Crossties And Lines: October 1918 [for Wilfred Owen]

Shrewsbury, Hadnall, Yorton, Clive, Wem,
Prees, Whitchurch, Wrenbury, Nantwich, Crewe

Backed against the oaks, the cattle gather
Minding the din of the clattering train -
Milking is late tonight as the farm lights flicker
And loco smoke and steam meet soaking rain.

On the line, the gangers slack and chatter
And twist a wad twixt palm and thumb
As clanging trucks rough couplings batter
And drive wheels rumble on to kingdom come.

‘Wer'rup' the cowman calls - the black dog sets -
The sullen charges bunt and frisk in show,
Mocking the winter's edge, the day's regrets
They trudge through sleet that threatens snow.

The foreman mutters and bites his lip
‘Hey up Will - shift back young mon -
The ballast can slip and the rails can trip -
Tamping is done ‘til the tender's gone'.

Buttercup, rush, sedge, thistle and nettle
The year's-end grassland thin between -
Muddy hocks and hooves at gate halt settle
Awaiting the latch to lift and keen.

But those who wager still in careless gift
As the yawping steel grinds hard
Won't stand in the cess as the bogies shift,
And the wheel of fortune deals its card.

On the Western Marches lines are broken
Iron has taken its mass and press to heart,
And clag and blemish and blood give token
Where switch and point new journeys start.

Bellinglise, Magny-la-Fosse, Riqueval,
La Baraque, Ramicourt, Joncourt, Oors

by Keith Shorrocks Johnson

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