Anna Crowe

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Punk with Dulcimer

Punk with Dulcimer

Punk with Dulcimer, Anna Crowe's second Peterloo collection, was published in 2006.

A Calendar of Hares

for Valerie Gillies

1. At the raw end of winter
the mountain is half snow, half
dun grass. Only when snow
moves does it become a hare.

2. If you can catch a hare
and look into its eye,
you will see the whole world.

3. That day in March
watching two hares boxing
at the field’s edge, she felt
the child quicken.

4. It is certain Midas never saw a hare
or he would not have lusted after gold.

5. When the buzzard wheels
like a slow kite overhead
the hare pays out the string.

6. The man who tells you
he has thought of everything
has forgotten the hare.

7. The hare’s form, warm yet empty.
Stumbling upon it, he felt his heart
lurch and race beneath his ribs.

8. Beset by fears, she became
the hare who hears
the mowers’ voices growing louder.

9. Light as the moon’s path over the sea,
the run of the hare over the land.

10. The birchwood a dapple
of fallen gold: a carved hare
lies in a Pictish hoard.

11. Waking to the cry of a hare
she ran and found the child sleeping.

12. November stiffens
into December: hare and grass
have grown a thick coat of frost.

A Calendar of Hares was featured on the Scottish Poetry Library website in 2005.

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Punk with Dulcimer

He stood at the end of the carriage.
A black-clad giant, fearsome
in fringed and studded leather, tawny mohican.
Then sat down in the seat beside me.

Plants are amazing, so they are!
The voice, rich Ulster. He looks up from his book,
eyes shining under the tawny crown.
—If it weren’t for plants,
if it weren’t for vascular bundles,
we’d not be walking upright.

He speaks in a creaking of leather,
a sound like branches in a pine-wood,
rubbing. And a multitude of studs,
from his ears to his bare, braceleted arms
and eloquent knuckle-dustered mittens,
sparkle and gleam like rain on thistles.

He is a green man speaking leaves.
Rainforest canopy fills the carriage
with rustled whispers; words
that make Linnaean music, space
for colobus, catleya, bell-bird
to peep from the fringes of speech.

For an hour he held sway, in language
as way above my head as, say, a sequoia.
Elusive as jaguar, and all gone.
All but those resonant, homely
vascular bundles. Oh, and the dulcimer.
He played a dulcimer in a folk-group,
was going, in fact, to play it in Newcastle
where he duly got off the train.

I think of how I had feared him,
of how we fear what we don’t know.
And when I hear the whistles and drums
of marching Orangemen on the news,
I try to imagine the tune arranged for dulcimer
—hearing soft-struck strings;
seeing a black-clad figure,
tall as a cedar of Lebanon, and dancing.
Like David with his psaltery
before the Lord.

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Gollop was our grandmother’s butcher.
Saying his name out loud, you swallowed
a lump of gristle whole. Even the thought
of going to Gollop’s made us gulp,
made my little green-eyed sister’s eyes
grow rounder, greener. Swags of rabbits
dangled at the door in furry curtains;
their eyes milky, blood congealed
around their mouths like blackcurrant-jelly.
You’d to run a gauntlet of paws.

Inside, that smell of blood and sawdust
still in my nostrils. Noises. The thump
as a cleaver fell; flinchings, aftershocks
as sinews parted, bone splintered.
The wet rasp of a saw. My eyes
were level with the chopping bench.
Its yellow wood dipped in the middle
like the bed I shared with Rosy.
Sometimes a trapdoor in the floor
was folded back. Through clouds of frost
our eyes made out wooden steps, then
huge shapes shawled in ice—the cold-store.

Into which the butcher fell,
once, bloody apron and all.
When my grandparents went to see
Don Juan, and told us how it ended
—Like Mr Gollop! I whispered.
Mr Gollop only broke his leg, but
         Crash! Bang! Wallop!
         Went Mr Gollop!
we chanted from our sagging bed,
giggles celebrating his downfall,
cancelling his nasty shop.
As the Co-op did a few years later
when it opened on the High Street.
Giving him the chop.

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Maid's Room

The combed ceiling hoards up whispers, sighs,
a crackle of anger, a creak of stays.
Stripping paper under the baking slates
you eavesdrop on the previous folk—lives
of careful garlands, furrows dull and straight—
stiff generations falling down in sheaves.

But when your scraper calls up heartbeats, dust
is suddenly tenanted, the room opening
like a kiss: the tongue-and-groove of lost
Scots pine, and in the air the sweat of resin.
And you know she is close enough to touch—skin
burnished like wood, her hair in knots; just
wakened and still in her shift, in a haze of daisies
you’ll never uproot, rub out, or will away.

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Mended Fence, Barra

after a photograph by John Cooper

Let no smalnesse retard thee; if thou beest not a Cedar to help towards a palace, if thou beest not Amber, Bezoar nor liquid gold, to restore princes; yet thou art a shrub to shelter a lambe, or to feed a bird; or a plantane to ease a child’s smart, or a grasse to cure a sick dog.
John Donne, Essays in Divinity

Darned like the heel of a sock, like boot-hose,
with baler’s twine instead of worsted, with rope
and string and twists of wire, the mended fence
reveals itself as a kind of random knitting.
Purely utilitarian, this link-work
has a beauty that’s all pro tem, ad hoc,
with textures suggestive of the wider picture,
differences: a study in tensions where
the braced immutability of the post,
split and splintered, poker-worked
by shadows of staple-ring and hook,
is relished no less than the angled span
of iron rails as flat as swords, pocked
and grizzled, and buttoned by rivets: and if a line
of galvanised steel opens its arms
like a horizon after rain, or if it receives
the downward skewering twist of wire
that feathers the light like a gannet,
it’s accidental; and there is still room
for twine and string, each with its proper weight
and implicated strength, to be roped-in.
Nylon twine radiates sun, fraying,
and ends of string are wanton tassels of frizz,
but this small net of knots and hitches, reefs
and grannies, deters the straying lamb and plays
cat’s cradle with the wind as it lingers or passes,
muttering (to a droned continuo
of shepherd’s thyme and turf and gorse, sheep’s dung,
sea-weed, diesel) snatches of things like
     if thou beest not a Cedar
no man is an island
           make do and mend.

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Anna Crowe
October 2010
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