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Authors: Hilary Menos

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BOOK: Red Devon
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his arm warm on the back of her chair, his eyes amused,

his smile lopsided like a tick, a sum well done,

and she decides to take the chance before it's gone,

leans forward to kiss him (just do it!) bold as brass.

Jo lets herself in back home, quietly, late.

Sees herself in the mirror in a different light.

She's clutching a napkin covered with Grunt's rough scrawl.

A map to a meeting place, a car park on the moor.

Not quite the romance she'd been hoping for. But a date.

Tercio de Muerte

Blokes in this business would write Grunt as Theseus.

Godlike (him being a god) he grapples the bull,

lugs it to London to parade along Pall Mall

then coolly butchers it in the name of Reason.

Or Grunt as Toreador, humble but worthy

practitioner of fine art playing to the stands,

his suit of lights coruscating against beige sands,

dealing hard truths in the Tercio de Muerte.

Or Grunt as bull-runner, giving the beast the slip,

vaulting or somersaulting honed handlebar horns,

depicted in a mosaic, a fresco or as a carved figurine

in a rite of passage, an initiation ritual, or act of worship.

So much for history, then. Teague found him huddled

at the foot of the shed wall, flail chest, not a moan,

crumpled in all the wrong places. Grunt as dead man.

But how it was, after the first broadside hustle,

when things started to get… how to put it… ugly,

when that great head, that alien will of iron

kept on coming for Grunt, what flashed before his eyes,

what he was thinking, no-one knows. Not even me.

The Ballad of Grunt Garvey and Jo Tucker

Oh for a story as simple as boy meets girl

with a love that lasts and a future little Jo

who walks plastic cows up the ramp of her toy truck

while little Grunt waves a stick to make them go.

At eight Jo parks, unfolds and folds the map,

listens to the metal tick as the big truck cools.

Low sun flames the gorse. A buzzard mews.

How does she feel? How do you think she feels?

I wanted so much more for Jo than this

slow lengthening of shadows, this swift descent

winding her way back home through chilly lanes

trying to guess what was or wasn't meant.

And still to come: the horror of Grunt's yard.

Jo standing unacknowledged in the crowd.


Poets and pigs are appreciated only after their death

– Italian proverb

Agnus Scythicus

Also known as the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, this legendary

animal/plant hybrid was believed to grow sheep as a fruit

In medieval times it was used to explain the existence of cotton

Here in God's Own Country, our harvests are legend.

From John Mandeville to Gulliver, travelers flock

to rhapsodise the fruits of our sun-kissed ground.

The jewel in our crown is the Vegetable Lamb

which springs skyward on a single artichoke stalk,

pendulous limbs hanging slack from a fleece-blurred bloom.

Each fruit is wrapped in a boll of whisked wool

to protect it from wolves. When the monsoon smiles

water pours from the pods like silk from a spool.

The umbilicus bends to allow the lamb to graze

as far as the cord goes, on nard and camomile.

It circles daintily on hooves of parted hair.

People in God's Own Country borrow and sow, sow

and borrow, attended by thrip and moth and worm

all keen to help light traps and trenches overflow

while our children fall like fruit from the neem trees,

gasping for breath. Bees refuse to sting or swarm,

and the last cows rock-and-roll and kick up their heels.

Under the banyan a girl licks her lips and stares

slow as molasses in spring. Beside her, a boy,

whose strange, bifurcated hands reach for the stars.

Witches' Broom

Witches' Broom Disease ravaged cocoa plantations in South America in the 1980s

It came on the wind, on the sole of somebody's shoe,

on the blade of a machete. And before you could say “stout Cortez”

spores were forming alliances under the canopy.

It spread like a secret. Our trees grew ears.

We watched their biochemistry unravel, limb by limb,

the ineluctable shift of gold from host to pathogen.

Now every pod is empty. What can we do?

Fill our gourds with annatto, so our mouths are a red stain?

Burn the fat to the devil? The old Gods don't listen, don't hear,

caught between a rock and a prickly pear.

Ours is bitter water, washed down with bitter certainties,

and everything swept away by these new brooms.


This is the cow that peered down the black hole of the captive bolt

shrugged its clod against the head-gate

and said, like Gary Gilmour facing a five-man firing squad in

Utah State,

“Let's do it!”

This is the sheep that held out a hoof

as the tongs ear-muffed her temples

and said, like John Amery greeting the hangman in Wandsworth


“Oh Mr Pierrepoint, I've always wanted to meet you

but not, of course, under these circumstances.”

This is the goat that, incompletely stunned,

offered his throat to the knife

and said, like Walter Raleigh mentally thumbing the axe,

“So the heart be right, it is no matter which way the head lieth.”

This is the chicken that, shackled by one foot to the rack,

reached the electric bath for a partial KO

and said, like Tony Mancini receiving the hood at Pentonville



And this is the pig that, trotting through the race to the gas cubicle,

put down his regulation-issue Bible

and said, like Sean Patrick Flanagan readying his arm

in a small white room in Nevada,

“I love you.”


Remember the pigweed in twenty-twelve

decimating our corn. Our bean crop, halved.

Farming forums debated lost wheat yields

while combines ground to a halt in the fields.

Shoots elbowed up through gravel and concrete.

Cotton was throttled. Ploughs broke, harrows bent.

Six foot trespassers thick as a man's thigh

cocked a snook at all of our pesticides.

The only advice was “sharpen your hoes.”

We put chopping crews in to work the rows.

So much for science and its magic wand.

Ever cleared a million acres by hand?

Where we were headed was anyone's guess

once the weeds had worked out how to resist.


The white coats brainstormed a cluster of tricks –

overlapping residuals, tank mix,

burn-down, pre- and post-emergence programs –

all old tactics in a frightening new game.

Some tried to turn back to the good old ways –

cover crops, green mulches, long-term grass leys,

seven year rotations rebuilding soil,

pre-PKN, pre-chemicals, pre-oil –

but as marestail, waterhemp and rye grass

ganged up for a triple-headed advance

we privately knew we had lost the race,

caught here between a rock and a hard place.

Thanks to the pigweed in twenty-thirteen

we harvested famine, famine, famine.


We needed a new approach. That's where I

came in, an old ranch hand able to fly

twenty-four/seven, under the radar

no baggage, no pack drill, codename hades,

with a great big tank of something orange

tucked in my old Provider's fuselage.

Don't ask me what I know. All I can say

is you can't get proper coverage today

with your bog-standard tractor mounted rig

and Dad says faint heart never fucked a pig.

What do I see when coming in to land?

Black rags spiraling upwards on the wind

far in the distance, past any spray arm.

Rooks winding water. Heavy rain to come.


In Paraguay toxic pesticides on GM soy affects the health

of people living nearby. Women living within 1km of sprayed

fields are twice as likely to have a child with deformities

There is nothing littoral

here. A green tide

covers the yard, the garden, the bosque,

washes against the casa wall,

right up to the built edge.

Open the back door and you are besieged.

Spray colonises the air.

They acted like gods, and we

beckoned them down.

Like members of the old cargo cults

cutting runways through the Chaco,

each wearing a headset

manufactured from cassava and corn,

and imitating semaphore.

We kissed the toad. Now we are

swallowing it.

Asphalt ribbons quarter the fields. What

was once patchwork is now chessboard

and on such a scale that

renders most of us speechless. In this place,

there is a kind of plenty,

in the blue of the babies,

their lust to land,

the arrangements of small limbs, the sheer

variety of arrangements,

things that go right up to

and beyond the edge, and on a scale that

renders most of us speechless.

Kissing Cousins

When your heart is broken I will give you my heart.

Got yourself a living, walking source of spare parts.

Your table bears my meat, your body my tanned hide.

My blood thickens your pudding, my lard slicks your bread.

I am friend and foe and flesh, sacred and profane,

my head on a pole, my spleen as a weather vane.

You are my maker, from conception to sticking,

crooning a lullaby or skewered on a spit,

and I'm yours, from snout to tail, from belly to loin,

yielding my brawn for your brawn, my brain for your brain.

I am suckled and relished, forbidden and cursed,

close a cousin as you like and never been kissed.

Brush-makers, saddlers, cobblers all tap-tap away

while this little piggy goes “Wee-wee-wee-wee-wee.”

Red Tide

A ‘red tide' occurs when algae grow so fast the water appears red

Algal blooms can result in fish kill

Something was going on. I lay awake in bed

dreaming of biblical plagues – a river of blood

bled from efflorescences of force-fed algae –

woke fixed on the finer points of allegory

and saw, dead in the water, more than a million

blunt-lipped silverlings, a sprawled apron of chain mail.

We shoveled bucket loads, barrow loads, trawled and tipped

them, hissing, on tarps draped over a row of skips,

toenail clippings from a horde of iron giants.

When the mess was clear, we got down to the science,

wrestled with agricultural run-off and wind,

but all the white coats could make of it in the end

was a slap-up supper for five thousand seals.

One miracle gone belly up with a bad smell.

Dead Zone

Dead zones are hypoxic (low-oxygen) areas in oceans and lakes

often caused by nutrient pollution from agricultural run-off

So we chucked a couple of pigs over the side,

cameras recording the rate at which they decayed.

On day one we got just what we were expecting.

The porkers lay on the ocean floor, unblinking.

On day two we got crabs, day three shrimp and plumed worm.

Then a dozen sea stars inched in for the long game.

Last to arrive were squat lobsters, flexing fanned tails,

claws working the pigs over like pneumatic drills.

No sharks, no orcas, just humble bottom feeders

restoring proper chaos to this strange order.

Come summer, the sea water warmed, the plankton bloomed

and even the crabs shuffled off into the gloom.

One starfish remains, dark matter in the thick brine,

too used to thin air, fondly clasping a jaw bone.

Long Pig

We eat the flesh only in wartime, when enraged,

and in a few legal instances. Theft. Treason.

Adultery. When the elders deem fit, revenge.

When a captured prisoner cannot pay ransom

in coin or woman or pig. And we find nothing

animates missionaries like being eaten.

When we introduce you to the village elders,

you men, with your degrees from Oxford and Eton,

must squat at the far end of the hut from our king

due to your woeful lack of pigs. Still, be at ease.

But when our women gather salt, and limes, and rice,

hanging coconuts like sucked skulls from the palm trees,

it might be prudent to invoke the Lord's Prayer twice,

or whatever prayer, to whatever God you please.

Operation Blessing

In 1978 the pigs of Haiti were diagnosed with Asian Swine Flu

and were eradicated. The repopulation program had mixed results

Good God, who has ears to hear, we are being blessed

again as for centuries we have been so blessed,

so often relieved of the burdens of freedom,

and now of our pigs, who were rude, necessary

and blessed. They were our banks, our goods, our ancestors,

with snouts like ploughs and dung rich and robust

like the coffee we grew before we became blessed.

Now we are further blessed with these useless Iowan

beasts, these
princes à quatre pieds
whose empty breasts

and soft stomachs shrivel in our yards, whose high heels

BOOK: Red Devon
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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