Low, broken bench,
given to grey and green growth
of grass, nettle and moss,
sunk on the verge of Back Lane,
there I sat by Broom’s Cross.
Few know it is there,
no wonder the men from the council
do not come to repair.
Must have been summer,
anyway, I was younger,
and I thought, if I were a painter,
I’d draw it on paper,
paint it on canvas,
this flat land of crop fields,
bordered by ditches,
that stretched around me,
with lanes winding through,
and I would try to capture
what wind did to clouds
and to crows that over their nests,
high in the trees, a little way north,
in the grounds of the old hall,
cawed and flew.
And I strained my mind to imagine
horses slowly pulling a cart,
bearing a body in a coffin,
with mourners trudging behind,
in time with the creak of the wheels,
on a sad, silent journey,
from nearby village or farmhouse,
to burial at the old church of Sefton,
built in the name of Saint Helen,
a little further south,
with its black spire,
seen for miles in the flat land,
and its graves for pauper and gentry,
to rest at the short wooden cross,
hammered into the ground,
by my left shoulder.
And on the way there,
they would have passed by the plague stone,
bedded on the bend of a lane,
a boundary marker,
left behind by the Black Death
when it came to these parts,
for the death of the body,
and the breaking of hearts.
Coins disinfected in vinegar
were left as payment for food
and for goods by those who suffered,
on the large, rounded grey stone,
easy to pass by,
better to look up,
to see larks in the sky.
A dog coldly barked,
sniffed stones in the farmyard,
a long walk away north,
as I noticed the eastern horizon was bumpy,
compared to the flat fields around me,
and gave hints of the Pennines, Britain’s backbone.
And I am still there in my memory,
sat by Broom’s Cross,
trying to imagine the furrows in the field,
beyond the far edge of the lane,
stretched out before me,
were ploughed by ploughmen with horses,
not tractors, until I felt empty,
my mind strained, at a loss.
And I remembered when I was a schoolboy,
and I walked down Back Lane with a jam jar,
and paused to look at Broom’s Cross,
and I searched with a stick
for frogs and newts in the ditches,
and maybe the further back we go,
the closer we come to who we are.
We all deserve a real life,
so many are denied.
So many who are now dead,
never lived before they died.
Rest here, lay your coffin down,
face full the pain of loss.
Rip some grass blades from the ground,
to feed your horse by Broom’s Cross.