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THE WIDOW’S HERBS (Mary Robson of Low Field, NE of Harelaws, d. circa December 1868) by Antony Christie

no matter to her now
if there is snow on the fells,
if the slope of her field funnels
the south east wind,
so it batters the chimney’s bones,
if the lightest of branches, stripped
of their black blotched leaves,
their twig ends honed
to stubs of grey steel,
claw at the limestone ribs,
cut smooth by blade axe or chisel,
roughened by storm,
as they hum with the season’s voices:
stone, wind, water.

pace out the long house,
the square barn: the walls are firm,
the door space welcoming.
step through, the lintel is solid;
within, enough of the room
where the melding
of ash and sycamore,
rowan or thorn, whatever
was stormfallen, broken,
ready for burning, softened
the acid fumes from the hard coal,
dried and part mineralized
the hanging herbs,
as she sat by her fading fire.

a sky roof now, a frame of uneven
stone for the changing seasons –
and whether her children
or granddaughter,
up from the new farm,
found her that early December,
the same day or the next ,
is no matter to us,
no matter to her now:
her voice is in the shards
that jut from the broken ground,
the needle’s slit eye,
the quiet of the bat laced evening
over the silent pond.