As a child I cracked languages like nuts and
squirrelled them away in my backpack. I took
to digging up roots and in a voice as bright-light
as helium learned to pronounce
I imitated pitch perfectly, declined with
authority and wondered why people only
stared. I conjugated; no one wanted to
connect. I compounded, cut to the quick,
stripped away articles as if faith was all
I needed. I rid myself of colour –
until the remembered, melted, wolf-pounded,
baked, fried, mixed-with-Husky-breath,
halo-making, wet-flaked, used-for-exquisite-
erotic-rituals snow dazzled me blind. Then,
dot by dot, my fingers learned to read,
trace faces, feelings.
By now my voice has grown too brittle-
thin to speak what’s in my heart.
I open my backpack, shake it out and let
the words scatter. The birds come calling
and here I am, under the trees, among the
bushes and weeds, feeding them my words,
all my words, a syllable at a time.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2021. 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 for 2021 was Hugh McMillan.
Sometimes you read poems which chime exactly with your mood or run parallel to your experience. More and more I wonder what I am trying to express, and why I’m using the means I choose to express it. Regi Clare’s image-full piece traces such questions through the prism of the years to where she stands now, breaking and scattering her words ‘one syllable at a time.’ A poem that tells a story, with a masterly choice of language from ripe to lean, ending with a last glorious, and chilling (for me) image.
Poems come into existence in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they simply tumble into life, ready-formed, other times they have to be teased out slowly, with infinite patience. ‘All my words’ is a mixture of both. Parts of it arrived fully-fledged, others had to be helped along. Written in bursts over three spring days, the poem’s original title was ‘Learning a new language’. Its first version was partly in prose. The poem plays with language, refers to different languages, their shapes and idiosyncrasies. It springs from my multicultural and multilingual background and alludes to my belief that ultimately language has its limits. There are always misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and when all is said and done, we are alone, each and every one of us. But we can reach out to animals and nature – we can try and learn, perhaps, a new ‘language’.