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Sussex Afternoon, a Poem by Nora Hutton Shepard

by | Jul 6, 2023

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not fought
at Hastings, but about ten miles up the rail line
where a couple mapped their walking tour,

where she followed him tunneling through a high hedge
of rhododendrons; the red blossoms quivered
like paper lanterns. And cows in the wide meadows

nodded to them like neighbors, watched them skirt
the mud-holes, bellowed as they cleared the stile
to stand on Senlac Ridge where King Harold

once gathered his men. Chroniclers tell of the heralds,
the blare of their trumpets, and Harold’s men lined up
across the ridge top, shield to shield, a human wall. Bronze

plaques on the public footpath mark the fighting. Only ruins
in the distant copse, the abbey’s crumbling walls,
the high altar, stand as monument to mark the place

where a king was felled.  Hand to hand battle so close
the maimed had little room to fall. Horses trampled the weary,
the wounded. Beyond the broken walls the couple trudged

through a farmer’s field sluiced with the muck of manure
and rotten silage. Hot and tired they topped the next ridge
and looked back and at each other. Even the trees, even the birds,

seemed still, quiet as the clouds puffing their shadows
over fields splayed across the rolling hills in the languor
of the afternoon. Where was the evidence of men who carried

the weight of chain mail? The heft of pikes? their battle-axes?
No one now knows who needed to piss. Which man
cried for his mother? Who found the arrow in Harold’s eye?

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