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Authors: Hilary Menos

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then telescoping inwards to this moment, now,

for once not ruptured by an animal's terse bray,

dead ducks in the snow, an escaped pig barreling away.

UK364195

Walking winter wheat, the crop kept clean

and fed and watered under a tight regime,

I think of the hundred acres or so of grass

we liked to think of, all these years, as ours.

The cider orchard, bluebells in the copse,

our meadow with its rings of shaggy ink caps,

headlands thick with scutch grass, thistles, ragwort,

a tumble of bones where a struck ewe once sat.

And ask what we've achieved, who were so keen,

or more properly perhaps, what we have done?

Tinkered here and there; let well alone

(though more by luck than judgement or design);

learned more of what we can't do than what we can;

passed on just a little of what we've learned.

*UK364195 –
our DEFRA herd/flock mark

Fat Hen, Few Eggs

Half the pedigree comes by mouth.

Never knock a farmer with your plate full.

Keep badgers and bankers at arms length.

Speak little, speak well.

A goat in silk stockings is still a goat.

One lawyer makes work for another.

Nearest the heart comes first out.

Garlic is worth ten mothers.

Yesterday's seeds are tomorrow's flowers.

Even a hare will insult a dead dog.

Good fences make good neighbours.

Fat hen, few eggs.

Milk Fever

There's a downer cow in the yard next door,

legs akimbo, black and white body slack.

She's sinking by degrees into the dirt floor,

her calf hungry, her calcium reserves sapped.

I know the symptoms – the pupils blown black,

the stagger as her heart slows, limbs grow cold,

her head bent back and tucked along her flank

as though she's peering over her shoulder.

Not so long ago it would be me out there

saving her life with a syringe and some Calciject,

holding the half-litre bottle high in the air

until my fingers froze and my arm ached.

Now the farmer slips a hypodermic in her

while I, in my own way, with roughshod rhyme,

drip-feed a sort of life back into the old girl

down a two ml line, one word at a time.

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgements are due to the editors of the following journals where some of these poems first appeared:
New Walk Magazine, New Welsh Review, PN Review, Poetry Review, Warwick Review.
Some of the poems were published in the pamphlet
Wheelbarrow Farm
(Templar, 2010). ‘Bob's Dogs' is included in
The Best British Poetry 2012
edited by Roddy Lumsden (Salt, 2012).

Thanks to my family and friends, especially my lovely husband, Andy Brodie, our little boy, Inigo, and my three big boys, Jethro, Bruno and Linus. Thanks also to fellow travelers Christopher Southgate and Julie-Ann Rowell, to my tutors at MMU and my colleagues on the MA (especially Khadj) and to Helena Nelson for wise words.

Notes

Pesticides
: The World Health Organisation estimates that each year three million workers in agriculture in the developing world experience severe poisoning from pesticides, about 18,000 of whom die. According to one study, as many as 25 million workers in developing countries may suffer mild pesticide poisoning yearly. Children are particularly vulnerable.

Super-weeds:
US farmers face a growing challenge from weeds which have developed resistance to chemical sprays such as Roundup due to farmers' reliance on GM corn, soya and cotton. Dow Agrosciences has developed a new type of GM that has resistance to both Roundup and another, older chemical called 2,4-D. 2,4-D is a component of Agent Orange, the defoliant sprayed extensively during the Vietnam War.

Agricultural run-off
: Excessive nutrient run-off from agricultural land into rivers and seas causes algal blooms and depleted oxygen, which kills fish and other aquatic life. The Mississippi River, which is the drainage area for 41% of the continental United States, delivers nitrogen and phosphorus into the Gulf of Mexico, creating a dead zone off the coast of Louisiana and Texas. In 2011 this dead zone covered about 6,765 square miles.

Growth hormones:
Growth hormones have been used in meat production in the US since 1954; two thirds of beef animals in US feedlots are routinely given steroids and hormones. Studies suggest this can cause early onset of puberty in girls, lowered fertility in men, and increased risk of breast or prostate cancer in later life.

BOOK: Red Devon
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