The agister’s experiment

by Gill Learner

At last the time had come – both animals were
sparking on all cylinders. My moon-white Isis
was as twitchy as a loose-end flex, silk-purse ears
pointing then flattening – half readiness,
half fear. She heard his protest, felt threat
and promise in the thud of hooves on wood,
swivelled her eyes, jerked the tether, sent tremors
rippling from mane to tail.

He was a rumour stalked for years
through brambles, nettles. Dung-rubbed,
I crouched in bracken, watched him graze
among oaks and beeches like a ghost of himself,
his antler tapered almost straight from his broad
pale forehead. Him I’d arrowed quiet, pulled
from the forest, stalled and fed to hard fitness.
I opened the door on her.

It didn’t take long. At first she balked, strained
at the hobbles, then steadied, tail held aside.
As fear was conquered by his drive, I clipped one ear
with a device by which to track him if this trial fails.
Two months I nannied her until I knew she’d held;
a further eight of cosseting. One day very soon
I’ll know if it must be done again, or if at last
I’ve bred a unicorn.

This poem was shortlisted for the Keats–Shelley Prize 2006 and is the title poem of Gill’s first collection, published by Two Rivers Press in 2011.

‘My parents lived in Ashurst for their last thirty years and became fascinated by the ancient traditions (eg the Verderers Court), etc., which are still alive today. Many conversations with them on the subject inspired this poem’

You can read more about Gill Learner’s poetry here:

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