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for my great grandfather (1869-1923)


Not the stern family portrait

with Alice, his churchgoing wife

and four children. The other photo –

just him with the Shire horse

is as close as I’ll get to his smile.


We know that she was trouble

(an accident, a man killed)

enough so that a picture of this mare

at ease was something rare, worth catching.

He was the only one who could handle her –


John William Wilson, father unknown,

mother, Mary Ann, a milkmaid, dead at 25.

Brought up by his grandfather (who died),

his uncle (who died), his aunt who re-married

a thief who was jailed. From bareknuckle boxer


to head horseman, a man of few words,

we do know his last, from his sick bed

growled at the parson, sent for by his wife

I dunt wunt see no sky pilot.

Thirty years a widow, she never spoke of him.


Without him though

they could do nothing with the horse

but sell her. It was something about his calm

hand on the bridle, the other gentle on the shoulder

that steadied her down.


from The Swan Machine (2016)



Head Horseman

o button 09 HEAD HORSEMAN John Wilson