Issue 24: Jack Thacker

from I, Sheep

Do you remember your mother?

I am a mother whom others don’t remember

if remember means see in your mind’s eye-slit

but if my young ones tried to find my voice

in this field here all of us speaking at once

yes, they’d remember remember remember

I’d hear her remember remumher memumbe

What is beyond the farm?

That’s like asking me –

what’s beyond the cloister?

I wear my habit and go about my needlework

of grazing each field to its border.

Then we are moved.

Sometimes a car passes. Sometimes walkers

look in over the bounds of barbed wire and gap-toothed hedge

onto our inner life, totally unable

to comprehend it. And I can see why.

It is a hard life to understand.

What is grass?

There’s a god in the grass

and it tells us our purpose

which is to tear it all up, bit by bit.

All day we take our communion.

We inhabit a holy carpet.

There’s a voice in the trees

and a drone in the sky. To eat,

to sleep, to stand and try to die

is our purgatory. It’s easy enough

to say it: ‘weather’ is a verb.

We go along with rituals.

We entertain possibilities.

Dust rises. Fresh grass. We know

where we are going and will go

in our time – unless pushed.

We are held. We are patient.

The operation is tolerated.

Resistance is offered – otherwise

it would be obvious. We are

handled. We struggle. We dig in.

There is a thing we learn and

it comes to us naturally. Soon

we return freely to the green

of our eyes, of our minds

and lower our heads to it.

We understand how to suffer –

maggots, blindness, foot rot, worms,

loneliness, yes, and mastitis.

We are, despite it all, used

to it all and its violence.

The River’s Chambers

      for Michael Malay

      You may come to a river which is not on a map.

                                    – Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall

Something you say

      catches my sense

and takes me back.


I picture the Thames:

a wood-panelled room –

hushed tones at twilight,

red wax, parchment, dust.

The candle is snuffed

and the quill set down for the night.


This was the year the Teme dried up

and revealed to us its secret surfaces –

a sweep of shale, stone

laid out in the shape of a serpent.

A skin. The river’s skin.


An early train. A valley. The Avon.

      The night water

   is lifting its eye-mask

         from the river.


Later. Beaulieu.            Everything

whited out in a half heaven.

The pale bronze of baked ferns,

                             graze line of deer.


He calls. He’s finally bought the boat outright.

A map of the canal network shows him

he could take it all the way from Hackney to Avon

then drive it to the farm up the Severn.

But London pulls him to her urban gut.


At a roundtable on water I learn

how the chemical properties of

freshwater and saltwater differ,

how saltwater is infinitely more complex than fresh.

But not all rivers end.


   You go on

   to show us

   how the hearts

   of elvers

   are visible

   through skin.


His ‘normal pills’, he calls them.

The trouble is, he can’t bear life

on the water when he’s on them.


The river sits down after the flood.

It hangs around like mercury.

It’s the light that moves, when the stream is still.


Sluices. Weirs. Dams.

The rivers’ gatekeepers

have deposed the old gods.

Deposed, but not forgotten.

The Lunar Bow

The farm’s what I’ll close with. Take this: a feed ring,

cattle with their heads in, eating, standing in a perfect

circle – are they the great minds of cow-kind in meeting

or are they the spokes of a lonely wheel? In fact,

they remind me of me reading in a library carrel

alone and not alone, which in turn reminds me of this:

gathering them all into that high-beamed corral

and forcing each one through the crush. Their stress

was ours, their lives our livelihood, their death. It works

the same with ewes, worming them in the yard: their sound

together panting in the heat was for us an earmark

of our lonely world, like clees on stony ground.

One night, during lambing, I went to sleep in the hay

and woke up surrounded by a handful of munching ewes.

The moon was fringed with a bow, an ice-formed halo,

and O I felt at one there, unborn, ovine. It’s true.

Jack Thacker was born in 1989 and grew up on a farm in Herefordshire. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines, including PN Review, Stand, The Clearing, and on BBC Radio 4. In 2016, he won the Charles Causley International Poetry Competition for his poem ‘The Load’. He has been the poet in residence at the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading and is currently the ArtfulScribe writer in residence at Lighthouse, Poole. His debut pamphlet is Handling (Two Rivers Press, 2018).

‘I, Sheep’ is a filmpoem made in collaboration with filmmakers Teresa Murjas and James Rattee and will be released in July 2020. More information

Copyright © 2020 by Jack Thacker, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.