Perfectly flat source
of glass-half-empty wisdom
(You never gain without you lose),
these drains and fenland ooze;
bred smallholders quick
to silence, feuds.
Cousins, not on speaking terms,
learnt allegiances, who was who,
precise degrees of indifference to use
in the family’s every orbit.
A lack of generosity in nature, then,
accounting for a hardness of heart?
Well, yes, there was that – breeding fruit
and veg from plots that felt the brunt
of poor winters, North Sea winds,
relentless, giddying skies.
No wonder they took the dim view,
were adamant they knew what they knew,
distrust of water, close observation
of changes, levels and rules,
the fragile treachery of things,
a closed world better off for keeping closed.
From here, though, also, eccentricities of will:
great-grandfather who made do
and the most out of left-overs,
sticks, old hat. Always on the loose,
ditch-strider, habitual trespasser,
or, back home, his having to explain,
if anyone should ask, why the swan
he’d killed was better called a goose.
Such stamina for living on the hoof:
as if each morning, bent-double and running,
he was tempting snipers to shoot him down,
which on such open ground they could have easily done.
Copies of Recreation Ground in which 'Fenlanders' appears are available here: http://tworiverspress.com/wp/category/people/tom-phillips-poet/