from Mercian Hymns

I King of the perennial holly-groves, the riven sand-stone: overlord of the M%: architect of the historic rampart and ditch, the citadel of Tamworth, the summer hermitage in Holy Cross: guardian of the Welsh Bridge and the Iron Bridge: contractor to the new desirable estates: saltmaster: money-changer: commissioner for oaths: martyrologist: the friend of Charlemagne. ‘I liked that’, said Offa, ‘sing it again’. VI The princes of Mercia were badger and raven. Thrall to their freedom, I dug and hoarded. Orchards fruited above clefts. I drank from honeycombs of chill sandstone. ‘A boy at odds in the house, lonely among brothers.’ But I, who had none, fostered a strangeness; gave myself to unattainable toys. Candles of gnarled resin, apple-branches, the tacky mistletoe. ‘Look’ they said and again ‘look.’ But I ran slowly; the landscape flowed away, back to its source. In the schoolyard, in the cloakrooms, the children boasted their scars of dried snot; wrists and knees garnished with impetigo.

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