by Bert Flitcroft
This narrow strip of Staffordshire
I think of as the County’s lowlands,
where the gods decided rock and moor
should be ironed out, flat as a glide in the Trent,
left damp as a riverside mist at dawn.
Here wind is free to race across the fields,
to whistle through thin hedgerows, dip
into ditches to ruffle stagnant wet.
This place is frontier land.
Danes rowed up with dragons at their heads.
Normans settled for the waterside.
Now and then a groat will open its dull eyes,
sesterces will blink in the sudden daylight.
Rome marched and garrisoned here.
They understood a road is more than just a road.
It is a presence, a dividing line, a sword thrust.
And here Rykneld Street is still a shield wall.
To the west of it a line of settlements
are strung out like laundry:
a ‘tun, a ‘wood, a ‘wash, a ‘ley, a ‘field’
drying out among the alders and tall poplars,
spires and mulched villages that crouch
in the blanched season waiting to open their doors
to the warmth of warblers and hovering damselflies.
But to the east a rash of quarries like shingles scabs
scour and rape the earth for pebbles and gravel,
following a seam of hard-core ballast,
littering the land with mounds and deep sinks,
leaving water havens for wild fowl where holes –
you cannot call them lakes –
have filled themselves like blisters..
Winter swans leave when they can.
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Bert Flitcroft was Staffordshire Poet Laureate 2015-17 and curated The Staffordshire Poetry Collection. He has two poetry collections published: ‘Singing Puccini at the Kitchen Sink’ and ‘Thought Apples’. For more about Bert, his experience and his poetry, visit his website at www.bert-flitcroft-poetry.com