Iron osses, little wenches of the sidings, watch over us
on our passings, our wum-comings;
through the Smethwicks, factories laploved and tumbled,
the trollied cut with its rainbow of sump-oil
and behind overgrown buddleia, banqueting halls
fizzing like bottles of pop on Friday afternoon
with stunned new brides and bhangra-armed grooms,
for love is a journey to an unknown station.
Pit-bank wenches, run alongside us, through Rolfe Street
and Galton Bridge, Sandwell and Dudley
where the bones of tough-work sink secret as fossils
beneath the edgelands new greenery.
Watch over babbies dozing as their moms dream
of nights lost cantering in long grass,
watch over the wenches laughing in their gorgeous make-up,
off into the new life or just off chapping-it.
Watch over Sam solving six down for Leila from Stafford;
Magda on the early shift; Mrs Begum alighting
for HMP Featherstone. And as we pass, drum your hooves
for Sharon-Ann’s Academy of Dance and Cheer,
a sparkler of joy in the trading estate’s gloom;
for the blokes in the breakers yard, smoking in the rain;
the old boys downing Banks’s in half-cut pubs,
wammels lost to the nettled heaven of the allotments.
Watch over us all, little osses, for some days
it feels life is nothing but travelling, waving goodbye
to all we know, never quite certain of who we leave
and who we carry within us like tender luggage.
Watch over those who have long gone,
taken the dawn train on a one-way ticket,
and those not born yet, sweet unseen passengers
still held in the darkness, waiting for the signal,
the green light and the whistle
to call them into that first bright station of their lives.
Notes on this poem
I grew up in the Black Country and am still in love with its dialect, its lyrical, guttural, surprising, rich beyond belief word-hoard. It’s rarely seen as an eloquent vernacular and I wanted to change that. I use Black Country dialect in my poems to shine a light upon it, to celebrate it and to help pass forward some of those enchanting words. ‘Iron Oss’ is a praise poem for Kevin Atherton’s much-loved public sculpture of the same name – ten black horse silhouettes which gallop alongside the railway line from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. It uses a few of my favourite Black Country words: wum: home; wammels: mongrels and the fantastic chapping it: girls on the pull!