Braided Wire by Janet Sutherland


Braided Wire


I wasn’t there. I heard this second hand, much later,
but textbooks show the methodology, the diagrams
for several presentations and for monstrous deviations

from the norm. For calves long dead in situ and for those
just recently deceased. For calves too big or those
whose odd shape makes their birth impossible.

So, let’s return to games with butter at the kitchen table
carving summer scrolls and corrugations, watching
beads of sweat emerging from the surface.

Look at the four of us, you’re telling the story.
My chair on two legs tilted on the dresser, and yours
steady by the Rayburn. You can’t remember much –

was it by the cedar of Lebanon or in the beech wood?
You mime the act of sawing. I wasn’t there
but I recall the field which had that slope, so steep

it made the little Fergie roar. The throttle out so far
the blue smoke coughed in rapid puffs and plumes.
The vet had laid his tools out in the field:

two buckets full of lubricant, three of warm water,
a hand pump, krey hook and a calving chain,
a length of braided saw wire with its introducer.

It was raining, water trickled through her hair.
Your hand on her flank felt the fat she’d come to,
her vulva swollen with two feet emerging.

Hooves, dew claws, pastern joints all faded yellow,
like the white rat I’d dissected in biology. She lay
in the copse under the beech trees, I wasn’t there

but beech mast crunched each time you moved your feet.
I’ve read how it’s done. I know the technicalities,
the rough dismemberment, and what that leaves you with.

(First Prize in the Kent and Sussex Poetry Society Competition 2017)


Janet Sutherland was born in Wiltshire and grew up on a dairy farm. She has an MA in American Poetry from the University of Essex. Bone Monkey (April 2014) is her third full length collection. Her poems are widely anthologised: from The Virago Book of Love Poetry and The New British Poetry 1968-88 (Paladin) to The Apple Anthology, Nine Arches Press 2013. Her essay Reznikoff and his Sources appeared as an afterword to the recent Black Sparrow (US) and Five Leaves (UK) editions of Reznikoff’s Holocaust. A founder member of Needlewriters writers cooperative, she lives in Lewes, East Sussex.

7 thoughts on “Braided Wire by Janet Sutherland”

  1. The details, and where you eventually bring us are astounding – including the final punch when we go back to the title, and consider the significance. And there’s the power of how the speaker wasn’t there but can imagine it so clearly from what she was told (probably from a family member) – and what she knows about cows. And in turn, as a reader we feel the intense emotions even though we were not there either – or even if a reader doesn’t know much about cows (though I did also like you grow up on a dairy farm). Dramatic and skilled storytelling. Thanks and congratulations!

  2. Wow! This is so powerful – as much about what the imagination can do as it is about the treatment of a still birth. A marvellous poem.

  3. What a poem! As good a poem as i have read this year – it might even be the best.
    So glad i read it. Thanks.

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