Pit Ponies

by Paul Batchelor

But what is that clinking in the darkness?
– Louis MacNeice

Listen. They’re singing in your other life:
‘Faith of our Fathers’ sounding clear as day
from the pit-head where half the village has turned out
to hear the latest news from underground,
news that will be brought to them by the caged ponies
hauled up and loosed in Raff Smith’s field.

Could that have been you in Raff Smith’s field,
mouthing the words and listening to the cages lift,
watching sunlight break on dirty ponies,
noting the way, unshoed for their big day,
each one flinches on the treacherous ground,
pauses and sniffs, then rears and blunders about?

As at a starting pistol they gallop out
and a roll of thunder takes hold of the field –
thunder, or else an endless round
of cannon fire. Hooves plunge and lift.
They pitch themselves headlong into the day:
runty, fabulously stubborn pit ponies.

But they seem to have a sense, the ponies,
a sidelong kind of sense about
getting called in at last light on the fifth day:
they seem to know the strike has failed,
as though they felt the tug of their old lives.
They shake their heads. They shy and paw the ground.

Let’s leave them there for now, holding their ground
for all its worth, and say the ponies
might maintain their stand-off, as the livid
shades of miners might yet stagger out
of history into the pitched field
dotted with cannonballs you see today.

Let’s pretend you might come back some day
to wait a lifetime on this scrap of ground
until the silence – like the silence of a field
after a battle – breaks, and you hear ponies
buck and whinny as the chains payout
and once again the rusty cages lift…

As though the day was won, as though the ground
was given, the ponies gallop out
to claim their piece of field, their only life.