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