High Bank

by Bill Greenwell

Nine generations later, and that outhouse hangs
on the hip of the building, a broken crop.
The lane runs like a mildewed strap
across the land’s thick breastbone, and belongs

to a man whose lover (or so the locals insist)
abandoned him. The door, peeling and green,
is slammed and tight, a thumb pressed firm
against the inner darkness. There’s a nest

in the upper window, but the owner’s saw
rests in the shadows. The neighbours can’t recall
his name. He comes and goes in instants,
lugs his bag of tools across this moor,

and argues with the farmers. The chimneys
are fingers: between them, the severed stumps
of a hand damaged in battle. And a cramp’s
grabbed at the sky, and the dull timpani

of thunder swallows the ear. The road rises,
curves its spine. The house is without a face,
is shallow-breathing through its hidden pores.
It is what it is. It won’t spring its surprises.

I walk the five sore miles, in his weathered boots,
come to the church where he signed the book,
the man with my name, the churchwarden (look).
I don’t walk back. I can’t be in cahoots

across the five half-centuries between
now and then. The house looks strange and gaunt,
evades my gaze, or treats me to a taunt.
It shivers, doesn’t even know I’ve been.