Testing times

14 September 2011 § 9 Comments

Blood work

Someone in a lab
Is looking through a lens
At a smear of blood and lymph.
An anonymous clutch
Of nameless cells
In search of an identity.

A blackthorn snapped off
And driven deep,
Bee-sting, dog-bite,
Barbed-wire tear, unseen blow –
Any of the litany
Of injury attending dogs like him
(Long on legs, short on brain)
Might have forced the flesh to swell
Into the hen’s egg
That now lurks, submarine-sinister
Beneath his velvet skin.

Or something else:

That single drop
From the tablespoonful the syringe drew off
Will tell all.

So we await the blood-work
Wondering what they’ll find
And how much we stand to lose.

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Fields of fire

20 June 2011 § 4 Comments

Night fighters

A white beam
Sweeps the midnight fields
Like a hand searching under a bed.
Grass-blades caught beneath its bright gleam
Bristle black; a million tiny gnomons
Telling the rapid hours
Of this unwonted, sudden sun.
The woods recoil before
The engine’s heavy throb,
And poplars flare
Like burning buildings
In the tail-lights’ angry glare.

Two shots.

The echo rolls
And ricochets around the farm.
Keep your head down, Reynard;
Squeeze tight the shining eyes
That will betray you
And seek the shelter of the earth.

At half a mile, my skin grows tight
Waiting for the spent stray’s bite;

Then wonder. The hunting dog is gone
In search of rabbits on the wrong
Side of the hedge. Caught in the edge
Of that cruel light, a half-second’s untutored sight
Of that long nose and wolfish gait
Would be enough to seal his fate.
I call him, with the sickened urgency
Of frantic fathers trapped in Tripoli
When unseen hunters rip their night
With noise, and death’s unholy light.

Perspective

12 June 2011 § 6 Comments

Weatherproof

Seen from inside
Outside
Is a grey hell:
Trees in full leaf flayed by a west wind
Thrash and hiss with spray
A ten-tenths sky leans on the land
Like a drunkard on a doorpost
And next-door’s downpipe
Mumbles an ostinato in its throat.

I stand under the wood’s dripping eaves,
Smiling warm, watching the hunting-dog
Gun down rabbits in the wet field.
No rain reaches beneath my hat-brim;
My jacket turns the wind’s blade like a shirt of mail;
In these boots I could wade a river.
No such thing
As bad weather:
Just the wrong clothing.

 

Back from the dead

25 April 2011 § 10 Comments

Dead lucky

He didn’t know
When he spied the dozen
Cakes left cooling in the kitchen
That underneath its icing
And chirpy chocolate eggs
Each contained
Concealed in its sweetness
Small wrinkled packages
Of death by renal failure:
Just that they were there, unwatched
And within reach
Of his questing needle nose.

A lethal dose
In those few furtive swallows;
A moment’s greed
Became a frantic hour
Of hectic emetics
That proved
Fruitless.

So to the vet’s
Sunday-afternoon silent
Where fair faces and healing hands
Made saviours of simple soda crystals.

The lad rose
And walked away.
And once again on Easter Day
Death
Was made to taste defeat.

Yes, I’m afraid the whippet’s been in the wars again. Yesterday, he stole a couple of my wife’s delicious homemade Easter muffins off the kitchen worktop when we weren’t watching. Trouble was, they contained sultanas, and any grape, fresh or dried, is potentially lethal to dogs when ingested, even in tiny quantities. We couldn’t make him vomit them up, so it was off to the vets, who fortunately are two minutes’ walk away. They took the lad off into a backroom and got some soda crystals down him, which had (from our point of view, if not his) the desired effect. He seems none the worse for his brush with death, thank goodness, but by golly it’s hard on the nerves. I hope it doesn’t contravene any rules of the RCVS to publicly thank Rose the vet and Bex the nurse for their prompt, expert and sympathetic treatment – both of the lad himself, and us.

Back on his feet

18 April 2011 § 7 Comments

Up and running

Hopping, he was:
Near hind hitched up as though the ground
Was suddenly too hot to bear;
A trembling velvet milking-stool,
Head and tail hanging low,
A look of ‘better-leave-me-sir-I’ll-only-slow-you-down’
In his martyred, liquid eyes.

Rest and four days’ lead-walking.
Easy for the vet to say:
Hell on feet for us; the lad
A little keg of gunpowder,
The wire-taut lead a fuse
As every squirrel, cat and rabbit
For miles around chose these four days
To wander idly across our path,
And grin at our tempestuous tangles
And yelps of hopeless rage.

But then to see him free again,
Eating up the football field
In strides five times his length
And hear the thrumming of four sound feet
Behind me, feel him blow by
Like a train not stopping at this station,
Makes my heart lighter
Even than my wallet
And restores the swing
In my own step.

Close encounter

3 March 2011 § 7 Comments

To boldly go

In his overalls, bulky boots
And thick fleece hat pulled right down over his ears
He lumbers, slow, stiff-legged,
Over the sodden ground
Like a spaceman on an alien planet
Where the atmosphere’s thin and bitter cold
And the gravity’s turned right up.

The mission commander remains behind
On the quad-bike that squats like a moon-buggy
On its fat balloon tyres
And from the seat, he barks peremptory orders
At the half-dozen sheep
Gathering round the trough,
Grateful for this daily visitation
From another world.

I saw this little scene played out on a dog-walk in Wales the other week. I think the whippet (who was wearing his fleece jacket at the time) felt rather inadequate when he saw the collie standing on the quad-bike seat in the freezing wind, barking joyously, having almost certainly spent the night outdoors too. I was certainly conscious that I’m not nearly tough enough for a life like that. Then again, how many of us are?

Red in tooth and claw RE-POSTED

13 February 2011 § 2 Comments

FIRST BLOOD

Now, he sleeps
In a croissant curl;
Warm as new milk,
Upholstered in butterscotch velvet.

Is his sleep-soft jaw
Filled with fur and bone,
Teeth closing tight as shears,
Gripping, chasing
The boiling blood racing beneath the skin?

And in his stillness
Does his unseen self
Slip back to stand sentry,
Breath steaming from his laughing mouth,
Over the limp and cooling evidence
Of his first kill?
No one calling him away,
No snap of lead on collar:
Just him
The rain
Life, death
And dogness.

Or perhaps he simply sleeps,
And all sense of deep things clicking,
Promises kept
And purposes fulfilled
Is mine alone.

With thanks to Kiersty Boon. You were right.

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