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The radicals sprung the locks that night, hurrah!
and their lovely collarbones were almost moonly.
Rhinos shrieked and bellowed, elephants tromboned
and the animals nosed into town.
Sunrise to sunrise and sunrise we kept indoors.
If you can’t count your onions, what can you count
my grandfather used to say. He said a lot of things.
Among the other miners he was legendary:
when no more than the thought of the pink crumple
of his infant daughter’s body came to mind
a glow would swell in the pit, the men
would mayhem bauxite by the light
his tenderness emitted.
Some of me lived inside her even then.
The memorial fountain says nothing
of the weeks before the rescue failed
but mentions God which, as my grandfather
used to say, is just the name of the plateau
you view the consequences of your living from.
Or something like that. He said a lot of things.
He grew wise and weary as an albatross
and left for that great kingdom of nevertheless.
It would have pleased his handsome shoulders
to watch this Grizzly scoop for salmon
in the fountain of his friends, or the Bengals,
or the shakedown squad of chimpanzees
who bang and bang on the grocery window.
One by one eleven miners starved to death.
In the streets they collar or tranquillise
the ocelots and run a spike of ketamine
through the plumbing in the fountain.
Dromedaries blue-mood around the pub
aloof under their reservoirs of fat.
I don’t sleep, but oh plateau! these days
of violence have been my happiest.
Even a cabbage is not without desire
my grandfather said one day, and now
among the animals, I feel under my wings
the words for things I thought I knew
departing, and I understand him.
This poem is the winner of the Poetry Society’s 39th National Poetry Competition, announced in London on Wednesday March 29