I grew up in a terrace of houses, on the side of a hill, in a village called Marsden, in West Yorkshire, but ours was the end terrace so it allowed us to claim that we lived in a semi-detached, and between our house and the house at the end of the next terrace, there was a gap, an absence, a piece of common land, and our neighbours on the other side of that common land were an older couple called the 'Redferns' who became surrogate grandparents and perhaps even parents at times.
A washing line strung between our house and theirs,
those neighbourly neighbours, settlers
from a lost age and a childless planet.
In this flashback scene
I’m the kid sprawled on their front-room carpet
staging shows and plays
with the sugar-glazed Capodimonte pieces
in the opera house of their hearth and fireplace.
The reclining shepherd, the snooty princess,
the drunken soldier, the tramp on the bench,
the pig in the trough
and the rearing horse,
every figure worth a fortnight’s wages.
Teaspoon. Tack. Spokeshave. Bit.
Thimble. Bradall. Crochet hook.
For my twenty-first I hunted down
a first edition of George Mackay Brown’s
Fishermen with Ploughs
with the netted shoal and plough at rest
on the brick-coloured cover,
and handed it over.
Then they handed it back, gift-wrapped
in waxy brown paper and gardening twine
with a fiver, like a bookmark, slipped inside.
The apple seller.
A wren in its nest.
The poised ballerina.
The scribe at his desk.
When I lift the lid of the model village
they’re just as I left them, tinkering, grafting.
The king in his kingdom
of hen-scratched earth, a soft flurry
of Rhode Island Reds around his work-boots,
or alone in the shed among oil-guns and ratchets,
hunched and wordless.
The queen in the gathered light by the window
knotting coasters, doilies,
cushion-covers and christening bonnets
with a worn tortoiseshell tatting shuttle
and fish-eye needles.
Or through veils of steam, glistening and ghostly,
rising from the cellar draped in laundry
to peg out boil-washed sheets and pillow cases.
I see clean paper, white pages.
from forthcoming The Unaccompanied (Faber, 2017), © Simon Armitage 2016, used by permission of the author and the publisher