Ode to a Sheep Skull

On top of the mountain where I grew
up were two farms, each loathing
the other. At first, there were simply rumors:
poison in the animal feed; a sheep’s

head on the farmer’s drive, severed
and tossed. One night we woke to an uneasy
glow: the farm on fire, and people came
from miles around, carrying flasks

or picnics, but all climbing barbed wire
to watch the barn burn until dawn. They just stood
there looking as if it were happening behind
glass: a gaze not cruel but without pity. Farms

fall away—the abandoned dairies where
we walked the collie, moss leeching
the stone blocks where silver churns lined up
for delivery. Behind the farm gate

was another life I gathered. A sheep draining
red and black rivulets in the lane, later its skull
picked yellow and clean. Or the lamb
we found dying in spring

snow: when I covered the newborn
thing with my coat, the mother
tore at it
with her teeth. I cried

to the poor creatures, to the lamb
blundering close, to the wool
shivering in clumps on the sharp
side of the wire.

Zoë Brigley Thompson is the author of three books of poetry: Hand & Skull (2019), Conquest (2012), and The Secret (2007), all published by Bloodaxe. She also has a collection of nonfiction essays, Notes from a Swing State (Parthian 2019), and edited the academic volume Feminism, Literature, and Rape Narratives (with Sorcha Gunne).