflexive, all fond

gesture but mind on the older village girls.


He, the eldest son, affected being country-thick,

a bit of a bored flirt, little man, quick- and ham-

fisted. Slow-spoken, demanding tea of his mam

and thrusting chocolate biscuits in the tin all round.


He was her eye’s apple, and she —

bloomed, bosomy and broad,  relaxed and merry

over the pots and ready with treats, vowelly

with Cheshire speech like a soft, slushy rain,

was glad for Spring, for guests, for children, for the farm.


I wandered down to the old canal romantic as a picture postcard

down the lane. But up close leeky-green and reeking,

a long-drowned sheep sogging in a brown suds

by the bank, umbrella spokes, a cast-off washer sticking


boney through the murk. It was a harder

life than it looked on a crystal day in May

to a moony girl from away, boy-struck and barely aware

of nature’s more ruthless order.