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This poem is taken from PN Review 205, Volume 38 Number 5, May - June 2012.

Two Poems Val Warner
The Cow Jumped over the Moon

He was sitting in a pub garden, early in June's endless evening, somewhere in England, as they might have said the summer of the phoney war.

Not much of a drinker, if only for lack of the readies. Even his party piece was fading with the years, though he still told anyone who'd give him the time of day about seeing a cow jump over the moon, back in what to anyone under thirty seemed truly the mists of time. Who's to listen? The odd stranger, passing trade.

'Her under-carriage tucked up', the same phrases were trotted out, as if by the book.

'Hup! Hup! Hup she went!' he'd repeat the same intonation, as if by heart.

Tongues had wagged, the hell they had, when the pub's regulars first learnt he'd seen the high-leaping milker doing her thing. Sticks and stones had nothing on the stabs and cannonades of merry laughter at the best joke in years down the old Dog & Duck or whatever the place was called. (Before updating to The Slug in the Salad, whatever.)

They'd chewed over the guy in their cups. Till he was gutted. They said they'd heard say he'd - or at least others had heard and they were in the know, they knew... Rumour, never a shrinking violet, spoke up loud and clear. Everyone knew he'd wandered in from the countryside, tramping, sleeping under hedges. Others said listen to him talk, it's pretty much Cockney, give or take. A swirl of dark tales about a lost job gave some pause for thought. Somebody had heard somebody fancied he'd been fired from a circus for cruelty; if true, in the circumstances it made you wonder what the hell he could've got up to - or prefer not to wonder.

Things fade in time. Except perhaps some of the voices in your head, not going quietly. But acting up and kick-kicking against the traces. That June evening, he was off. Up, up and away. Though nobody saw him go, flying down to Westminster. Had anyone spared a second thought about what really made the cow jump up, up and away? What was she fleeing, apart from a fiddling cat's airs? Who? What made the man get up and run, run, run! Who? See how he runs! See how he runs! Does anyone clock the man of dusk?

What a turn of speed he puts on going on, on, on, on a-flying down to Westminster. The dusk he ran to London town by way of - which? - Long Down.

You'd think the Devil at least was after him. So who's sitting on his tail?

Throwing a wan look over his shoulder's another face gone west.

If there are buses around, he's way out in front. What's a char-à-banc or Routemaster against the fear of God in you - unlikely to mow you down even if you stand stock-still against its trundle, they'll just take you in.

Trousers a-flap and soul a flibbertigibbet, that's maybe gone for good. When the fear of God's in you, it's kill or cure. Everything's up for grabs.

A ball of paper blowing down the pavement all but threw him, but he swerves. He's limber. He's not down-hearted, no! no! no! His heart's not called time, yet. He's far from packing it in.

On, on, on he goes, flying down to Westminster.

A man of straw, scarecrow running toward the city for the further hills, for ever green. His face a streak of fear in pink and white. Funny what fear will do to a guy, flying down to Parliament.

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