THE RAM'S SKULL - Ann Drysdale Poems


Poems » ann drysdale » the ram s skull

There it sits on the table.
An exercise in metaphor.
Eyeholes vacant;
Overstated horns akimbo.
Ridiculous in death.
The tutor speaks:
"Forget reality. See shapes. See thoughts.
See half-formed visions of a greater consciousness.
Just look and see and, having seen, say."

They look. I look. We look,
And one by one they speak,
Saying they see landscapes, caverns and waterfalls,
Great rocks and oceans and the homes of eagles.

Now comes my turn: "Ann, tell us what you see."
I see a ram's skull; heft it at arm's length,
Ponder in pantomime,
Then to the word-befuddled class declare
"Alas, poor Herdwick!" - and they roar
Till all that carefully constructed metaphor
Falls like a clown's trousers round the tutor's feet.

I feel myself dismissed -- his tight lips telegraph:
"Trust you to settle for a cheap and easy laugh..."
Later, alone, I beg to contradict,
Such laughs are easy but they don't come cheap.

Who wants to be a poet anyway?
Sometimes I hate poets. Hate them for not knowing
The ram beneath the skull.

A Swaledale tup.
He'd have got bonny gimmers, this old chap -
For old he was; some of his teeth are gone.
See how the horns curl round and round again
Finishing in the comic little lift
Left over from his lambhood. Close and tight
They sat upon his cheeks, trapping his head
Till someone cut a slice from each of them
To ease the workings of his mighty jaw.
Somebody did a nifty hacksaw job;
Somebody else sweated to hold him still,
Digging their fingers into the greasy elf-locks,
Pinning his ear back with a grubby thumb.

Somebody cared. He'd not have lived so long
Without a good master. All of seven-shear.
Keen, too. See in one horn the drilled hole
Where they close-coupled him to a companion.
Ramshackled, lest they tupped the ewes too soon.

Seven times a fleece fell, damp and rank-smelling,
Stained with the old musk, bedewed on the skin side
With his essential oils. Oh, the rare stink of him
In the height of the season.

And once, on a latefrost morning, he was new.
Licked into life by an old blackfaced ewe.
Perhaps a child fed him and knew the touch
Of whiskery lips, the thrust of his blunt head.

How could they look at a ram's skull and not see
That once that skull would have been small enough
To fit roundly, slick as a cricket ball,
Into the cupped palm of a shepherd's hand.