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Privet


Because I'd done wrong I was sent to hell,
down black steps to the airless tombs
of mothballed contraptions and broken tools.
Piled on a shelf every daffodil bulb
was an animal skull or shrunken head,
every drawer a seed tray of mildew and rust.
In its alcove shrine a bottle of meths
stood corked and purple like a pickled saint.
I inched ahead, pushed the door of the furthest crypt
where starlight broke in through shuttered vents
and there were the shears, balanced on two nails,
hanging cruciform on the whitewashed wall.

And because I'd done wrong I was sent
to the end of the garden to cut the hedge,
that dividing line between moor and lawn
gone haywire that summer, all stem and stalk
where there should have been contour and form.
The shears were a crude beast, lumpen, prewar,
rolling-pin handles on Viking swords,
an oiled rivet that rolled like a slow eye,
jaws that opened to the tips of its wings
then closed with an executioner's lisp.
I snipped and prodded at first, pecked at strands,
then cropped and hacked, watching spiders scuttle
for tunnels and bolt-holes of woven silk,
and found farther in an abandoned nest
like a begging bowl or a pauper's wreath,
till two hours on, the hedge stood scalped
and fleeced, raw-looking, stripped of its green,
my hands blistered, my feet in a litter
of broken arrows and arrowhead leaves.

He came from the house to inspect the work,
didn't speak, ran his eye over the leveled crown
and shorn flanks. Then for no reason except
for the sense that comes from doing a thing
for its own sake, he lifted me up in his arms
and laid me down on the top of the hedge,
just lowered me onto that bed of twigs,
and I floated there, cushioned and buoyed
by a million matchwood fingertips,
held by nothing but needling spokes and spikes,
released to the universe, buried in sky.


Simon Armitage

The Unaccompanied
Alfred A. Knopf


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