Grunting Up*

Who would have thought that these great slab sided beasts
who fall to their knees and slump belly up,
would sing this rhythmic grunting lullaby?

Weight drops from back and loins but
swollen undulating glands seem added on,
like a full frill at the bottom of a skirt.

The piglets rush to their particular nipple
and plug on, tongues curling, eyes closed,
chubby fingers, lined up, reaching.

And then she begins. This low throbbing,
this song to the milk flow,
this crooning hymn.

“Grunting up” the name given to the noise a sow makes when her piglets are sucking.


A path leads me to a tangle of buckled poles
and a Roe deer trawled in, trying to flip his fate,
kicking and twisting against the snare of cords
churning the grass around him in fury.

I cling to the loose lines like a kite in a gale
and exhausted he stops, mouth gaping,
bubbles of saliva around his blue slug tongue,
each sucked breath ending in a grunt.

His fish eye, dilated, looks through mine.
The sheet I slip over his head stills
the trembling to tautness. All muscles,
elastic stretched to the point of anticipation.

I sever each straining cord. They whip away,
cut after cut, and the only things in our world
are the cords and the knife and our breath
held somewhere high up in our throats.



Under fallen logs the busiest habitats occur,
the dark surges with industrious connections,
of which we hear nothing as we pass;
food chains begin in silence.


Can the thought of a mountain be as hard to climb?
The struggle for height, eyes on the horizon,
while sheep tread their connecting paths to shelter
and the best grass and look up, rarely.


A house with no doors shows us honesty
or maybe a thought too complex to fill
the gaps, so we tack up sheets in the frames
while we contemplate separation.


Skyscrapers sway in high winds
to a rhythm of breathing.
In Beijing, people talk of particulate matter
and put on their masks and shoes when leaving home.


I watch from the edge of landfill
and see the patch that is me being picked over.
I want them to pause, seize something, stow
it greedily in a dirty bag and cradle it home.

I want to be turned out onto a table,
held up to the light, polished with a soft cloth.


Limestone, marble, chalk or this spiralled
skeleton, spun in crystal sheets, pearl lids

covering the softest insecurities and from
these mineral beginnings, a form

of delicate complexity surprises itself
but unseen, its beauty is harled, is left

concealed in crevices, its journey coursed
from pulling silent undertow to scoured

by grit and tide, unfurrowed and littering
the shore. We seize the pearly glitter in

our hands; each one a death, each one a united
purpose finished. It begins again – the bonds untied.

First Published in Stand 2018