In pride of place on my work-surface
are an ink-well of weighted glass
and a black quill-pen, presented to me
when I left long-term employ:
a discarded life I heed less
and less, as the years pass.
But every so often with a hoarse kraaa
there squats on the sill a hoodie crow,
a gap in one wing where a primary
feather is missing. Teetering raggedly
it fixes me with a bloodshot eye
then flops, disgruntled, away.
Whether bent on repossessing
what belongs to it, or chastising
me for treating its lost quill
as simply a glossy symbol,
I see in it the beast
of conscience come home to roost.
The cat meantime sits by the fireplace,
content that nothing is amiss.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2005. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2005 was Richard Price.
The couplets are at times uneasily rhymed, in keeping with the dark bird worrying away at the poet’s window and at his decision to throw it all in for poetry, but there is an earned confidence in the choice and the cat is rightly undisturbed.
Ghosts at Cockcrow opens with a poem set in my study, written (or which pertains to have been written) while the remainder of the volume was still an unrealised acreage of white, a ‘realm of possibility’. In ‘Visitation’ what has been established as a work-place becomes, in addition, a two-way vantage point – its occupant (or occupants) simultaneously observer, and observed. The poem’s trappings are in the main real – inkwell and quill having been a gift from departmental colleagues, when I left the BBC to become a ‘free man’ (a notion at which the poem raises a wry eyebrow).
The couplets after the intruder’s departure seem to pick up on what is to be resolved in the pages ahead. But while their tension, even trepidation, may have to do with obligations to one’s art, I suspect that also hovering over them are the implications of the book’s title, and the transient nature of our lives. I’d rather leave further assumptions or deductions to the reader, than impose any interpretation extraneous to the poem.
The comfortable feline appears oblivious of any such angst. Looking up what turned out to be copious worksheets I found this was a late addition: surprisingly, as I’d now see the poem as stripped of dimension, and something integral to its flavour, without it. I’m glad too that, the cat having since died, her presence is preserved here albeit tinily, and I hope not sentimentally but as a pointer to the odd way poems can come about.