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.