2 February 2017

The Shearing, by Harry Owen

Warmth of the holding pen: ewes wait their turn,
huddled together greyly, tiny feet
tapping out a soft dance of nervous doubt
upon the wood laths for reassurance,
and I stand behind, leaning on a rail.

Sporadic low bleats. I’d half expected
the rasp of machines, bustle of rough men,
but there’s none of this, just uneasy calm,
a tense waiting for something to begin.
Do I like it? Am I relaxed, easy?

No, but not yet discomfited either;
this is just a day’s work, ordinary
as yesterday’s sun or tomorrow’s rain.
In the shearing shed, its floor wool-scattered
with greywhite globs, I watch them working.

No rush, a rhythmic shaving, practised poise
to release each naked ewe at last and
cast aside her limp fleece like some sheep-ghost
or pale soul upon its slatted altar
to be picked apart and assessed for truths.

Returned, they huddle, stark as candle wax
into the flock, faces, necks together
while the others wait their time. And now I
am with them, sly voyeur of the shearing,
witnessing their profound indignities

and thinking of Auschwitz. All this happens
in uncomplaining silence as clippers
snigger their electric penetrations.
Yet I’m here with the sheep. Will someone come
soon for me, heave me expertly onto

my back, drag me, hands raised in submission,
into the next room by my wrists to do
who knows what unthinkable things to me?
And if by some chance I survive, shorn of
all I am, whose bleak creation will I be?

Harry Owen

Harry says: "Earlier this week I was invited to visit a farm by a friend to view the sheep shearing (a first for me) and to meet two wonderful dogs, Anatolian Shepherds, who protect the flocks. This poem came out of that trip.

Incidentally, the shearers were a 'gang' from Lesotho who travel from farm to farm doing the work -- and they were real experts. Very impressive."

Originally from Liverpool, and the inaugural Poet Laureate for Cheshire in 2003, Harry Owen emigrated to South Africa from England in 2008. He has published six poetry collections, the latest of which is Small Stones for Bromley (Lapwing Publications, 2014).

He has also edited I Write Who I Am: an anthology of Upstart poetry, featuring the work of nineteen young poets from disadvantaged township schools in the Eastern Cape; and the international anthology For Rhino in a Shrinking World, in support of efforts to save this iconic animal from extinction. (http://rhinoanthology.wordpress.com).

His work is widely published in journals and anthologies throughout the world, including Magma, Orbis, The Kalahari Review, The Bastille, Stanzas, New Coin, Plume, MadHat Lit, Poems for Jeremy Corbyn, and others, and soon as  Featured Poet on Canopic Jar.

Harry Owen lives in Grahamstown, South Africa.

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