Aftermath

Alasdair Maclean

That last summer a small stand
of bracken leaped from the hillside
into our pasture, clearing
a four-foot cattle-proof sheep-proof fence.
Father cast on the intruder a cold country eye.
‘Not on my bloody ground!’ he said.
‘I’ve seen the autumn land
round here blaze with that stuff.’
Crofter and magician both, he passed his hand
over the weed.
‘Begone,’ he said, ‘from hence!’
And the weed went, appearing
later in the byre as bedding for the cow.
I watched the show.
The tough thick stalks, still green, stood
for a long moment after the blade
had made its pass,
as if they crowed ‘You missed me!’
(‘Ah, but wait till you shake your head!’)
‘The sweetest sound a crofter hears,’
said Father, ‘is the crash of steel
passing through his uncorrupted grass.’
He did not add that one might pay with tears
for a small plot of the pure meadow
and not encompass it, the leaping years
being in themselves corrupt;
however green the shoot
the stem in time rusted
and there came horror at the root.
Or if he did, he did not mean it for my ears.
Afterwards he shouldered his scythe
and smiled happily at the sky.
‘Darkening up nicely,’ he said.
‘I’ll go fishing by and by.’

Next spring the old man had other fish to fry.
I struggled with the unfamiliar chores,
a carpet-slippered clerk
in our illiterate hob-nailed out-of-doors,
phoned south to learn the price of hay
and balanced outlay
against potential yield.
Young fronds of bracken meanwhile upcurled
from fence to fence across his field,
each thinking hard – it is my guess –
of autumn and the maturing of the spores.
I took my worries off and went to bed.
Then it was time to rise always
and time to dress
and time to switch the radio on.
(‘Leave weather forecasts be,’ he said.
‘The wind blows where it lists.’)
Through the attic window finally
– or through its cobwebbed mists –
I watched the helpless croft:
a would-be red army, thousands of clenched fists.