Is freedom born in a fire burning a palace?
Six miles, again, we’ll go today,
for honour built on broken blades.
We’ll tame these meres; skate far and fast,
with hopes that winter, long may last.
For cold that creeps and freezes fen
brings out the Runners once again.
In tests of wit and skill and speed
on crystal lakes, still wreathed with weeds.
Contracted muscles, chests pulled tight,
like frightened birds, we take to flight.
Sinews screaming, taut like wire,
in every eye, a glint of fire.
On flooded fen, we carve our names
as brackish blood runs through our veins.
The lure of wealth may spur some forth –
we skate for love and all we’re worth.
This subtle smoothness, ice unspoiled,
a canvas stretched o’er sunken soil.
To skate the marsh is to be free:
‘These Fenmen do not run; they flee!’
Feel the Fen Blow bey,
It rattles the bones
Through graves long forgotten,
In church yards of stone
Lazy old Easterly
Howls like a dog,
Then covers the dykes
In a blanket of fog
Reddens the hands
Travelled from foreign parts
Who harvest the land,
Picking artichoke hearts.
Gets up the tails
Of the long-legged hares,
That run for their lives
From the Gamekeeper’s glares
Swirls round the bench
And kisses the face
Of dear Molly Watkins,
At peace in her place
Brucks up the fruit trays
Stacked high the markets.
Makes pots goo a gutzer,
Snaps flowers in baskets
Snatches the bread
From the men eating dockey
Whilst sat on memorials,
Saddened with poppies
The sky’s blue as Woad dye
So stretch out your hand
And feel the Fen Blow, bey
For this is Fen Land
Here, there is clarity. A raw, persistent
truth – a cold disparity – hidden beneath
these tessellating fields. Fields stitched
by ditches to a muddy canvas. An after-
thought, a lost and lonely landmass.
Marshes marred by the harshness of
weather-worn trees. Each movement
of their aching limbs born of necessity.
That seasickness, which rises when
tracing that unaltered horizon, will
never fade. It is the price we pay to
come and stare into the eyes of gods,
to see ourselves, scratched and scattered
across unending skies and be reminded
just how much it mattered. The paling
moonlight dies, submerged and sinking,
but never fully sunk. No dampened way
of thinking, drunk on every part of these
wild and weary, sun-smeared fens. I’ll walk
each lonesome plough line, now as then.