This Was the Year

This Was the Year
This was the year before the year
that collapsed on us, a roof brought down by snow.
The year of riding through abandoned stations
on the riverside line that never crossed the river
but danced among warehouses, silos and factories (deceased)
beside battleships settling into red mud.
This was the year that, too exhausted to sleep,
I boiled down the pink and ivory and blue of other women’s hands
into a single grey slab. The soap pot next the soup,
fumes of gardenia and bone.
This was the year we were always coming home. 
Three steps and a garden where the splayed trike in the frost said
better to have careless love than none at all. 
This was the year before the year
I found out that we are fused from lightning, our bodies
maps across which electrical storms flare 
and move on. This was the year
extremely far rooftops and lit windows
seen from a plane flying its late night mission
had their glow zapped by pinball fire.
This was the year I closed the door underneath the porch light
and stood out on the first of the three front steps, listening.
Our children’s beds expecting their bodies
to come warm them like small fires
but growing cold with waiting.
Pippa Little

from Overwintering (Carcanet, 2012)

Reproduced by permission of the author.
Pippa Little

Pippa Little was born in Tanzania, raised in Scotland and now lives in Northumberland.

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About This Was the Year

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2012. 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 editors in 2012 were Zoë Strachan and Louise Welsh.

Editors' comment:

Every image is specific – the ‘abandoned stations’ and ‘factories (deceased)’, the boiling of soap ends into ‘a single grey slab’ – and together they meld into a bigger picture of an annus horribilis. ‘This was the year’, but the year ends and a new one begins; ‘electrical storms flare / and move on’, and perhaps it is ‘better to have careless love than none at all’.

Author's note:

I often dream about travelling: this poem contains elements of dream and also imagines how it might feel to live in a war zone, an occupied country under attack. How can narratives of home and childhood be carried on under such circumstances? And yet they are, against all odds, all over the world, every day and night. It’s quite a mysterious poem for me – I wrote it very fast and hardly revised it. It feels like a glimpse of windows, lit and vanishing, seen from a train.