The woods of Bohemia

They were, in fact, the woods of Gloucestershire.
Stone shacks, once keeper’s, shepherd’s, now too damp,
too far for the few farm-hands, were let cheap
to painters who would risk an oil lamp,
to sculptors who might steal their landlord’s wood.
It was the Sixties. They were there. Who would
remember them? One woman wrote a book,
named a bedraggled poet who mistook
beech trees for gods. His family still owned
the Manor. In hill-wind, through his mind’s flicker
he flew past gods’ streamed arms on his old bike
down to his village to appoint the Vicar.
One tribe, descended from Augustus John,
lived with cracked slates at Needlehole. Along
the hedges, in strong Hill House, in the wilds
of Hilcot Wood, camped Connie, pots and child.
They watched the combines storm the hedgeless fields.
They learned how stakes blocked badger setts, like laws.
The stubble ploughed, first frost thick on their glass,
they packed for London, locked their rotten doors.
But in green May, Ernie, the keeper, brought
young lettuce for the new beds she had worked.
(The cat dug those.) He took her nephews out,
showed them sharp prints of deer he would not shoot.
Her book won prizes. Then she moved away.
Where Ernie, who had teased her, strolled on Sunday
to pose for shots, blue jay’s plumes in his hat,
he trudged the deepest drifts. He saved her cat.

Alison Brackenbury

To be published in her new collection, ‘Thorpeness’,
by Carcanet in February 2022.

If you have any thoughts on this poem, Alison Brackenbury would be pleased to hear them.