Roosters run headless in the garden.
His knife warm and red –
the grandfather whispers to the children:
‘Your heritage is slopes at the end of the sky.
Ghosts with swollen feet carve paths
to barren plains. They hold burned branches
in their hands: every dusk they are aflame
again – every night they bloom.
Growing up is understanding the swallows’ nests
– the architecture of abandonment.’
Sleeping parents: mythical sea creatures –
hunched backs ripple the night’s surface,
strange mouths exhale before submerging again.
A playground: rusty swings weigh their losses,
a slide carries its own frame,
and the bench where they first kissed arches
like a dolphin’s ribcage. Deflated buoys float
around them – volleyballs swallowed by the tide.
They save rain in empty jam jars
under their beds until make-believe
rafts wreck up on new shores –
their future lovers’ names written
on the sand: unuttered, misspelled.
Toy swords feeding bonfires –
cardboard shields, water guns, slingshots:
the paraphernalia of boyhood
exchanged for a first kiss in the dark,
and the white-flag moon will wane –
plastic arrows sticking from its back.
The night train derails
and a hill of stars spills on the tracks.
Villagers with shovels
resting on their shoulders
admire the shimmering matter,
and the station master in distress
scratches an empty sky –
his arms entangle, whiten into a moon.
Under a sycamore tree,
an old cat plays with her shadow and wins.
Behind the gates of mute houses –
with black rocks in their pockets
and red knees, with improvised maps
and sketchbooks of imaginary animals –
the children wait for the next train.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2020. 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 2020 was Janette Ayachi.
A stunning poem that spills visuals the same way ‘a hill of stars spills on the tracks’ across a vinous dreamscape, almost mythical, and intoxicating as it spurns on the imagination to probe us to see with the infectious awe of children. Each line seems neatly polished into place, which opens a phantasmagoria of possibility in defence, allowing the secret night-time bloom and for train masters to morph into the moon! Kalkounos transports the reader, engages an age of innocence and uses the magic of his images to re-enchant the world.