Northwords Now

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by Nancy Graham

1. Society News, 1907
‘There are a great many fashionable people still at Strathpeffer Spa. The scene at the pump-room at high noon is very animated and gay indeed.’

Behind the wooden counter, waiting
white-aproned to dispense the tarry water
is a man so stern-faced,
so rigid in demeanour I am frightened
to accept his service.
I cannot call it insolence
but I do believe
a dissident urge is burning in his breast.

2. We Recommend the Peat Bath

all men are the same in the gloomy murk.
Some joke; others glare as he helps them
into the bath, defying him to look
at their ordinary flesh. He concentrates on
the earthy scent percolating the air,
his labour. Tearing fibrous bricks of peat
into deep tubs; stirring the boiling mass
hard, like mixing winter feed for cattle:
hides steaming as they wait
at the empty trough, huddled together,
dumb to the louring clouds at their backs.
He rattles the pail, advances.

3. Day’s End

There’s Venus, glinting at him out of lilac sky
if he cared to notice.
Skirting puddled ruts to save his trousers,
Roderick tramps home over a darkening hill,
guided by the black thicket
of gorse and bramble tangled along the path.

And lifts the latch to find light:
haze rising from hot pans;
the women moving deftly round,
bringing bread and good butter to the table.
His daughter, his wife.
Say grace now, Father.

He bows his head from their bright gaze.

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