Northwords Now

New writing, fresh from Scotland and the wider North
Sgrìobhadh ùr à Alba agus an Àird a Tuath Twitter Facebook Search

Recovering Ground

by Leonie Charlton

Detail from photosbyjim iStock
Detail from photosbyjim iStock

You will love again the stranger who was your self
Derek Walcott

When you come back to me
and call me by my name – Ruadh
I can breathe freely

when you stay long enough
for stillness to settle
I am unmuscled
in the softness of now.

Under a supple sky I rest
here where many places meet –
hawthorn and hill,
sea-loch and alder,
bog myrtle and river.

Under a supple sky I ache –
if I were the river this would feel like boulders moving
through the bed and breadth of me;
if I were a fox denned in the earth
it would be the liquid dark of my eyes.

When you are close in like this,
and Ruadh slips off your tongue
I can dare to remember
the threat of snares laid
among the innocent trees,
I dare to remember how you left me,
skin bursting in bites of steel,
throat frozen, mouth foaming crimson.

You get an inkling don’t you –
familiar stranger,
of the agony of abandonment?

Between turns of ingrown rage
I get an inkling too,
of how sometimes exile is the only way.

You left me for the chase,
the taste of other women,
men, trees, beasts,
for blood and bark and pheromone,
for the potent draw of wounds
that won every time.

I understand a little.
I have hunkered down, I have waited.

I see fox now, how she weighs the seasons
soft-footed, outfoxing,
but is killed, again and again – cubs’ slow starvation,
senses pierce the dark,
hope snuffles against musky earth.
Under April showers
this welling of sadness
settles at new levels,
allows something else;
from the sun comes the hailstone,
from the rock comes the smile,
from the lungwort comes the longing
to hold, to be held, to be whole.

I badly want to touch you.

See how the colour of me runs off your tongue like rain.
In this spell we stroke each other into a tree,
hawthorn – heart tree – unmistakably.
Each curve, gnarl, whorl, exposed root,
contour of bark, telltale of moss
a story of eroticism, of form, of life.

There, in the living wood I see the
ruadh of winter fox, of trout spots,
of red-deer flank during the moult,
of eagle in dying light, in rising light.
I see the beauty of humanity –
the tenderness in fingertips
the faithful rise and fall of rib cage,
hearts feeding longing and fire
into kin and cultivation, art and hearth.

I smell smoke. Hawthorn burns hottest.

Eyes deep in reflected flames
the tide calls to us,
draws us along stars of upturned roots,
through air cut by snipe,
past the heart-blur of duck flying off water,
pulls us to the river mouth,
confluence of fresh and saltwater.
We lie down by the high tide mark,
its utter integrity –
the rolling together of
oak and berry, feather and kelp.

I badly want to touch you.

Clasped in bivalves,
we open in a golden helplessness of delight,
we glitter, pecked to life by barnacles and beauty.
Laughter blossoms, blisters,
explodes between the sinking hills.

I badly want to touch you.

Stay with me now,
call me by my name, again and again
until I sink to sinew and decay
until maggots rove my rotting flesh
until I am a mass
heaving cheerfully to humus,
until I draw in the iridescent beetle,
until bluebells thread me with bee after bee
and we sing back our space
in the undivided nature of things,
until we lean in, wavelet by wavelet,
and we dare, lightly, to touch.

‘Ruadh’ the Gaelic for ‘dark-brownish red/wild/fierce/rough/strong’

Northwords Now acknowledges the vital support of Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
ISSN 1750-7928 - Print Design by Gustaf Eriksson - Website by Plexus Media