Drawn to our open lawns and clipped verges, the spectral profusion of a well-stocked border or neat geometrical bed, they tiptoe across our phantom frontier. Too easily startled, they sniff an air that’s fraught with omen, their delicate ears twitching. Once spooked, they bounce on bony shanks beyond the range of each imagined threat – when dangers here are mostly unforeseen: the unyielding edge of bricks or iron their jitters misjudge, the lumbering tons of a bus cruising its late night circuits. In breathless seconds the rush of instinct subsides. Discovering quieter shadows, they settle back to their wary grazing, eavesdropping through glass on still breathing homes. Bunched together in sisterly huddles, the females seek no more than sustenance and a safe return to the world they’ve left. In the road a dominant stag ponders. One day his kind will repossess it all. For now his antlers are like a chalice abrim with dingy light. High above him there’s darkness, where tonight he dreams of stars.
As I try to interpret the evidence of bones shrunk to a homelier scale, I imagine their vast migrations. Keeping in step with a pillar of dust, they lumbered stoically from one mirage to the next. For how many more thousands of years could hunger lead them on across parched wilderness, salt-scorched and scrawled with thorny growth – a whisper of water in the skirr of wings? A sense of kinship their greatest strength, each family group was focused on who they were and how to stick together, remembering mornings that dampened briefly, the nights when sun desisted. There were generations they had left behind – stripped and whitened beneath rapacious sky – while they plodded onwards beyond the roar of tides that cool but cannot slake you. Slowly gradients altered and the sea wiped their footprints till they were corralled in a short-lived paradise of sweet leaves, springs and wholesome shade: their needs unsustainable; their bulk a burden.
Too mundane to be respected, your name has been abused in tin-pot general, a tin god, or the kind of ear that can’t discern distinctions in music. Good enough for a fair day and a tinker’s jig, you’ve been around a long time, but never made a decent blade. Too soft to harm a soul, you have fetched up in brooches, trinkets, figurines – the kind of tokens love admires. Winning hearts, you lack significant value. Disregarded, your qualities are of the humbler sort, but if they fail it’s tragic when explorers come to grief for want of sound supplies. Trudging back through hell that froze your seams to dust, Scott found his fuel had trickled away. Conscripted with copper in monuments and plaques, you have tasted glory.