The Price of Wool

by John J. Williamson
PenShells
Second Place, April 2016
Judged by Joan Colby


The shepherd flinches
when a Herdwick tup twists
its horns. His fingers and flexors
tighten as the suck of fluid
pre-empts the snap.

Vessels burst,
hooves thrash oil-stained cobbles;
eyes shoot and through a stupor
of muted agony a tongue spills.

A yardhand pins its neck
and screams above the clatter.
He knows the fleece is shagged.

Lanolin hands haul the scruff-shite
upright, blindly sheering gashes
into balls and belly.
A spray of iodine
and a kick on the rump
sorts the frenzied shambles.

The bleeding tup scrambles
through the holding pens,
rams a huddle of lambs
and headbutts an iron gate.
He totters, trembles, drops.

The Laird sniffs and bristles,
curses like a scullion, bellows orders
’til the crew stands still.
Knackered men stare and spit
at the prick in tweed,
reach for his lordly arse
as the shepherd asks him
to knock it off.


Reminiscent of the poetry of Seamus Heaney, this vivid poem of sheep shearing bashes the reader with the violence of the task. The words are well chosen to reflect the scene: thrash, shagged, scruff-shite, gashes, shambles, scrambles, headbutts, bristles, scullion, bellows and not a word is wasted. The lines also break on powerful words: cobbles, clatter, rump, orders, spit, arse adding up to a piece that reverberates with action. --Joan Colby

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