Rag and Bone Man

by Anne Hamlett
The Write Idea
Third Place, March 2015
Judged by Ned Balbo


We’d hear him every week, his call
would echo round the streets, a clatter
of horses hooves on cobbles.

‘ragbone – anyoldrags – ragbone’

And the old brass bell would clang
as children gathered and women
scurried to find a rag or two

of this and that, a torn lace curtain,
a shredded apron, worn thin from years
of wringing hands. His pickings were thin

from our crowded houses of hand- me- downs.
Though we were poor, there was pride
in freshly ‘stoned’ doorsteps.

The rags were exchanged for a block
of ‘donkey stone,’ orange-gold
or pale cream, like the top of the milk.

She remembered the putrid smell;
rotten bones, the sweat of the horse
with bony shoulders – like those of the man

whose skeletal hands gripped the reins
so many years ago; yet his call still echo’s
along the crumbled red brick walls….

‘ragbone – anyoldrags – ragbone.’


Tatters of memory saved like tatters of cloth survive in a second-hand legacy that the poet rescues and recreates. A vivid picture of the ever-receding past. --Ned Balbo

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