Week 225: Linum, by Alison Brackenbury

Some years ago one of the fields round the South Oxfordshire village where I live, normally given over to corn, turned a most amazing shade of blue, as if a patch of heaven had fallen to earth, though it appears that a more mundane explanation had to do with EU subsidies at the time. At first I was completely puzzled as to what the crop could be, until I remembered a passage from John Moore’s ‘Brensham Trilogy’: ‘an azure mist upon the field, like smoke from a squitch-fire’. Of course: this was flax or linseed, the ‘blue field’ that had given the third of the trilogy its title. After due contemplation I went on my way with a definite feeling that here was something I would one day write a poem about. Now, you can’t rush these things: a poem will come when it’s ready, but there can be a small problem with this relaxed attitude, as I discovered when some time later I came across this piece by Alison Brackenbury and found, slightly to my annoyance, that she had very definitely scooped me. Fair play to Alison though: it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have made a better job of it.


It is not tall enough, it will not make a crop –
it has changed its name. It used to be flax,
maker of sheets for fine ladies’ beds.
Now it is linseed; feeds cattle.
It is high as a knee, blown with threads of leaf,
scattered with flower. What corn is blue?

They are mouths, they are stars, they gleam
sweet as those pictures of children under dark leaf
in frames of dark gilt. It knows nothing;
the sky is bitterer. Last night’s sun
was icy lemon, with drifts fog grey;
the morning’s blaze is for storm. The flax flowers
begin to shimmer, with a metal edge,
to reflect ripe cloud, race a colder sea.
The flies still whirl in hot air, and I
rise quick up the ridge, through the brief, starred fields.
It is not every day you can run through the sky.

Alison Brackenbury



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