Pennine Poets

Lesley Quayle

Lesley Quayle was born in Fife. Daughter of a naval officer, she moved all over Britain, attending eight different schools in six different counties, always returning to the family home in Glasgow whilst her father was abroad on long tours of duty. She finally arrived in Yorkshire in 1982 and has no intention of moving anywhere else. She now lives on a farm near Leeds.

Always an inveterate scribbler, Lesley only began submitting work for publication in 1996, when she won the BBC Wildlife Magazine Poet of the Year competition with The Herdwick Ram. Her work has appeared widely in poetry magazines, also The Spectator, Yorkshire Post, local radio and BBC Radio 4 and was nominated for a Forward Prize last year with Termination. She is co-editor of Aireings Magazine and an incurable folk and blues singer.

Selected Poems


A new fox has come.
The last one lingered long after
a righteous but ill-placed bullet.
Our case was airtight, forty chickens,
fifteen ducks, one ancient goose.

We had glimpses now and then,
noticed blood spots over frosty pasture,
but vengeance rose up hard in us.
We gave no quarter - quietly glad
we hadn't owned the trigger finger, lazy eye.

I found him in a cleaned out coop,
skin and bone, like a sack of knives,
his mangy corpse already flyblown.
Here is the shabby underbelly of righteous
anger, this crawling picnic of flesh.

We buried him, opened up the same pit
where his victims were piled and dropped him in.
The mound's still fresh, humped up, the soil exposed
like an unpicked scab. And now, for lambing time,
there is a new fox come.

The Herdwick Ram

As I unlatched the barn door's creaking hasp,
The grey ewes gathered, hungering, at my back,
Dawn's sallow glimmer pricked the tine and cusp
Of hawthorn crowns and slipped across the beck.
He wasn't in the clamour for fresh hay,
Nor by the mistle, so I went to seek,
Hurrying through the damp grass, till I saw
The great, slumped shadow against the lambing creep.

A rim of light, pale cuticle of day,
Peeled back the shroud of night and, naked, trembled
About his corpse. The scavenging jackdaw
Retreated where the briar thickets scrambled
Down the banking to the weedy waters.
I knelt beside him in the soft churned mire,
Clasping the thick, coiled horns, whorled tortuous
As giant ammonites, and pulled him clear.

Thirteen winters toiling on the fells
Had earned him old age in the lower pasture,
And easy forage from the brimming pails
Of plump, flaked barley; shelter, a placid cluster
Of shearling ewes. He thrived for two more years
Before his withering heart curled like a leaf
And snapped its sinewy stem. Caught unawares,
Hot tears sprung, overwhelming me with grief.

Beneath the rowan tree we dug a pit,
No knacker's hacking blade to slit and skin
The heathery fleece, or spill the ripening gut
In heavy slicks, no splintering of bone
Against blunt cleaver. The sharp spade sliced the turf.
The rowan, giving up its dappled greens
For brief fire, spilled a russet blaze of leaf
And blood-spot berries across the earthy wounds.

The grey ewes move like shadows down the slope,
Blue smoke, straight up, from ashed and riddled fires,
Dogs bark, the wild, black geese reclaim the lake,
A cockerel's cry eviscerates the air.

The Woman Who Drank Us Up

She was the woman who drank us up,
gripped us in her graveyard grasp and drained us,
until we were almost uncreated, loose skin and slack bones.

She was the woman who smeared our lids with honey
until blisters, sugar pink and sweet the way she liked, frosted views,
extinguished stars, volcanoes, whole shining landscapes.

Each day, we were tilted to her lips, a flawless set, to be unfilled,
she swallowed us, the bitter juices, iron blood, the frothy head,
savoured her duty in the way that martyrs nurse small flames.

She was the woman who pulled down moons to make candles,
pressed them in hot wax to lock in light,
who even sipped the perfect dark of dreaming.

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© pennine poets 2016