TOUCHSTONE AWARD for
silence of snow
we listen to the house
This haiku also gained best of issue in FROGPOND 2013 and Museum of Literature Award.
SECOND PRIZE, 'AN (COTTAGE) PRIZE' in the annual GENJUAN HAIBUN COMPETITION
for 'UNCLE WALTER'
Just after the war, I am sent to Aunt Cath’s in Burnham Thorpe, Nelson’s birthplace. It nestles between the Holkham estate and the great empty expanse of salt marsh that lines the coast; a world of mystery and magic. Steam engines rumble across fields, ‘night soil’ men visit in the dark. The only light is oil, ghost stories of black dogs and headless horsemen abound.
“Uncle Walter’s a dirty old chap” says my aunt Cath, “he washes his face in that old water butt where we drowned the kittens”.
by the flint cottage
into green depths
from his pocket
a coiled ferret
Uncle has a black pony called Bess that pulls a trap. I help him collect hay from the verges, using a sickle. On our return I perch on top, soak up its smell; listen to the rhythm of hooves, to him talking with Bess in that sing song voice. He has a special way with her; she seems to read his mind. I ask him if it’s true.
down Old Lowses
at a pace through wreaths
of roll-up smoke
He tells me of
horse men during World War One, how he’d learnt their
secrets. He touches his nose and gives a wink. “Them old boys knew a trick or two,
they had a secret power; they could calm a horse, even when the big guns went
off. “They called it jading; a stoat’s liver mixed with oils, rubbed on the
horse’s shoulder blade, with a piece of mare’s caul, but best was one touch
from the toad’s bone”. Suffolk
“A toad’s bone?” I repeat.
“Yes boy, a sort of wishbone. You catch a toad and hangs it in a thorn till its all dried up, then you buries it in the ant’s fortress. On the full moon you throws it in the beck. If the hip bone swims upstream, you catch it and keeps it under your arm. Its this bone my boy, that gives you the power.
We arrive home and unload the hay, Bess, out of her harness, stands in the yard; he smiles and murmurs something to her. She nods and walks quietly into the stable.
whispers from childhood
in the darkness