…If we could see all all might seem good
– Edward Thomas
I was walking the old road alone
through stubble fields, and everywhere tractors
balers, the hum of machinery
mowing the geometric crop
but no humans
just their silhouettes in high cabs,
grain augers pouring their dirty rain,
wood pigeons clattering over the chaff.
I came to a wide valley already cut
the lines of chopped straw radiated precisely outwards
as far as I could see.
I followed down into the valley and rose back to the treeline
And there a tractor with a cutting arm
hidden from me by the hedgerow
caught up with me from behind,
a twig shot from its trimming teeth
and struck me
full in the face.
I cupped my nose in my hands
in surprise, in pain,
and stumbled to the ground,
called out quietly
too quietly to hear
The machine cut out. A second’s silence
then a man pushed himself
through the hedge. Oh my god
he said, are you OK?
Here, is that blood? He stretched out
his white t-shirt from his body
offered it to me to clean my nose and cheeks, and I
bent towards him
and wiped my face.
I had a mate, he said
who used to walk beside me to warn me
when someone was passing
I’d see him in my mirror and stop.
He’s gone now. I should put up a sign
but you know, it’s time, isn’t it
plenty to do, and no one to help.
I’m cutting corners, can barely cope
if he was here I guess things would be different
but it wasn’t to be.
I stood listening, the blood still trickling
from my nose, dripping from my lip
I couldn’t speak.
Shall I drive you somewhere?
I’m really sorry. You’re hurt.
I’ll be fine, I said. I’m going a long way.
Worse things can happen. He stared at me,
his shirt smeared an ugly rust-red,
ran a grimy hand
over his mouth.
Did your friend
move away? No, no, he loved this place
much good it did him, but he’d never have
left. Liked his drink though,
lost a bit of money on the dogs
and it all got too much.
Went off one night – found
a bridge over a motorway. He waited
till a lorry passed. I couldn’t have done that
although god knows it’s miserable sometimes.
So I’m on my own. Well if you’re sure
you’re good, I’ll get myself going –
I turned and lifted my arm, checked
my face in the dial of my watch
ghostly, reflected in the glass,
encircled by the trees’ canopy.
In a minute or so
the tractor started up
and then the cutting arm
its teeth shrieking as they touched the hedge
a spray of twigs ahead and nothing else,
a mess of new growth lying on the road.
SASHA DUGDALE’s most recent book, Deformations, was published by Carcanet in 2020 and was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. Her translation of the Russian poet Maria Stepanova, The War of the Beasts and the Animals, is published by Bloodaxe.