I wanted to write an elegy
without flowers. I know they’re a requirement

but I wanted not to think of the way we hid
the new, dark scar your grave was 
under pretty coloured flowers

and little messages.
Only, what else could I speak of
In that bitter day?

			Nothing weather.
Trees on the edge of the river

empty, not prepared
to consider spring

and everything we had lost with you
-- your bright stare, your serious smile
your dancing –

lost already
beyond the last of our hopes’ reach.

I wanted not to think of the way we turned aside
and left you, as we had to
in a place where you had neither leaves or birdsong

for shelter, only
grey grass, still keeping its winter,
and our terrible swathe of flowers.
Judith Taylor

From Not in Nightingale Country (Edinburgh: Red Squirrel Press, 2017).
Reproduced with the permission of the author.

Judith Taylor

Judith Taylor was born and brought up in Perthshire. She studied English and Mediaeval History at St Andrews University and spent the early part of her career as a librarian. She now lives in Aberdeen, where she works in IT and is one of the organisers of the monthly 'Poetry at Books and Beans' events in City Centre bookshop / coffee-shop Books and Beans.

Her poetry has appeared widely in magazines; her first chapbook collection, Earthlight, was published by Koo Press in 2006 and her second, Local Colour, by Calder Wood Press in 2010. In 2015 her poem ‘The Lapland Woman and the Finland Woman’ was chosen for the SPL's Best Scottish Poems 2014 and featured on BBC Radio 3's Words and Music; 'The Water' was chosen for Best Scottish Poems 2015. Her first full-length collection, 'Not in Nightingale Country', was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2017.

Read more about this poet
About Flowers

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2017. 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 2017 was Roddy Woomble.

Author's note:

This was a difficult poem to write, and to write about. The subject - the death of a family member at a young age - wouldn't leave me be, and it demanded a proper, working poem, one that wouldn't be unworthy of her. After a series of discarded attempts I eventually took an oblique way into it, starting from a radio programme about the conventions of poetic elegy, and as you can see from the poem I displaced at least some of my grief and anger onto the conventions themselves. It seems a bitter poem to me now, but I don't think it could have been otherwise.

Years ago, when I brought a poem to a workshop that I just could not get to communicate, the workshop leader said, "Maybe there's another poem you have to write first". I think "Flowers" is a poem like that. I've been writing quite a bit recently about dance: the person in the poem wanted to be a dancer, and I think these are partly poems about her, and a better way to remember her. But I had to write this one first.