Poems

Bheinn na Caillich

Because they had the mastery of iron,

because the land was thin and hard,

because the sea was the way to everything,

because nothing could gainsay

a well-caulked, lapstraked boat

with a flare at the bow that perfectly

fit a space the water would make for it,

because their oceans were swanspaths, whaleroads.

because they wrote their maps in the wind,

in the run of the cod, of the herring, of the cloud,

the way the gulls would go; because of that

they sailed out from granite fjords;

cargoed with amber  and jet and beaver pelts,

red river gold and wolfskins;

over the Dogger, the mouth of the Rhine,

round Cape Wrath, to the Irish Sea, Biscay,

the gates of the Mediterranean,

its hot shores, its painted boats

and whitesailed dhows as bright as ghosts,

and all for the lapis, amethysts, white gold

they spun  into knotwork dragons swallowing their tails;

bracelets, cloakpins, breastpins, clasps and rings.

Who counted the hours of tillage,

the scantlings of barley and oats,

the frozen sleet on longship shrouds,

skin torn on intractable nets,

or how many million herring and cod

shrank in the wind on racks of spruce?

Who told how it was

after all the work of hands and years,

they could fashion chests of black bog-oak,

bind them with ironstrips ,

lock up the lapis, the gold, the bright enamels

and bury them high in the eye of the wind

on a red granite summit over snowfield and scree

in a grave with a princess anointed and shrouded,

how they might raise a great cairn,

with chockstone and boulder,

and no one would touch it.

[Much Possessed. smith|doorstop

St Lucie’s Day 

squeezed, wrung out like a cheese,

a day for the choice of the tallest, 

the wisest, the one most foolish,

the one with a limp, the one who casts

runes, the one with the no-coloured eye.

One of them.

Him we will beat ,with hammer and anvil,

into the likeness of kings.

We shall crown him with green holly

till blood runs in his beard,

and him we shall dress in the plumes

of the crow, of the tern, of the wren;

we shall stitch him with quills. He will fly into flames.

O this dark St Lucie’s day. You’d wish 

you were the Fool of the World . You’d wish

for his flying ship, you’d wish you could fly

to the cities, to the edges of things, to the sea.

You’d wish for a flicker of flame in the spruce.

You’d wish for a crossroads, for three wishes

to foil the old witch and her hen’s-leg house.

Old witch of layers, old doll of a year

and December her small heart.

[Advice to a traveller. Indigo Pamphlets 2018]

Esprit d’escalier

Out here, you can’t believe you said it.

Scurvy-mad, fingers black and dead,

stomach shrunk to a nailhead, snowblind,

lips blistered to stuck crusts, every joint a rusted nut;

the others stiff-lipped in their sleeping bags.

What possessed you, in the name of God

to say: I’m just going out. I may be some time.

You’ve had a hundred years to rue it,

unhouseled, unannealed . Don’t you wish

you could have fallen  into sleep

with the satisfaction of knowing

they’re huddled there in that foul tent

whispering:  “did you hear what he just said?”

Fuck this for a game of soldiers. I’m off out.

[Gap Year. SPM Publications 2017]

Hephaestus

ugly and lame, whose mother threw 

all down the sky, you know how falling feels,

the pluck of the wind a tearing of thorns,

the spheres of heaven turning cobalt, indigo;

tumbled in cumulus, stripped by cirrus,

deaf and dumb with gravity; you hurtle

from sleep, wrung out with falling.

You. The shining one, 

who they mock with a name,

with a gift from the sea in a dazzle of foam

and sea-fret lace, trailing a tang of salt, 

her eyes remote as a gull’s, for you all crooked,

crumpled and cracked like kindling

and soot-smeared from the smithy. 

You fashion a filigree girdle, dress it with pearls;

you look for a gentle look, and she hammers

broken stars into your eyes. You forge

yourself blackened and burned; 

you have only crafted a cuckold’s horns, 

watched  the world sink  into her lovely loins. 

Moony wanderer, Euronyme,

catch me as I fall, lay my head by the soft blue 

pulse in the crook of your white arm.

Tell me a silvery story. Sing me to sleep.

[Larach. Ward Wood Publishing. 2015]