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21ST-CENTURY POETRY Boys on Manoeuvres

by Fay Musselwhite

Campaigning in the woods,
little Dom and little Alex
find the River Virus keeps
getting in their way.

Alex fluffs his crown
of strawberry blond candyfloss,
limbers up his tongue
set to charm his path across,
steps a sandal in the brook.

But kneeling on the bank
with his toy theodolite, Dom says
if we’re clever we can dam this.

So they gather (at their leisure)
bracken, twigs and gravel,
weave their muddle. When it topples,
bolster it with bluster and playground-savvy,
chuck in plugs of money.

Water shivers.
Dipper calls out for lost chicks.
In a rock’s dip lay two stranded fish.

Waging war on Nature seems
a doddle with an instrument
blind to how muscular and subtle
her laws and currency.

Led by gravity, this river
soon trumps their vanity.
Their construct unravelling,
novelty of battle falls away.

A single Simpsonian cloud sidles over the sun.
Mud greys on skin. The urge
of funnel-forced flow surges on.

Alex and Dom survey the terrain:
bankful of trampled flowers, the drift
of collapsing bridge.

Each raises an eyebrow, flares a top lip.
Then they shrug and call it a day.

No backward glance or need to debrief.
Trudge through the trees
hitting saplings with sticks.

And before you know it, they’re
home, into dry clothes
and something delicious for tea.

Fay Musselwhite lives and writes in Sheffield. Her poetry collection Contraflow was published by Longbarrow Press in 2016.

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