Monday, 21 October 2013

A poem by William Bedford

The Potato Gatherers
for my father

The potato gatherers were the ones,
Van Gogh faces in a Van Gogh barn,
where they slept upstairs after work,
or rested when they weren’t working.
‘They’re counting the harvest,’ 
your sister reckoned. ‘Or maybe praying.’
You thought they were witches,
chanting to fetch curses from the dark.

The Methodist minister said the same:
‘Decent folk don’t pray on their knees,
or out of doors, like cattle.’
From Manchester himself,
he often talked of cattle,
as though the farmers in the pews
would understand his parables better
if he used the language of herds.

The hens got mithered either way,
quacking at whoever stole their eggs
for the field workers breakfasts.
In a lane, you found a string of beads
and took them to the minister.
He said they were a curse
that would bring famine and pestilence, 
panic among the young women. 

Nothing much happened.
The potato gatherers went home
when the potato harvest was finished.
The minister was driven away by an aunt
who said she’d seen all this before,
he wasn’t a man made for loneliness.
The blacksmith put a new lock on the barn,
and the fields sank back into silence.

You walked with your sister to chapel,
harvest supper and then a dance.
You didn’t care for dancing. In a corner,
you ran the string of beads
between your fingers,
and they chattered like pebbles in the beck,
or the crows when you went crow-scaring,
humming a music nobody recognised. 

First published in Agenda

William Bedford's latest collection, Fen Dancing  is due out in Spring 2014 from Red Squirrel Press. Read about William Bedford HERE

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