Raw Milk

Starting around Culham or Drayton
Squeezing through cracks in the window
Comes old Jane again with her gait and her apron
(Fried bread, boiled cabbage, stewed plum)
And Andy, back with the cattle in tow –
The track an inch thick with their dung.

Heaving low udders on muscles like steaks,
Lining up for the pump, for the tray.
Driving with hazel canes and back aches,
Smelling of tweed and pipe smoke,
The young men, already resigned to the day,
Though it’s hardly an hour since it broke.

The cool mornings kept them alert
it seemed, and they never mentioned the burn –
The finger-nerves pinched from the effort
Of shifting small bales to the stable,
While the cattle were filling the churn,
Save a pail or two, raw, for the table.

And when there’s been spreading at Basingstoke
They’re back in the hall, black with oil.
She’s aiming the poker at smouldering coke,
And they’re scattering brambles and peat
On the floor, but the humming of toil
Is drowned in the pour of hot gravy on meat.