Durleigh

Martin Reed

He lived on the edge of the council estate,
schooled himself to wake at first light
and listen to an empty road,
final Wednesday of September,
for hooves on the tarmac like the patter of rain,
a protesting bleat, a human mumble,
signals of the approaching flock.

He went through the wood that’s not there now,
to fall in wordlessly behind the beasts,
a moving, rolling wave of fleece,
bulging backs like humps of sea creatures,
their morning breath a cloud he walked through
that smelt of damp straw and the end of summer.

The old man raised a hand to mark his acceptance
and he helped where he could, on the flanks,
to bring in wanderers and loiterers
and felt again a part of a life
he wanted more than anything,
more than rugby or rock ’n roll.
He moved with the tricky turn into Fair Field
and on to the pens where others came
and talk was exchanged but not with him.

Now grass was sparkling he had to leave
the fair to its tweedy, barking business
of bowler-hatted auctioneers,
and study equations that made him feel ill
in the dreary, chalkboard drone of his day.
The shepherd raised his hand once more,
a farewell wave, perhaps even thanks
from the cold Quantock journey begun in darkness
through fog and dew and a grey, woolly dawn.

His moment of droving lived in his mind
to speak of a world beyond the town,
enfolded mystery of near, distant hills.
As autumn sun burnt off the mist,
he knew all this was only a remnant,
like a tune passed down from an unknown time.