A stag ponders his place on the Buxton Achievement
Location: Norwich Castle, Castle Hill, Norwich, NR1 3JU
Inspired by the Buxton Achievement, a piece of painted cloth in the Castle’s medieval collection.
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When you’re stuck for six centuries facing in one direction,
you begin to wonder whether it’s the right one.
From where I’m sitting, the thread of life reads backwards;
the wisdom of old age behind me and the dancing,
hobby-horse spring of youth and childhood stretch out
into – what? My future? It’s hard to believe I have one,
what with being held here, wedged between a title and a name.
At least the stags below me have legs. Sure, they’re sitting down,
and sure, they’re facing the same way I am, somehow backwards,
and sure, I imagine they’re a little seasick from being folded
and hung and folded and hung, and sure, I’m sure they were as dazzled
as I was that day we spent under bright lights, all those people
staring at us, but at least they suggest the idea of walking.
It’s important for a stag to be able to walk, to run, to cross waters
and slay dragons and heal broken hearts and all the other things
we were once famous for. I know I’m not the only one on here
without legs, but I’m the only one without limbs at all –
even death has arms. Someone asked me once if I was supposed to be
the man whose name frames my face, but that’s him above me,
as he liked to think of himself I’m sure, an estate official,
proud to wear us stags on his arms but prouder still, I bet,
to spear one of us in his master’s hunting forest. And proud
to punish a poacher who did the same. It’s hard to imagine
living with that kind of cognitive dissonance, but then, I’m a stag
not a person. I do get to face towards the sun, which is nice;
it’s good to feel the day is always ahead of you. And though it’s creepy,
some days, to feel death’s bald stare on the back of my neck,
the jolly hat of life keeps my red chin up. And Clotho’s spool
of thread keeps one positively chipper, all that life left to live.
It’s nice to feel part of the fabric of things. Plus, I’m proud of my antlers:
the lions and people and even the tiny stags might have limbs,
but I’m the only one with a crown painted gold.
Follow the trail
Stay at Norwich Castle for poem 4: Walrus