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From Issue 55
All it takes is three days
and one dogged step after another:
all it takes is three nights
sleeping in ditches, grass for his dinner
supper and breakfast. This is John Clare
making his way from High Beach
his sights fixed square on the one direction.
He puts me in mind of our own
desperate boy driven to tramp
the hillsides at night when all he wants
is to close his eyes and find himself
in the right dream. But he can’t rest,
or eat or sleep, his feet are blistered
from walking so long off kilter and blind
out in the cold with the stars clouded over.
Like any of those lost to themselves
he doesn’t know when to turn
left or right, if the wind on his skin blows
west or east – but he keeps coming back
to the one place – and he’d sleep
if he could in a ditch or field
at the edge of a wood where the owl floats
its question into the trees.
While Clare knows he’s reached
striking distance of Helpston
when the earth starts to breathe
under his feet and the hair to lift
at the back of his neck
as Glinton spire glimmers out of the mist
that still hangs thick on the fields
and I think of our boy on the phone
from the hospital ward – his voice
as he said I think I’ll come home
And I dreamt him asleep, knees pulled
to his chest, his feet exposed,
a summer night with the moon daisies out
and the moths spinning white over his head.
On the road are scattered his drawings, books
scribbled notes, the clothes he’d given
or swapped or lost, like the trail
the children left for themselves
As for Clare he’s reached Swordy Well
to find it clogged with bottles and cans.
A rusty car’s upturned in a bush,
the road he’ll tread again
and again is choked with rubble
and grass; but he stops,
to scratch his name in the limestone
JO HASLAM is 65 and lives in Huddersfield. She works as a bibliotherapist and has had two collections published by Smith/Doorstop: The Sign for Water and Lunar Moths. She spends 15 hours a week writing, although sometimes the day job intrudes. Her garden is both a help and a hindrance to her writing, but extensive reading is only ever an aid. She likes to write at night, in the kitchen and is so addicted to coffee that she often takes her mug with her to the bus-stop.
This poem is published, with all the other winners of the 2012 Mslexia Poetry Competition, in issue 55 of Mslexia. For the latest on the writing world, publishing and creativity subscribe now. To sample more Mslexia features or to find out about the latest issue click here.