Carol Ann Duffy

Model Village

See the cows placed just so on the green hill.
Cows say Moo. The sheep look like little clouds,
don’t they? Sheep say Baa. Grass is green
and the pillar-box is red. Wouldn’t it be strange
if grass were red? This is the graveyard
where the villagers bury their dead. Miss Maiden
lives opposite in her cottage. She has a cat.
The cat says Miaow. What does Miss Maiden say?

I poisoned her, but no one knows. Mother, I said,
drink your tea. Arsenic. Four sugars. He waited
years for me, but she had more patience. One day,
he didn’t come back. I looked in the mirror,
saw her grey hair, her lips of reproach. I found
the idea in a paperback. I loved him, you see,
who never so much as laid a finger. Perhaps now
you’ve learnt your lesson, she said, pouring
another cup. Yes, Mother, yes. Drink it all up.

The white fence around the farmyard
looks as though it’s smiling. The hens are tidying
the yard. Hens say Cluck and give us eggs. Pigs
are pink and give us sausages. Oink, they say.
Wouldn’t it be strange if hens laid sausages?
Hee-haw says the donkey. The farmhouse
is yellow and shines brightly in the sun. Notice
the horse. Horses say Neigh. What does the Farmer say?

To tell the truth, it haunts me. I’m a simple man,
not given to fancy. The flock was ahead of me,
the dog doing his job like a good ‘un. Then
I saw it. Even the animals stiffened in fright. Look,
I understand the earth, treat death and birth
the same. A fistful of soil tells me plainly
what I need to know. You plant, you grow, you reap.
But since then, sleep has been difficult. When I shovel
deep down, I’m searching for something. Digging desperately.

There’s the church and there’s the steeple.
Open the door and there are the people. Pigeons
roost in the church roof. Pigeons say Coo.
The church bells say Ding-dong, calling
the faithful to worship. What God says
can be read in the Bible. See the Postman’s dog
waiting patiently outside church. Woof, he says.
Amen, says the congregation. What does the Vicar say?

Now they have all gone, I shall dress up
as a choirboy. I have shaved my legs. How smooth
they look. Smooth, pink knees. If I am not good,
I shall deserve punishment. Perhaps the choirmistress
will catch me smoking behind the organ. A good boy
would own up. I am naughty. I can feel
the naughtiness under my smock. Smooth, pink naughtiness.
The choirmistress shall wear boots and put me
over her lap. I tremble and dissolve into childhood.

Quack, says the ducks on the village pond. Did you
see the frog? Frogs say Croak. The village-folk shop
at the butcher’s, the baker’s, the candlestick maker’s.
The Grocer has a parrot. Parrots say Pretty Polly
and Who’s a pretty boy then? The Vicar is nervous
of parrots, isn’t he? Miss Maiden is nervous
of Vicar and the Farmer is nervous of everything.
The library clock says Tick-tock. What does the Librarian say?

Ssssh. I’ve seen them come and go over the years,
my ears tuned for every whisper. This place
is a refuge, the volumes breathing calmly
on their still shelves. I glide between them
like a doctor on his rounds, know their cases. Tomes
do no harm, here I’m safe. Outside is chaos,
lives with no sense of plot. Behind each front door
lurks truth, danger. I peddle fiction. Believe
you me, the books in everyone’s heads are stranger…