The Manor by Alan Franks
Winner of the Wilfred Owen Association Poetry Competition, 2014
It’s said the old manor was tinder-dry that summer, With heat holding the corners of the air So hard above the overgrown parterre And tangled banks, it skewed the view with simmering. Through the long, prone afternoons the clicking Of expanding pans and pails was heard. The silence, through exhaustion, of the birds Amplified the timbers’ death-watch ticking. Down the long perspectives of the passages High-born souls nursed half-remembered grievances, Strained to scan the lie of old allegiances Forged in the fierce madness of intermarriage. By the har-har, past the kitchen garden, A single pistol shot, the day destroyed. Fired by some strange disaffected boy Through the heart of the unsuspecting warden. The echo cracked the ceiling of the sky, Which set a-shiver the chambered air indoors And sent a draught down to the service corridors Where restless household staff were standing by. The Dowager, having dreamed herself to royalty, Was authorising death-writs by the dozen, Signing off some dim and distant cousins Whose in-laws allegedly faltered in their loyalty. Students of the subsequent disaster – Themselves at odds through public vanity – Unite in this belief; a vast insanity Must have underlain such wanton slaughter. Some pinned the blame on homo aristocratus, That classy villain known for his receding Chin worn down by centuries of inbreeding To make him look deceptively innocuous. This much is known; the building blazed and blazed Until the walls were air and air was flame And only the foundation shapes remained As groundplan templates when successors raised Their fresh construction. In the briefly binding Calm that came, the estate’s refurbished sky Grew great with chastened migrant birds so high You couldn’t see them dropping their fresh kindling.