Little Matlock | Fay Musselwhite

When the valley convulses like a full-term muscle
and you wake to weather oncoming, unfathomed,
its thundering snarl in the rooms underneath,
as it ransacks your chattels to bolster its terrible bulk
it glugs in the chimney, raid-rattles the dresser.
Still it comes, quaking the sleep from your man,
slamming its tyranny up through the ceiling

to lap at your feet till pools lake, bedclothes float,
and mud is your slither-rug. Icy and damp
at your nightgowned hip the chamber wall is in spasm,
and braced against the room’s rumble, your husband
shield-cradles the boy-bundle, yet you can’t know

that this ram-rabble is waters broke-free
and the crackle you hear of the hillside on fire
is really the wrenching of trees, like hair
snatched by the handful, where river banks buckle
and dread-water towers to tear up the land.

Nor can you know how when you wade waist-high
your home will turn in a twist of its timber-torso,
pluck from its quivering roof-nest a beam
to stagger your man, back-beat and uncurl him
for the surging swell to unburden him. The drag
in his fist of unravelled blanket, as your child
shedding his last lamb-sheet, leaves on the tide.

From Fay Musselwhite’s debut collection Contraflow (Longbarrow Press, 2016). Listen to Fay Musselwhite reading this poem on location in the Rivelin Valley, Sheffield (close to the river’s edge, in a part of the valley formerly occupied by factories and domestic buildings):

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