John Shepherd’s his name
but he has no truck with sheep.
1797 Leeds: dressing a raw weave
into finest woolen cloth a quality
hand might shed a glove to smooth
– that’s where the money sits!
A bale is thumped aside, today’s
document spread out for signature
and witnessing; three men crowd a boy.
The Master reads his terms, no malice:
first year – six shillings a week,
on duty fifteen hours a day
(no payment due when sick),
notched up one shilling annually
through seven dogged years.
“There!” He distorts his finger-tip
in the blank space bottom right.
So gripping an un-practiced quill,
the teazel-boy stutters out a cross
upon the paper, and thereby binds himself
to the lifelong mystery of cloth.
The merchant deliberates his turn;
he inscribes ‘Benjamin’ and ‘Gains’
as escorts either side the mark,
then after loosening his cuff
he unfurls his perfect signature
upheld by sideways loops, drawn surely,
that swoop to a final twist,
a lift and two stub strokes.
another apprentice trotting at his heels.
Foxed and cracking in the folds
that paper served a turn tucked
so securely in the family Bible
which connects me to Ben’s empty cross,
while the phantom at my shoulder now
would commandeer what I write . . .
But I need not let him.