Look, I have come through
I hear a moan - of the earth, but unearthly -
On the other side of the wall.
I creep round, girding my loins from some horror.
"A lamb's having birth!" pipes a child, beckoning.
I join the haggle,
Watch the quiet kindness of humans
As the lamb's bud-horns lock her
In the coffin of her mother's womb,
Watch them wrestling with spindly legs, dashing for aid,
While, irrelevant but insistent,
A turkey courts hens round our shins,
Feathers at full sail, twirling in absurd vanity,
Tattered, matted, red-sore raw and ugly beyond belief.
A man returns with a lifeline of coarse string.
A woman helps him coax birth
From the patiently groaning ewe.
The lamb is dead on the hay.
They lay it at the mother's mouth for her to lick.
"Is it all right?" asks someone, stupidly.
I knew it from the start.
....But the lamb stirs.
My heart shouts with the joy of it.
Stubborn, hopeless, quivering
(Gressenhall, March 1993)
This poem will be published in my new book "Exile In His Own Country" at the end of the month - to coincide with my 50th birthday - and will doubtless feature in my Harvest tour (April - November 2006).
The poem recounts an actual event. The allusion to Lawrence's "Look We Have Come Through" in the title is deliberate. I was just coming out of a very dark period brought on by where I was working at the time. I thought the depression would never stop and it was a shock because my life since adolescence and marriage (and fatherhood) had more or less kept getting better until then and I thought that was the natural order of things. Then suddenly I was going into work like I was going to war, playing The Clash ear numbingly loud and on one occasion punching out my own windscreen. I'm not sure why things eased exactly - I probably forgave someone the appalling wrongs they were doing me after punishing them for it a hundred fold for a over year. Then the spring came, I got commissioned to write some poems and perform them at the King's Lynn Festival and I began to see some light at the end of my tunnel vision. We took our six year old to Gressenhall and it reminded me of how good my own education had been - especially the social history - and how good places like Gressenhall are. Then we watched the lamb being born and all the unsung genius and kindness of human beings apparently proving futile in the face of its agonising tiny newborn demise. Dead on the hay. I wanted to howl. And then it stirred. I'll never forget it.