When I found I'd lost you –
not beside me, nor ahead,
nor right nor left not
your green jacket moving

between the trees anywhere,
I waited a long while
before wandering on: no wren
jinked in the undergrowth,

not a twig snapped.
It was hardly the Wildwood,
just some auld fairmer's
shelter belt, but red haws

reached out to me,
and between fallen leaves
pretty white flowers bloomed
late into their year. I tried

calling out, or think
I did, but your name
shrivelled on my tongue,
so instead I strolled on

through the wood's good
offices, and duly fell
to wondering if I hadn't
simply made it all up: you,

I mean, everything,
my entire life....either way,
nothing now could touch me
bar my hosts, who appeared

as diffuse golden light,
as tiny spiders
examining my hair....
what gratitude I felt then -

I might be gone for ages,
maybe seven years!
- and such sudden joie de vivre
that when a ditch gaped

right there instantly in front of me
I jumped it, blithe as a girl -
ach, I jumped clear over it,
without even pausing to think.
Kathleen Jamie
Reproduced by permission of the author.
Kathleen Jamie

Kathleen Jamie is a poet, essayist and travel writer, one of a remarkable clutch of Scottish writers picked out in 1994 as the ‘new generation poets’ – it was a marketing ploy at the time but turns out to have been a very prescient selection. She became Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Stirling in 2011.

Read more about this poet
About Glamourie

Kathleen Jamie writes about her poem, and about 'Touch Me' by Stanley Kunitz from A Wild Braid:

I chose the two poems because they happened to share a phrase: 'touch me'. My own poem concerns one of those moments when one wishes to absent myself from one's own life. In 'Glamourie' the full phrase is 'nothing now could touch me'. It's about escape, slipping through the net.

I got lost in a wood one afternoon last October – it was nearing Hallowe-en - and realized I quite liked it in a scared sort of way. A golden haze filled the wood, and it all felt very strange, like fairy-work, as though I'd been abducted from the real world into a magic realm.

I love the supernatural or fairy element in the old ballads, like 'Tam Lin' and 'Thomas the Rhymer', where the fairy-folk are powerful; and I did wonder, when I was wandering in the wood, if when eventually the spell broke and I found my way out, seven years might have passed. Seven is the magic number. Both Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer spent seven years in fairyland before being rescued or released. Seven years. It felt more like a nice long holiday than a prison sentence. It pleased me to write the poem, to bring the Scottish fairy tradition with us into the 21st century.

The other 'touch me' is just the opposite. Not an absence and forgetting, but a request, a wish to remember. The poem 'Touch Me' is by Stanley Kunitz, an Amercan poet who died, at 101, in 2006.

In his poem of that name, the full phrase is 'Touch me, remind me who I am.'

Kunitz was a gardener as well as a poet and one of my favourite books is The Wild Braid, which is a collection of conversations with Kunitz, with notebook entries, and poems by him, and beautiful photographs of the then very elderly poet tending to his garden. This book was a revelation about the possibilities of old age – something our society is shockingly impatient with and contemptuous of - and the continuation of what Kuntiz called the 'erotic impulse'. I think he meant a life force, the 'green fuse', rather than something narrowly sexual. 'Touch Me' is a garden poem, if I can put it like that, and it must have been one of his last, written when he was in his 90's.

'What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirrs in the buried life.'

The 'touch' becomes the task of keeping in touch with an energy, a creative impulse. Kuntiz's poem is a poem of old age and it suggests that the possibility of keeping in touch may indeed renew itself. Mine is a mid-life poem, written in a time when one can be so overwhelmed with responsibilities, for children and elders and work, that keeping in touch with a creative impulse seems a forlorn hope.

Kunitz had a lovely earthly spirituality. He had some awareness of another world too. Not in the religious sense, 'one season only, and it's done' he says, plainly, of this life. But in The Wild Braid there is a section about an event which happened when he was 99. He fell ill, was taken to hospital and began to show many of the physical signs of dying. Consequently he was brought home again 'to be more comfortable' while his family and friends awaited the inevitable. But then 'On the third day he started to emerge, and within a week he was eating three meals a day and reading the New York Times .'Kunitz regained strength over the Spring and by June was back in his garden. "He now refers to this period as 'when I was in the other world.'"

The Wild Braid is a joy, and I can't recommend it enough.

So, this world and the other, life and death, presence and absence, engagement and disengagement is what connected the two poems across that tiny phrase, 'touch me'.

Kathleen Jamie © 2008