for my great grandfather (1869-1923)
Not the stern family portrait
with Alice, his churchgoing wife
and four children. The other photo –
just him with the Shire horse
is as close as I’ll get to his smile.
We know that she was trouble
(an accident, a man killed)
enough so that a picture of this mare
at ease was something rare, worth catching.
He was the only one who could handle her –
John William Wilson, father unknown,
mother, Mary Ann, a milkmaid, dead at 25.
Brought up by his grandfather (who died),
his uncle (who died), his aunt who re-married
a thief who was jailed. From bareknuckle boxer
to head horseman, a man of few words,
we do know his last, from his sick bed
growled at the parson, sent for by his wife
I dunt wunt see no sky pilot.
Thirty years a widow, she never spoke of him.
Without him though
they could do nothing with the horse
but sell her. It was something about his calm
hand on the bridle, the other gentle on the shoulder
that steadied her down.
from The Swan Machine (2016)