Posted by: David Harley | July 7, 2013

Beyond the Margins

It was a harsh time for heroes:
rising chest-wracked,
rheum-ridden and fever-aching
from sodden bracken
into marsh-dank dawn mists
seemed a poor escape
from the smoke-choked hovels of serfdom
(as if we’d had the choice)
when even the forest’s wild harvest failed
and the last bitter berries
yellowing herbs
and sickly mouldering nuts
more likely garnished rats and fieldmice
than the king’s venison.

For every Locksley that drew the longbow
the men-at-arms
trained and better-equipped – if scarcely better fed
mowed down a score of rusty peasant blades
and left the spilt brown sap
to the other forest scavengers.

With no milk-tonged ladies to soften
our frost-tempered nights
we burrowed beneath the coarse skirts
of tavern sluts
or buried our despair
between the meagre thighs
of village children
caught beyond the margins.

We robbed the rich
if occasion offered
but knew none poorer than ourselves
with whom to share the spoils.

More often, dog ate dog, indifferent
to the misery we traded
for the pitiful plunderings
of the sacked settlements

for we only gnawed brutishly
at the bones the seigneurs cast aside
as unfit for their dogs.

They call us romantic now
class-war heroes
earth spirits
fertility symbols
but the mythology we inhabited
was a sour, heavy brew
to slake indefinable thirsts
and appease the darkest
and most human of gods

 

Published in Vertical Images, 1986.

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