General Poetry posted November 26, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
A boy and his Billy cart take on the unconquered hill

Tom Stoke Hill

by Peter Rich

Down the street he clitter-clatters scarcely heeding crack or stone
Through the puddles he goes slashing, fears for neither flesh nor bone
Speeding, weaving, round the corner, past the Post Box oh so near!
In and out among the strollers, curses dwindling in his ears

Passed Poke's Bakery and its odours, cutting through both time and space
Tom Stoke hill is nearly on him, he the challenge to be faced
The precipice appears before him, no chance now of turning back
Down the slope he fairly hurtles, roar replacing click and clack

Pot-holes, rocks and jagged 'wrinkles', scar Tom Stoke's ancient 'face',
deftly steering a weaving passage, the boy maintains a frightening pace
Too soon to think of final triumph, the treacherous surface unwinds beneath.
All too like an angry ogre, Tom Stoke bares his terrible 'teeth'

Ball bearings crying out in protest, steering rope wrapped round wrists tight
Around his body wind goes howling, Billy cart and boy in flight
Tearing eyes squint, distance dwindling to the bridge cross Ram's Head creek
There a horse-drawn dray is listing, driver struggling to keep her feet

Can't they hear the rolling thunder? Won't they turn and stand aside?
Will Tom Stoke devour another, fate again on Tommy's side
No boy yet had made the passage down Tom Stoke and cross the creek
Fading paint on bordering boulders mark where others came to grief

Would he get the dreaded wobbles, said to hit at 35?
Gritted teeth he hangs on grimly down Tom Stoke the boy does fly
Jimmy's marker flashes passed him, now there's only Johnny Jones
He had had the measure of the "mountain", till he hit that fatal stone

Johnny's marker now receding, just the creek to pass the test
Nothing less than a water crossing suffice to meet the Tom Stoke quest
Edging 40, maybe faster, the dray's load blocks the way to fame
He pulls hard left against inertia, chance now gone to win the game

Brambles, T-tree flash to greet him, thorns unsheathed and set to scar
The boy's not scared he took his chances, no-one else had got this far
A shuddering jolt, his body launches the reins still taught around his wrists
Surreally calm time seems suspended, face he shields with clenching fists

Now the thorns and vines assault him, tearing grasping drawing blood
At last his daring ride is over, a world of pain the taste of mud
Now a hand is at his shoulder, a voice is calling in his ear
Calloused hands caress him gently, hardened muscles draw him clear

First in confusion, then with wonder, the boy takes in the scattered scene
All in bits his faithful racer, no more now his speed machine
Through the pain a grin is spreading, he bows his head not in defeat
Tom Stoke hill bows down before him -- he's flown clear cross the bloody creek!

David and Goliath theme poem contest entry


In Australia (and England) a "Billy Cart" is the equivalent of a "Soap Box Racer" in the US. Typically, the "early models" were fashioned from a fruit box (or any sturdy wooden box) mounted on a wooden frame with ball bearings for wheels affixed to front and rear axils. The front axil pivoted to provide steering controlled by "reins" (pieces of cord fixed to the ends of the axil). More advanced (later) models replaced the ball bearings with spoked pram wheels - much faster and quieter. The Goliath in this "story" is represented by a Hill and David is the boy attempting to ride down its slope and across a creek at the foot of Tom Stoke Hill. The setting is a small country town.
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