Listen, back in ‘74
I shot a crow with such force
its body cannoned into its partner,
dropped the pair from the sky.
The living shared the fall
and hard landing
of one too close.
If that winded bird
had not shaken the dust off itself,
escaped from the corpse’s shackle,
raised its torn wings,
lifted itself into painful flight,
I’d have finished it off as well –
coupled them in death.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2019. 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 2019 was Roseanne Watt.
It is difficult to select a single poem from Bale Fire, especially considering how the poems of this collection resonate together as an almost mycelial whole. But it was the voice of this poem in particular that kept drawing me back to it. Its brutal black humour was instantly recognisable to me; I have heard it used by folk I know back home, by those who live in close quarters with the indifferent cycles of nature. This humour does not deflect from the wisdom of the message, either; indeed, it is all the more powerful for it, for it reaches us in the same, stripped-raw language of grief.
What can I say about Murdoch as a character? Firstly he is an amalgamation of a number of farmers I’ve met over the years who displayed a practical directness to life and death. I think the poem itself has a number of ancestors within my own work. Previous poems like ‘Vade Mecum’ and ‘The Big Mistake’ have used an old farmer’s spoken word as a means of giving practical advice. These poems also explore the argument of universal value and worth in local knowledge and experience. This poem turns the table on a modern day ‘Twa Corbies’ and there is clearly a dark humour playing out as tough love that acts as antidote to elegies that precede it in the collection Bale Fire.