‘Time’s wagon ever-onward driven’ — Alexander Pushkin
The stook building had finished early that day
so all of us jumped a lift on the miller’s big cart
discarding thin shirts in a pile behind the driver.
Harvest’s favourite sons bronzed and bawdy,
we stood at the back shouting on passers by,
toasting our handiwork with sickly warm beer.
Under a big sky, Johnny sang something coarse
and we bellowed along proud of our own voices,
confident of tomorrows as if we owned the sun.
Some cursing an old Clydesdale’s slow rhythm
raced ahead of the cart impatient for the ceilidh
while others stayed on through a sunset’s glow.
Beyond Harlow the mare laboured on the brae,
strained on its breast strap; the dray shuddered
and empty bottles rolled across its wooden floor,
boards stained with the dry blood of dead beasts.
We crouched down quick, clung on to the sides,
felt then a first shiver and reached for our shirts.
Passing those unmarked crossings and road ends,
the horse slowed on its journey but never stopped
so Johnny, his song long silent, must’ve slipped off
unnoticed, and the others too when their time came,
like orchards’ ripe fruit, dropped soft to the ground,
disappeared fast down dirt tracks and narrow lanes.
Those of us that remained pulled our knees up tight,
our thin joints stiffening in the moonlit glint of sickle,
our whispers drifting away on a winnowing breeze.
Storm clouds rolled in to snuff out every dead star
until there was just me huddled by the driver’s back
the darkest mile left to go and too late for the dance.
from Black Cart (Freight Books, 2017) © Jim Carruth 2017, used by permission of the author