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National Poetry Competition 2013: The winning poem


Read the unexpected picture of the first world war painted by the winner of this year's £5,000 prize

Clothes that escaped the Great War by Patricia McCarthy

Not the familiar ghosts: the shaggy dog of Thorne Waste
that appeared only to children; the chains clanking
from the Gyme seat, nor the black barge at Waterside.
These were the most scary, my mother recalled: clothes
piled high on the wobbly cart, their wearers gone.
Overalls caked in dung, shirts torn from the muscle strain
of heavy hemp sacks, socks matted with cow-cake
from yards nearby, and the old horse plodding, on the nod.
Its uneven gait never varied whether coming from farms
where lads were collected like milk churns, or going back
with its harvest of dungarees scented by first fags,
notes in pockets to sweethearts; boots with laces undone,
jerseys knitted – purl, plain – around coke fires.
And the plod, plod, quadruple time; then the catch
in the plod from the clank of loose shoes, from windgalls
on the fetlocks of the horse, each missed beat on the lane
a missed beat in a heart. As a small girl she could see –
at their windows – the mothers pressing memories
too young for mothballs into lavender bags, staring out
propaganda posters, dreading the shouts of telegraph boys
from lines of defence and attack. As the harness creaked
and the faithful old horse clopped forward and back,
the lads were new-dressed in the years never to be had,
piled higher than high over the shafts of the buckling cart.

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