The Longborough Play
When do they start? Flames spit. The landlord chats,
the landlord says, "Mummers have their own time.
They'll be along." Along, already, sit
a grave man with striped scarf; lone ales; the girls
with dyed black fringes. One loud group clinks wine
by piled plates. Sharp pipes cut through their hum,
off-key, like breath, wavered with the wind's swirls.
Through new doors, fresh with dark, the Mummers come.
Would you have guessed their faces would be black,
though worn, by sweat and skin, to a wood's brown?
Forests of coloured rags badger their backs,
their swords and scimitars flash like the sun.
The King of Egypt snorts the hecklers down.
"He says that every year." The landlord smiles,
Slasher and St George clash at a run
till George slides, dead, upon his carpets' pile.
One of the dark heads is your boiler man,
not the young Doctor with blurred Rasta plaits
whose words and cures die stuttered on his tongue.
"Your first year, is it?" the old landlord lobs.
Is he tall Jack, with squeezebox, who forgets
no tangle from his backward, sung discourse,
"A crust of water, please!" Beelzebub
drops his cruel whip, runs bareback, like a horse.
So George springs up, all Mummers shout "Wassail!"
to which the single drinkers know the words.
"All round the town, our toast is white, our ale
is brown." The rainbow backs wait landlord's ham.
Do not praise Jack. You may not chat with gods,
the dark-fringed girls grimace, then suck their lime.
You walk the carpark with the quiet scarved man,
where moon and planet hang, in time, in time.
Alison Brackenbury was born in 1953, and is descended from a long line of British shepherds and farmworkers. She may be Britain's only poet in a boiler suit, as she has worked for over twenty years in her husband's family metal-finishing business. Her most recent collection is Singing in the Dark, Carcanet, 2008. Her eighth collection, Then, is due to be published by Carcanet in April 2013.
Alison is extremely interested in poetry on the Internet. She publishes new poems via her blog at www.alisonbrackenbury.co.uk, and via her Facebook Group, called Poems from Alison.