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by Powis 

Posted: 25 April 2004
Word Count: 312
Summary: A poem about my grandmother's gardener, Bill Pierce. Looking at his hands, so gnarled and permanently soiled with earth, I used to wonder how he made love to his wife. And the 'she' in this poem is, of course, his wife, who I always knew as 'Mrs P', being born in a Welsh village.

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i.m. Bill Pierce, ploughman

It was the earth what done it.
That's what she liked to think.
Not the Woodbines, the drink,
but the earth. Muck. The stuff

under his fingernails
that wouldn't scrub out.
Brought into the house
every day of her life

on the soles of his boots.
Climbing the stairs, soiling
the carpet, the sheets -
An incontinent child.

It was there from the start.
Autumn it was, the War.
Courting days. Carrying
his lunchbox out to the fields,

walking behind him, watching
the clay sucking at his heels,
wanting him back. Jealous, back
then, even before he asked;

Or laying with him, clumsy like,
between the furrows. His hands
already bark to her soft flesh.
The earth, their marriage bed.

Forty year it was. Forty years,
yoked to the thing, crawling,
he was, like his animal,
out from under a granite sky.

Turning the stubble they call it.
Giving back what you get, that's
what he said. She had to laugh.
What with the muck silting his veins,

the stone lodged in the spine,
bent so as to smell his own backside.
And now, at the last,
A gobful of earth.

And he was good with a scythe,
could have beaten Death
at his own game. But He took
him sudden like, out the back,

planting the earth again. Couldn't
keep off of it, fingers poking
the soil like a seed drill.
Lettuce for the days of her grief.

She laid him out, watching disbelief
harden on his face.
Scoured him like a doorstep,
but she couldn't get it out, not

from under his fingernails.
None of it, not even the smell.
Especially that, lingering
on his flesh like the scent

of another woman. The one he brought
to her bed every night of his life.
Jealous, even now.
She got between them in the end.

Hoxton 1987

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Comments by other Members

Skeetr at 20:57 on 25 April 2004  Report this post
This is an excellent poem, David. No time to comment thoroughly right now, must run to home chores of my own, but just wanted to chime in... good stuff...


Tina at 21:34 on 25 April 2004  Report this post
Very Strong
I like the relentless rhythm of this - it grinds along like the days here- and the impossible presence of dirt. It has a good feel

roovacrag at 17:30 on 26 April 2004  Report this post
Good one,remember my granny's gardener having the
gnarled hands,yet full of tenderness.

Not one stanza can i fault.
Everyone was perfect to me.
Fingernails don't scrub with muck.

If there was a vote for a poem i would give it all.

Great one.

xxxx alice

tinyclanger at 18:02 on 26 April 2004  Report this post
I enjoyed this very much, Powis, it carries the scent and smell of the soil.
The resentment of the wife builds wonderfully, those last two stanzas are marvellous.
"The one he brought
to her bed every night of his life"

You have some really evocative images. I especially liked,
'And now, at the last,
A gobful of earth.'
'She laid him out, watching disbelief
harden on his face.'

In a way he reminds me of my Grandad, who was a real man of the soil, couldn't be separated from it. He even asked that we made sure we put his ashes under his favourite trees so he could add to the leaf mould!

Lovely poem, I'll look out for more of your work.

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