He worked the land
He could have been a gypsy, he could have had royal blood
But he worked the land
He knew the high places where the soil was thin
and the low pockets where the frost lay heavy on winter mornings in the shadow side of the hill.
He saw the river curling through the valley on pounding hot days
And the hill fields in an arc of open sky, bringing in the hay
And flies buzzing under the trees and cows flicking their tails in the shade, he brought them water.
She heard the river after heavy rains, the power of water. All that water. Pummelling the landscape.
She could have been white she could have been black
Counted the pennies in one hand, fed the lambs with the other.
They held on.
The child, the first born climbed a tree
She could have been a girl, he could have been a boy
Inched across a branch where it dipped back down towards the ground, where the grass grew long
Dropped down into the hayfield
Could have been anyone but she saw the world through long grass, bending this way and that, matted together where the roots held the soil, discovered a lapwing nest deep hidden
That was a rare find
and cuckoo spit on a single green stalk of grass.
The farm was ancient. Could have been in a valley, could have been on a hill. It had ancient hedges where lambs were born and pastures where cows grazed and a yard where chickens bathed in dust, closing their eyes. She grew vegetables in deep soil. Wheel barrows of muck from the cowsheds. Her back was strong and arms brown. Happy Days, she wrote.
Along the way a developer rips out hedges … there are loopholes if you know where to find them, secret loopholes, buried deep in clouds of information and small print and big pockets of anonymous shareholders … commodities rolls its eyes and investments licks its parched lips.
A child sits bareback on Tom the black pony with fur thick as a buffalo.
Tarmac. This is where we plant tarmac. And cultivate wondrous shelves of profit margins. What is the subtlety of place? You what? This is where we till the soil of cheap foods, harvesting marvellous profits by diversifying into .. whatever … stacked shelfs towering high with powdered pea haulms, palm oil and the perfected synthetic flavour of real things. Cheap. This stuff is cheap.
Above the valley, on the southern slope of an ancient field, something moves in the grass, a mouse. Or perhaps a lapwing. Something in the long grass, where the long arm of a tree reaches over the hayfield.
They still work the land.
Could be rich could be poor.
Could be African, could be from that village on the way to town, just past the corner where Joe Davies upended his car in the ditch, and down the long lane.
They’re deep rooted,
tough as boots,
old boots, new boots, leather boots, all-weather boots,
look at the soles on them beauties, designed to last they are.
At Christmas, you can get a cheap turkey for two pound fifty or a Luxury Christmas Hamper for a small fortune. The river meanders in summer, there is a place where an old ewe always takes her lambs to shelter from the storm.
Above the valley, on the southern slope of an ancient field, something moves in the grass. A child watches the world change.
Rachel Francis. Christmas 2019.