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Long Man of Wilmington

Long Man of Wilmington

That chieftain:
He was a man too bold to bury in the town.
His eyebrows bristled hedgerows
And from his smouldering face the black looks fell
Like a flock of rooks, a murder of crows.
Lime-kilns that were his smoking eyes flamed fear
In hearts of local country folk.
His arms were mighty corn-stooks bulging
From a lumpen neck, nipped in at crook of elbows;
His thick trunk stern & strong as seven sycamores;
His legs too long for some poor, paltry parish grave—
Nay! What he needed was
The whole sloping shoulder of the hillside,
The weathered, rough-edged ridge and dorsal spine
Of the long line
Of the Downs.

And so they hollowed out a mighty barrow;
Bore him up (those men of the town)
And, groaning, carried him (flesh and marrow)
Aloft to burial on the Downs’ high crest;
Interred him there beneath a flint-locked sky…
But carved his image on another cliff,
White chalk etched out of pagan darkness:
Giant over, and under, the hill.
And, afterwards, they gave him
(As a parting shot, or to appease him)
A pair of walking poles;
Then, on yet another top,
Later, a chalk-white steed;
So, if he minded, he might haul his bones up, heave the hill up,
Stride away, ride away & leave them
Standing in among their sacred stones.

© Lizzie Ballagher

Poem submitted as part of the Places of Poetry project, find out more here.

Lizzie Ballagher

Read this poem and more from around England and Wales, by visiting the Places of Poetry website www.placesofpoetry.org.uk