Poems - Issue 3
Highly Commended: Matt Barnard - Skating at Earith
Photograph: 'RSPB Ouse Washes' by Paul Constable
Matt Barnard is a poet and short story writer. He is a winner of the Poetry Society’s Hamish Canham Prize and the Ink Tears short story competition. He lives in London with his wife, their two sons and two dogs. His website is www.mattbarnardwriter.com.
Skating at Earith
One winter in a score, it's cold enough
for the fens to freeze. Then they come from miles
around, the welltodo, with fine wrought skates,
the working men with blades from broken ploughs.
They compete for mutton and a sack of flour,
enough to feed a family for a month.
Year round the wind plays a single note
that maddens us with its sheer persistence;
there's nothing here to change its pitch, no hill
or craggy slopes, no rest from drawn out lines.
Each man can see his father down the road.
Yet on the ice, no one is fixed in place;
two feet or less above the grass, all move
as if they've known a higher plane; here
is freedom of a kind. And when the race
has run and all return to winter tasks,
the working men to smiths and lathes, the squire
his lowland sports of snipe and hounds, that space,
that grand expanse of ice and sky is left
with ghosts of better, colder days. In summer,
when meadow grasses dance idly in the breeze
and trampleburrs catch at hems and stockings,
we try to picture skaters in these very fields
and hardly can believe it ever happened.