Tractors turning

Tractors turning

“Did you hear the one about the magic tractor?
It was driving down the road, when it suddenly turned into a field.” – Anon

I: D roads

These back lanes are suggestive
Of ancient practices persisting.
Cows’ cloven hoofs’ squelches echo
Down steep-banked rows of sycamore hedges
Into littered drainage ditches.
Asphalt crumbles at the edges;
Black bitumen blushes an algae isthmus
Ushering blown leaves from this old cottage to the next
By fields whose names are only known and spoken
By the few whose fathers and mothers
Stuck it out here down the decades.

Defenders have been discontinued now,
But collies will jostle therein for decades yet –
Ejecting themselves at the first sign of slowing,
Following an impulse carried far back
In their brains, down their spines,
To catch the clouds between their teeth
And keep the shapes from shifting.

Black tracks furrow up soft roadside sod,
Churning symbiosis into desert stretches
Of trailing muck, smeared like diary entries
Out across languid afternoons.
The echo of engines filtered
Through blackthorn and bramble,
Bottled in dull demijohns
Of sloe gin and blackberry wine.

The rhythms of all these machines
Embroider sagas into tabby-woven bolts
That keep unreeling:
Fields yielding to the plough’s blades,
Planets spinning in a glitter-ball disco,
Silhouettes of embryos, growing
In lichen on the graves;
Frost-hardened hearts thawing,
Far-sighted eyes squinting,
Bent bodies still belonging,
Age aching, youth yearning,
Flesh degrading into dust,
Blood, milk, mud, forever flowing
And tractors turning
Into rust.


II: HelloFresh

Chop the chives
We’ve had a power cut
Away the knives
Survival thrives
If anything
A bit too much now
Fetch the electric racket
For the flies
This must be what it’s like to live
In Kinshasa
Mogadishu or
Not Hebron Carmarthenshire
The other one
The satisfying sound after the snail
Sails over the hedge
Into Wales
And hits the D road
Sample that strike
With a wombat mic
Loop it
For a beat
Get to know it better
Reverb and such
Reverse it
Slow it
We could do much

With that much satisfaction
I can’t get no
Diplomatic recognition
For my micronation
But the Jehovah’s Witness mission
Returned to us again today
For the first time since I painted
The coat of arms on the wall
Which I’m given to understand
Means more or less the same
In Welsh
But I suspected them this time
And hid under the desk
A year ago it was
Last time
I think
We seem more open now
Our borders notwithstanding
The cattle grid
Where we bury dead petrol
And dog poo
The chicken-wire fence round the front
That wicker babel
Enclosing the compost heap
And this late afternoon
All along my watchtower
Comes a wailing sound
Too human
Drifting intermittent
Down from Walton East way
Amid the buzz of strimmers
Or grass-cutters
Ravens grunting
Cows and crows
A lone dog barking
And a lone frog croaking
From our north
While we’re lying
All the lowing
All the highing
Only aeroplanes are flying
Violating airspace
In this heat like defeat
We are unknowing
Undeserving of this
Peace or of this delicious
Sovereignty we’ve yet to fight for
Yet to die for
Yet to do so slight a thing as
Lie for
While we’re lying
Unearned but earning
Unlearnt but learning
And tractors
Light refractors
Always turning
Into rinse
We lie
I tried to stop washing my hair but you know
We lie
I was thinking
Very hardly
About trying to eat a bit less meat
We will lie
And stare
At flickering black mirrors
While unwashed windows cobweb greys
In our periphery
The trains that chunter in dim distance
Come or go
Or stay
With all their joy or misery
For all it matters to we
Whose lawns are embarrassed
By unwilling haircuts
After so much unchecked thrusting
Having heartbreakingly become
So trusting as to go to seed
But never let it be said
We folk do anything much
But bleed
Inasmuch as what’s observable when
The citronella insults the flea
Which ceases not to do its injury
I do not often wonder
At such incidents
What all this means to me
Or what I’d do
If I had more time
Fuck reading and writing
Make wine
Slave all year
For a bottle
Tractors perhaps
And build them again
As other things
Get around
To writing that masterpiece
I’d call “My Most Serene Republic”
Invent a private language
Look for stamps
On the internet
Phone a friend

A power cut has had us
Chop the chives


III: A warning for would-be ramblers

Beware the Public Footpath signs,
They’re put there to trap the tourists.
Merciful locals snap the plastic,
Leave the wooden ones to rot;
The kinder farmers let hedge-trimmers
Sever them as they rattle past
Or else erect the most oblivious
Fencing directly across them
As if the land itself had forgot
The laws and histories that have passed:
High-tensile barbed-wire;
Proper battleground stuff.
What lurks behind is worse
Than mines in no-man’s-land.
The Bosnian countryside
Pales in comparison.
Rest uninsured and uninsurable
This isn’t just ugly
Brown bogs and broken-bottle grasses,
Bad, worse, worst luck;
You’re taking your life in your hands,
Gambling on the grace of cows
The size of elephants
That seem by the hoof prints, high
In the bottomless muck,
To either weigh as much as ants
Or to be up to something

You will sink to your shins first.
Then wet sod will suck
And you will lose a boot
When you extract the first foot.
Then another: taking root
For you, in spite of you;
Then down to your knees and
Now you’re really panicking;
The sounds around are turning up;
The silence is made deafening:
Nothing human anywhere near,
Not even so much as an engine
That’s operated by bloody beings:
No Gardeners’ Question Time here,
Just flesh flies buzzing slow, too close, and closer,
Heavy minotaur breath on the wind,
Lowing echoing off scheduled monuments
Stinking of shit not quite fully vegetal.
Disappearing whistling
From ground-nesting birds
Buggering, helixwise, skyward, off
(What larks)
Leaving offspring below
As an offering to the rusted beasts
Of the moor and the mire
Implied by all this. Look:
They’ve built their own moats
Round Iron Age mottes with sycamore spires
Filled with piss and worse.
Catch the sun winking in
Petrol-hued spectrums shivering
Round distracted tractor tyres
On surfaces skin-thick.
Baileys of four-times-stomached, once-shat grass
Pocked like an asteroid’s acne.
If anyone saw they never said.
A shrug of the shoulders,
A shake of the head:
They don’t know
You: they never did,
Never do. Try not to move,
Feel the warmth from foul throats
Lift the back of your shirt
As meat spirits throw their voices
Across valleys where flowers never grow.

Flail your arms, finally.
Reach for a branch
That’s not dead, or you are,
And slowly wrestle for up,
To where cumuli are mutating
Into instruments of industry;
Or accept your fate: sink into it,
That lifeless humane mess
Where only appetites can breathe,
Where suffocation satiates,
Where nothing is really quite ever alive
Enough to believe in.

Everything’s a deeply held
Breath down there.
What’s up,
Primordial dude with an axe-wound
In his skull? What brought you here?
Did you come to take your dog for a walk
To kill some time somewhere, someone,
Before you took some wares over there?
Did you plunge flush misjudgement
Looking for the green dotted line
On the Ordnance Survey map
That came with the roundhouse
You found on Rightmove,
Printed in BC 1999?
Did you rein your horse and park it,
Stopping on the way to market,
On a whim in a lay-by, just maybe,
Spotting a Public Footpath sign?
While silhouetted behemoths
From thick fog emerged unseen behind,
Promising tractors turning up for purges,
Digging doggers’ graves?
Tractors churning up the verges;
Vehicles driven to depravation, in desperation
Due to the untimely defenestration
Of common-land agro-politicization
Made rarest meat served to itself –
For sovereignty, for national health –
Spurning self-help homilies,
These man-machines fed on brine called wine,
Told stories taller than crumbling bungalows
Of high-rise concrete boxes
Patrolled by tuberculous urban foxes,
Battery-farming swarming benefit tourists
Imported from imagined warzones
In Land Rover limousines
To feast on each other’s faeces –
In our back yards –
Like human centipedes,
Forcing our fair hands to shrink to fists
And turning the best of us
To an imagined life
Of crime.

I’m not a dentist, but my
Canines are wearing
Thin of enamel.

I’m not a racist, but my
Tractor’s turning
Into a camel.


IV: Brenintractor

Somewhere deep within
This labyrinth of hamlets,
Long beyond where the concrete
Becomes pothole-pocked
And slumps to slate slag tracks –
By long-abandoned farmhouses
Of corrugated metal walls
With peeling paint the shades of scabs,
Which whistle mournful melodies
For the Atlantic gales –
Down overgrown bridleways
Littered with obsolete tools
Of agriculture’s yesteryear,
Chewed half to death by brambles
Trapping desecrated standing stones
That stand no more
And understand no more
The land they have inherited,

There is a roar
Comes echoing through bushes;
Shakes the branches,
Sends the birds away,
Rippling dirty flooded ditches
Blowing leaves and scattering sheep
And cattle down along the hedges:
Awesome, awful,
Both animal and mechanical;
Sparking the ignition
Of a most unholy mission
Into so many minds of late grown cold
And hard as weather-beaten headstones
In untended situations
Whose inscriptions have been flattened
Under centuries of tears
And acid lichen.

This cry comes
From hydraulic lungs;
A beast that’s as much meat
As rust and metal,
Untransformable muscle–machine
Grown too far from its creator’s scheme
To understand which part is its heart,
And which its radiator;
Which part is its arsehole,
And which its combustion chamber;
From which ruptured organ
Its red diesel bleeds;
Or of whose cruel intention
Its cursed birth speaks.
Its teeth are pins,
Its bones are pipes,
Its eyes are misted windscreens
Crying milk and wiping all the time;
Its flesh is beef and lamb and featherless hen,
Tanned black by clinging clouds of blowflies.
Rotten, stinking, battery-acid burnt,
It staggers blind in circles
On tyred trotters
Spitting steam
And hews great hunks
Of rocky earth in shovel hands
To fling them high and far;
To try to fell the clouds
That hem it in.

A wreck of a thing,
Raging blindly
All hours:
It does not work at all;
It is at war with itself.

And yet they will
Still feed it
Their firstborns.


V: The tractor run

“Gyrrwch yn ofalus / Please drive carefully”
And “30” says the roadsign. You’ll be lucky;
The village hall carpark’s full of noise and colour;
Garish paintjobs in tinted glasses, chattering anatomy
Of a farming community, framed for good by the mid-twentieth century:
Savoury, aspic, smoke-and-jelly, community values blown by globalist winds –
There’s a man from the telly talking Welsh to a camera,
Squinting in the scant shade of sickly sycamores.
And the sky’s embarrassed to be caught without its clouds on.
Slap on the suncream! It’s going to be a scorcher.
Parents are cruel caricatures of sons and daughters:
See them fussing over little ones squeezing themselves
Into spaces between brains and bumpers, tyres and asphalt,
Or toward trembling tractor engines, warm like wombs: rattling, clanking,
Shuddering with age and excitement. Home-made bunting fluttering above,
Scarred by pert pinking shears’ stuttering. Stop-start muttering
Of weather reports, polite retorts, essential repairs put off: windowframes
Unstained, constipated guttering, leaking tiles, lost lightbulbs, broken
Promises, bad habits gone fishing, out hunting foxes, hounds and rabbits,
Seeds sown too soon or late, too far afield or not at all;
Barren beds inviting invasive species, nosey neighbours’ noisy faces
Exchanging rumours: the funding from this and the duck race and pub quiz
Won’t be sufficient – won’t be quite enough – like the local shop
Like the butcher’s before, which most parents are too young to remember;
And come winter, the new crop of kids will have to go
To the next village – that way or this – or go without.

But the frozen sausages are thawing already in preparation for
The afternoon’s forecast and the run returning,
And tractors are turning already, in slow sequence,
Indicators clicking, like synchronized swimmers
Or Canada geese playing follow the leader – one after the other:
Mirror, signal, manoeuvre,
And they’re off!

A mustard-coloured Marshall 302 with a glass-cube cabin containing
A centenarian, Grade-II-listed, flat-capped gent in an unstained soapstone boilersuit;

A spherical chap in a chaffed baseball cap, seeming surgically attached to the seat of
A pillarbox red Fahr D270, with seat suspension that’ll rattle your soul;

The weary treasurer’s Massey Ferguson – looks like the one on the food labels!
Playgroup trailer clanking behind, kids and parents alike holding on for dear life;

A big David Brown with a shimmering cabin; didn’t catch the model,
All angles and glass like some insect’s eye, self-driving, could be, back to the future;

A lady in leggings and a floaty floral blouse, made-up, galvanized-steel-gate frown,
On a ’69 David Brown 880 selectamatic, bright white with a brighter red pipe;

And a Hunter S Thompson lookalike’s New Holland T7 Heavy Duty hauling
A twenty-foot blue feed-trailer with two avocado sofas full of wobbling toddlers;

Here’s a brand-spanking 2016 John Deere, green and yeller, gree-eeen and yellerrr,
Prideandjoy of sunburnt beefcake feller; belle, crosslegged, barefeet pressed to glass;

Next: a grizzled Elvis in an Adidas tracksuit on a brilliant-blue Ford 2000, ’64,
His collie snuffling the wind: perfumed like sheep-shit-smeared blue suede shoes;

A beardy bloke in camo gear on a Crazy Frog Deutz; a walrus-moustached uncle
With a king Charles spaniel, on… something which he must have built himself;

A warning-coloured waspish ’90s JCB Fastrac;
A ’55 Ferguson in battleship grey

And the flags are all snapping at the air:

Plenty of Pembrokeshires: blue and yellow cross; like a symmetrical Sweden
With a quartered Tudor rose;
Maybe more Draig Gochs? Red dragons to you Saes:
Green, green grass, and an overcast sky;
Some St David’s crosses on the couple at the back: that’s yellow (or gold?)
Against a field of black,
And I think I saw one Owain Glyndŵr:
Four rampant lions in red and gold quarters
(Or “or” and “gules” if you follow the rules):
That’s the one that lets you know we’re riding
Close to the Landsker Line

And we’re snaking slowly round Dungleddy,
Between the two great rivers that drain half this land
And spew into the sea down at Aberdaugleddau:
The Haven where Henry Tudor landed, in 1485.
Did he walk this line, up the B4329?
Did he stop here at Woodstock Cross for a time?
Not today – we don’t, anyway: packed lunches;
Ham sandwiches and Fruit Shoots aplenty,
And there’s been no pub on this spot for years…

Round Wallis and Scollock, down Little West way,
By Cartlett Brook, and Froghall, Crundale, Rudbaxton,
Colston and Wiston (with a silent T – don’t ask me why)
Across a low-flow ford, to squeals and applause,
Back up to Llawhaden (good luck guessing how the locals say that one)
To Gelli (made “Jelly” if you don’t Cymraeg)
Penffordd and Bletherston and back down to Clarbeston
By Stepaside Bridge, past the faded sign still nailed to the ash
Commemorating one Jacqueline Lawrence,
Or the last time we had a Labour MP
Before we (or they?) invaded Iraq
And the financial crash

What’s this
Happening now? I hear a hiss.
Something seems amiss as we climb the home-stretch
That skirts the sloping south bank of the Syvni
(“Syfynwy” farther north, where more Welsh is taught)
That flows from the concrete slopes of Llys-y-Fran dam
Where the old farms sleep silent beneath slate-grey waves –
The asphalt’s cracking!
The ground is rumbling!
The children are wailing and cuddling their mums!
The tractors are juddering and clanking and steaming, unfolding
Arms like giant windscreen-wipers sprouting
And the chunky tyres are treading the air;
We’re climbing clouds that aren’t even there
And our wingspans are threading through blackthorn hedges
And fin de siècle standalone trees
And twigs are crackling and blackbirds are scattering;
We’re rising high up above the rivers and streams, and the drains and the lanes,
And the sheep and the cows are stampeding down the edges
Of ancient fields, and the pickups and hatchbacks look like ants from up here,
And the graveyards of churches and chapels alike are exhaling
In one wordless hymn, and a swirling breath more like life than death
Is rising on infernal thermals – and all our old aunts and uncles
And grandads and grans are coming up to join us, along for the ride
In their antique tractors, on their favourite horses – with donkeys, dogs and bicycles,
Cows and chickens and pigs – in funny old hats, funnier old clothes,
Their skeletons creaking and gummy prune faces are cracking with laughter
And parents are too scared for speaking, but littluns are chuckling along with it all;
There’s that lass whose dad hanged himself in his barn last autumn, her chubby hand
Grasping his outstretched index like it was made of warm flesh and hard bone,
Through the metal bars of the playgroup trailer; and she’s gappy-tooth smiling
As he’s gliding along, and it’s all okay because they’re all coming home
Because they’re always here, and they never really left – like we’ll never really leave
And we’ll never really anything if you believe, and we might if you won’t
So who cares if you don’t? Just keep it to yourself for the rest of our sakes,
For our spiritual health – hear the wail of the brakes, and the tractors are turning
And the ozone layer’s thinning and the icecaps are sweating but we’re for forgetting
Because the red diesel’s burning and all of us are winning
Because the tractors are steering, the tractors are wheeling
Casting angelic shadows all across this green land,
And we’re feeling the warmth of the sun like God’s hands
Playing us like piano keys on this Saturday morning; and we’re falling soft now,
The tractors are swarming, the tractors are forming a V
With the Massey at the head and the playgroup trailer like a banner behind
And we’re coming in to land and I think I’ve just spotted an unmapped
Bronze-Age encampment, or an Irish Déisi rath,
That’s never before been photographed –
Not even by Toby Driver –
Oh boy! And I don’t even care
That I left my phone at home;
I’m shedding tears now:
Tears of joy.


VI: “Tractors turning”?

Here we are now. There’s no returning.
That’s the stench of bridges burning.
I can’t believe what this has come to,
But I’ve done too much now to undo.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

I’d rather not have had to force you.
But you’ve had the brass, so here’s the horseshoe.
Your nose is bleeding. Here’s a tissue.
Days will pass before they miss you.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

I’m honestly not trying to stress you,
But there’s no one coming to your rescue.
Your beasts are profane; you’re no Hindu.
Here’s some propane for you to imbue.

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?

This room is cold. It smells of mildew
You should have upped sticks when they willed you.
Is this the best their money could build you?
Others will talk when I’ve killed you…

What are the tractors turning into?
What are the tractors turning into?


Appears in:
Live Canon poetry prize anthology [parts 1, 3 and 4: 2018]
Hexit [a pre-recorded reading of parts 1 and 3 in a live broadcast on October 31, 2019]
In the Men’s Room [201?]


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