– for George Mackay Brown
The neighbour’s son, whose words
were a stumble on rough ground,
whose cack-handedness at simple chores
drew the anger of his father’s fists,
once watched her all day over the dyke
ploughing that one field set for barley.
Becoming used to his stare, she turned
her own gaze back to the depth of soil
before bedrock, that one boggy corner,
the tricky curves and angles of slopes
but would catch his stooped silhouette,
his head’s ragged hedge fenced in
by her wing mirrors, as she swung
the tractor around at the headland.
He stood at the edge of his known world—
followed her from the dropping of the blade
for her first furrow till in failing light
the lifting of it for the last time,
speechless at each line drawn on the land:
straight, uninterrupted, confident, true.
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.
Beautiful imagery here: ‘The neighbour’s son, whose words were a stumble on rough ground’. A wistful tale of unrequited love, of the immutable power of the feminine. Carruth’s poetry sometimes revels in its muscular metaphors but this is a graceful and dreamlike piece, cutting lightly over the surface of the page like a skeith.
One of these poems that just appeared. It has two characters watching each other through a working day then leaves the future unanswered. A ploughed field after all is only the start. That ineptitude at practical tasks on the farm is something I have certainly experienced first-hand throughout my childhood that and a shyness in relationships where I would struggle to make the first move.
The poem also explores in part the wonder I still experience when faced with the work of an expert practitioner whatever the field.
The title came last – borrowed from another poem that wasn’t behaving.