Horse-chestnuts thudded to the lawn each autumn.
Their spiked husks were like medieval clubs,
Porcupines, unexploded shells. But if
You waited long enough they gave themselves up –
Brown pups, a cow opening its sad eye,
The shine of the dining-room table.

We were famous for horse-chestnuts. Boys
From the milltown would ring at our door asking
Could they gather conkers and I’d to tell them
Only from the ground – no stick-throwing.
I watched through the casement as they wandered
In shadow, trousers crammed like mint-jars.

One morning they began without asking.
Plain as pikestaffs, their hurled sticks carried down
Whole branches, the air filled like a pillowfight
With rebellion and leaves. I was alone.
I had not father’s booming voice. They were free
To trample through our peaceable estate.

Afterwards, matching father in a show
Of indignation (Bloody vandals and thugs)
I imagined their home ground – the flagged backyards,
The forbidden alleys and passages
Winding up and out on purple moor,
The rooftops like a bar of toblerone.

It is June now, the chestnut blossoming
Like confetti. He summoned me today
To the billiard-room – that incident
With an apprentice. I’ve told you before.
A son in your father’s firm, you’re looked to
For an example. I don’t know what to do.

So I sit at my rosewood desk, lines fading
Across the parkland. I’ve been getting pamphlets
In a plain brown envelope and feel like
A traitor. Dark strangers have been seen by
The wicker-gate. Mother keeps to her bed.
English, we hoard our secrets to the end.

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