The poem: ‘Mr Hill and me’, by Alison Brackenbury


Do not catch measles. For you cannot read,
or could not, back in nineteen fifty-nine.
Then, as my sight slid from me at high speed
they told me to walk home, alone, since schools
knew no one they might ring. My village shimmered.
There were no cars, no strangers, so, no rules.

Since we lived in a far house in a wood,
I walked, unsteadily, up Middle Street
where Mr Hill, the old roadsweeper, stood
in his own sigh of dust. But when I spoke
my parched throat gave no sound. His brush hissed on.
I shivered, May noon’s ghost, small wave that broke,

then crept up Hollowgate Hill, high-hedged Long Lane,
to bed, below cool yews. They kept me dark.
How mind blots boredom, dims old scabs and pain!
Yet, fevered, I swim back, to noon, to days
where Mr Hill, while dogs and sparrows sleep,
sweeps histories’ hot dust to one bright haze.

From ‘Thorpeness’ (Carcanet £12.99/$18.99)

About the poet

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire in 1953. Many of her ancestors were domestic servants and skilled farm labourers, and they include a long line of prize-winning shepherds. She studied English at Oxford, and she has published 11 collections of poetry.

Brackenbury’s latest collection — titled Thorpeness, after the Suffolk coastal town — includes poems that speak to her own life and childhood memories (a series of short works is inspired by her grandmother’s black recipe notebook) as well as observations of the natural world and of the townscapes and landscapes of eastern England.



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