Up a path that’s barely there, jostled
by heather, holly, low-flying oak,
the child I was, shy and furious, is trying
to fight her way out. The twenty year-old
is fighting herself, frightening her parents
with an alien hunger. The studious teen
slumps darkly. An athlete the same age
has wings on her feet, a basket of snakes in her head
and in her stomach an empty fridge
which takes up all the space.
There’s the new mum, thin and jumpy;
the journalist gulping cheap wine
from a bottle she offers around. The wife declines
another glass. The poet takes up
little space, barely more than a light bulb.
I reach the wooden footbridge
and in the water watch my mother
and my father until they’re in their parents’ arms,
each embodiment rippling outwards
as a new face seeds another flower.
Up through loose shale, I reach tarmac, unzip
the bag, and let them all out. The view
is long and deep. Not quite what you expected, I say,
as off they trot into the future.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2022. 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 2022 was Ifor ap Glyn.
This is a poem that surprises you, again and again. It begins in a slightly claustrophobic landscape with an apparently straight-forward uphill journey – then the world of the poem begins to slide as we are introduced to various iterations of the narrator at different times of her life (the description of her poet self is gloriously dismissive!)
Reaching a footbridge affords us a backward glance at the generations that went before, before the last surprise has her reaching terra firma, She ‘unzip(s) the bag and let(s) them all out’. ‘Not quite what you expected’ says the narrator, apparently addressing her various selves and forebears, but it could equally apply to the reader too. Excellent.
This is the footpath I used to walk each day through the forest from my house to the local village. Halfway, there is a tiny bridge crossing a stream where I’d always stop for breath and look down onto the small pool below. It has always struck me how any walk is like a life in miniature, insofar as it has a beginning, a middle and an ending, and stuff to see along the way. (And I generally finish up exhausted!) So I decided to play with that idea literally, until I got to the top of the hill (I’m in my 50s now so technically at the top of my hill.) It’s a poem about how we carry with us all the versions of ourselves we have ever been. I never imagined, as a younger woman, that I would be the middle-aged woman I am today (i.e. a much happier one.)