The Annual Scarecrow
was cancelled this year—
in the fields as you enter the village,
in the strawberries,
there is one left over,
like a sign warning last chance for a hundred miles.
they made them anyway,
fleshing cast-offs with fistfuls of straw, stalks
poxing the backs of hands, wrists.
Either gouging out their eyes with peeler, scissor,
or scoring their face on sack-cloth, pillow-case.
Back-boned them on garden rakes, or on rough wood
that fused broom, spade;
belted their waists round avenue trees.
In detached streets
they appeared in net-curtained windows, waving.
Stood in the post office queue and it did not dwindle.
In The Landlord’s Daughter, pint pots glooming,
no one serving the no one drinking.
In a stalled tractor, in a quiet lane,
one found slumped over the wheel,
thick of its head torn,
protest of orange pulp on the screen.
In class they
sat in rows and stared
at yesterday’s blackboard,
oozing through the backs of wooden chairs
made for children. Hay fever came late this year
and Mrs McIver missed her first day—
lying in a sweat in a dream
where their autumn breath filled the room,
sweet and near spoiling,
others crowding the window, looking in.
And in The Wyndham,
the amateur dramatics theatre,
the scarecrows took their seats,
rustled their applause
as the stage described the scarecrow players;
the more clamorous hands thinning
from the Circle to the Stalls.
Nothing hit them yet, no smell
of orchards burning, of summer failing,
as tiny flame from the footlights
sniffed out the nearest actors,
the bundles of their ankles,
then fed upward, inside,
in their clothes, moving.
And the fire ran
for the grinning rows
like a whisper through string between two tin cans.
Through dark country
passing one left over
like a mast in a storm,
they entered the village and found
cars and houses stalled,
no one in the pub or school.
In the cemetery,
in the rows,
heads in the mud, heads in a hole,
they splintered the first box and saw,
where the body should have been,
only a broken hat, black slumps of clothes.