Although I have lived in Gloucestershire since the 1970s, I grew up in Lincolnshire, the flattish bit at the top of East Anglia. My father started work as a ploughboy, just like the poet, John Clare. Like Clare, he saw a farming revolution. Chemicals improved yields, but destroyed hawks and cowslips. But the farmers of my youth did not grow winter corn, so the spring corn was still short enough for the nests of the birds in the next poem, the sun.


They were everywhere.  No.  Just God or smoke
is that.  They were the backdrop to the road,
My parents’ home, the heavy winter fields
from which they flashed and kindled and uprode
the air in dozens.  I ignored them all.
‘What are they?’  ‘Oh – peewits – ‘  Then a hare flowed,
bounded the furrows.  Marriage.  Child.  I roamed
round other farms.  I only knew them gone
when, out of a sad winter, one returned.
I heard the high mocked cry ‘Pee – wit , ‘ so long
cut dead.  I watched it buckle from vast air
to lure hawks from its chicks.  That time had gone.
Gravely, the parents bobbed their strip of stubble.
How had I let this green and purple pass?
Fringed, plumed heads (full name, the crested plover)
fluttered. So crowned cranes stalk Kenyan grass.
Then their one child, their anxious care, came running,
squeaked along each furrow, dauntless, daft.
Did I once know the story of their lives,
do they migrate from Spain?  or coasts’ cold run?
And I forgot their massive arcs of wing.
When their raw cries swept over, my head spun
With all the brilliance of their black and white
As though you cracked the dark and found the sun.

from Then (Bloodaxe, 2013) © Alison Brackenbury 2013, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Alison Brackenbury in the Poetry Store

The free tracks you can enjoy in the Poetry Archive are a selection of a poet’s work. Our catalogue store includes many more recordings which you can download to your device.


Featured in the archive