skitters in the corner of my eye,
irking like a bluebottle corked,
erratic flutterings meshed into
a five foot box cell silhouette.
I suppose crow smarts
then failed to find egress.
The track bears left,
I turn right to interrogate.
I twist the small door’s snib
with little further thought.
Perched on the threshold
he black eyes my framed bulk.
When I side-step, he gunnels out.
His burst plummets off-kilter,
one wing clattered perhaps
in thrashing runways at escape.
Have I just made a fast-food snack,
free to the quickest clench or bite?
I re-snib the door in stealth,
glancing late inside the cage.
Two wrecked hares gore-pecked,
half a smeary tub with water –
intentions here of some survival.
But what kind of gamekeeper
aids and abets a carrion crow?
Unkent to urban bumpkins perhaps –
a trapper’s ruse, a jig set to dance,
bait to snag a raptor’s gaze?
Walk on. Am I just a jail-bird’s patsy,
stumbling in imagined manumissions,
meat and water, caged as maybe? Still –
not half-a-second stood by unstolen,
before air was ripped apart in broken flight.
Fafernie is a rounded top
astray amid other places.
Southeast a shank to the Knapps,
slow strewn stone rumpled ancient beds.
Northwest Callater glens a way
to distant Cairngorm stories,
if these are unobscured by clouds
looming grey with rain lofted into snow
as ambiguous as now.
At the small cairn a throw from the top
I meet ptarmigan partners.
Sighting me they take stations:
he stands porcelain on the topstone,
eyeing me with red khol caution.
A step past, she sits well grounded,
dissolving spring speckle into
lichen and wind rounded stones
as still as earlier ice.
Bending slowly, I rediscover
her against the uncertain sky.
Firmly static, from above she flickers
lost and found and lost again.
Stalking an unready camera,
I exist too much, and they burst
in flurry croaked alarms of flight,
just far enough to horizon me
as vanished as myth.
Trees can be very big, and some of them are very old. Their character and way of life is complex, in many ways hidden, and very different from our own. They can make us pause and they can make us gasp.
drawing breath is a collection of twelve poems arising from a collaboration with visual artist Tansy Lee Moir.
I’ve made booklet with the poems, some photographs, and some of Tansy’s drawings, and I’ve also made a series of recordings of readings. Hope you like them!
In February I attended an excellent workshop by prima poet Helen Mort called ‘Lines of Ascent’. This was part of this year’s Stanza strand celebrating hills, mountains and high places in poetry. The exercise this poem started from was about experimenting with perspective. Inevitably much subsequent plodding to and fro was required to arrive at my effort below.
Also, n.b. I am very fond of biscuits, including the old fashioned varieties …
Tay’s estuary is a custard cream
from thirty two miles
and three thousand feet,
sat on my old friend Mayar.
She’s just a southerly yellow stripe,
currents fickle and ambiguous
smeared to a sweeter layer of light
between Broughty and Tentsmuir.
In February survey square biologists
cookie cut the machar there,
quadrats cast as girdle nets,
griddles tallying growth and life.
From here we’re shrunk invisible,
with my biscuit tea-dunked in hand,
I see us all in plain view vanishing,
sugar granules spilt in distant sand.
On Driesh on Sunday I met a man out walking with his daughter. I’d seen the two figures – one tall and one much smaller, a little ahead of me as we all approached the top. I noticed them stopping occasionally, choosing which way seemed best between or through the remaining patches of snow.
At the cairn we got talking and I learned that she was eight and she told me she was pleased that she had now ’done six Munros’. This was especially good because it meant she was ahead of her little sister who had – so far – only done four. Her father explained that the little sister, not with them today, was two years younger.
‘Carrot and stick,’ he joked ‘we have to go to McDonalds later!’ At the top of a hill, I thought, a hot burger and chips does sound like a pretty superior kind of carrot.
‘And did you find this one easy?’ I asked the girl.
‘No,’ she laughed, ’it was hard!’
‘Well then,’ I said, ’you must be a person who is able to do difficult things. That’s a good thing to know…’
Quiet smiles all round.