Caught by the River

Two Men at Milber Hill Fort: a poem by Marc Woodward

18th August 2018

Two Men at Milber Hill Fort (for Andy Brown)

i) Voices

A thread of smoke ties us
to the stead at Defnasburh
six miles west – not by way
of spiralling buzzards
or the serpentine lanes
of your Ordnance Survey,
but by the given line
of travelling rain clouds.

Slowly we scalped these hills
pushed back the wolf packs
and kept darkness at bay
by fire, ditch and palisade.
We named the unknown
tagged otter and weasel alike
stripped and revealed the streams;
felled and burned the oaks.

Today two men trace around
the circles of our enclosure,
map and book in hand.
Four deer rise out of the ground
then fade like old language
through black spindles of birch
and tongues of new ransoms
in these early hours of spring.

At our sycamore edge a gate opens,
and through the picket fence
of a bungalow back garden
a shirtless man, damp with labour,
brings a barrow of cuttings
to dump between the flint heads
and fly-tipped refrigerators
into our starving holloway.

ii) Flints

What is that? Above the road hum?

Above the tapping of a yaffle,
the high nagging of a sprung lark,
the Doppler phase of horse flies
hungering around your head –

the clack clack clack clack
of one flint knapping on another.
It seeps out of the ground as clear
as words from a museum headset.

Clack clack clack. Arrowheads: shark fins,
sharp teeth. Blades to cleave a skull.
Sparks to light a pluck of dry grass
brittle and thin as ancient hair.

Last summer the bracken caught light
and fire trucks closed the Torquay road.
Kids playing with the old magic
holding plastic lighters to skinny twigs.

Then, when the flames were doused
and the undergrowth burnt away,
kicking the ash exhumed new flints,
grey as the flat eyes of the dead,

and two men with detectors came
to address the unclothed cadaver,
waving their devices side to side
like priests performing a funeral rite.


Taken from Marc’s new collection Hide Songs, published by Green Bottle Press and available here. The book will be launched in London at the Poetry Cafe on 21 September.