I don’t remember the Beanley orra-man,
his boots down the lonnen black as a wet day, his caravan
under a butchered elm’s imaginary wingspan,
rusted, cantankerous: ‘all that can’s been done’,
my mother said, then, low, ‘he’s God’s own one’.
I can’t recall his singing of the Kingdom come,
or whispering from underneath his hands
‘if my soul the Lord should take’, or how he crept away
like Billy Blin, awake long hours before the blackbirds, eager to begin
carving off a dead lamb’s skin to roll one barely-living in
under a dazed ewe, force tongue to tit, tit to tongue :
mole-blind he’d move, from east to western sun, more whole
in his Gomorrah than the doucest thing, but slow,
immortal, helpless as his beasts to conjure up tomorrow.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. 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 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.
This poem recalls a Fife farm from the poet's childhood. The farmhand, struggling at lambing time, seems as simple and as patient as a folk spirit. A sonnet with plenty of variations in rhyme and metrical pattern, it nonetheless has a clear, formal impetus. Much as I enjoy form (as writer and reader), I was surprised, when compiling these notes, at how many of the poems I selected from the year are formal, often loosely (and therefore effectively) so.
I wrote this poem while staying on a North Northumberland farm during lambing time. It was an intense experience for me: a dead ewe on the back of a truck, ailing lambs under a heat-lamp in the lambing shed. I think the fact that I was there with three other poets (good friends, on a writing retreat) in an equally intense creative space, helped bring this poem about. But it also draws on my childhood memories of farmsteads in Fife, and characters I knew, or imagined I did. The poem appeared virtually by itself and in sonnet form, which was a surprise. It’s still a bit mysterious to me.
Coalend Hill Farm 1962 was overall winner of the 2010 Norman MacCaig Poetry Competition