Horse-Witch – Michael Ferguson

The George Crabbe Memorial Poetry Competition
1979 Crabbe Memorial Competition – First Prize
Adjudicators: Wes Magee, Marguerite Wood

Tom turns a spaded clod upside
down and prods it to levelled crumbs.
He grips the handle between thumb
and palm while a laugh jerks his side,
then stabbing at the crusty surface loam
a booted step thuds it home.

His smiles are a unique arcana,
mysteries to break the slow toil
into rhythms – movements of compact soil,
once turned are finished like a coda.
It’s a simple talent. Using these secrets
his arms work on through leather singlets.

On stopping, his fingers stretch to unhitch
a clutch nine decades old. Tom stalls
to review through eyes that can recall
backwards as a Suffolk horse-witch
when instead of taming this dark loam
his skill with a dried fresher’s back-bone

worked a different gardening.
Pocketed in thick farmer’s corduroy
the thin frog-bone was a ploy
to coax some Punch to its tugging
charm. Sweating to the potion
its great legs heeled tight at Tom’s motion.

The plough-team’s raven-feathered shine
oiled itself through strange antidotes
Tom brewed and added to blander oats.
Each bait was mixed from some design
of his own, or a Horsemen’s select cabal
whose shared magic suggest ‘Paddock calls’,

their witch-like exchange of ideas.
Now moving the stubborn rich earth
he is tending to a similar birth,
and this is Tom’s silently smiled panacea.
Molding another cut turf to shreds
he casts his spells into living beds.

Copyright © Michael Ferguson 1979

1 Comment

  1. A pleasure to visit this new site and see my poem here from all those years ago. Tom lived in Belstead Village where I did from when I attended Ipswich Civic College and later worked on the farm at William Paul & Sons. Previously I lived in Ipswich, attended Chantry Secondary School, having arrived from the States [via Germany]. A wonderful Suffolk period of growing up, working and beginning to write. My next poetry collection ‘The Lonesomest Sound’ is forthcoming with Knives Forks and Spoons Press. This Crabbe Memorial Prize poetry competition was one of those early supports to my sense of being a writer, as are editors and publishers now, all these years down the road. A great memory.

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