You email of a goldcrest, drawn
by your window light, this fresh spring
to watch you write. Like a detail
from a tapestry or Book of Hours
in which a harbinger of light
rhymes the flame within a monk’s cell.
Little more than a ten pence piece,
smaller than a wren; like one
of your gran’s burnished onions.
We crunched through a whole jar of them
in my student eyrie. Back then
you wore a fine gold crest yourself
(and sideburns like golden daggers!) –
though your colouring was closer
to brass. (The true gold lay elsewhere.)
The early bird flits from the shadows
in its forest of threads. And how
it burns; like the distant blessing
from a friend, at the precise moment
the industrious monk looks up.
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.
I’m not sure why Tom Pow hasn’t become a Poet Laureate. In any sane and ordered universe it should be so. Maybe when Simon or Kathleen retires. Pow’s lightness of touch, the colour he somehow infuses into apparently simple imagery, and, above all, the tenderness that underlies both the construction and execution of his poems can be at times quite breath-taking. Here he is in typically controlled, gentle and heart-wringing form.
Goldcrest is a poem about friendship in which the goldcrest is the messenger. I have always enjoyed writing about small birds. In my first book, Rough Seas (Canongate, 1987), there is a poem, ‘Breakfast Time‘, about bluetits with the lines, ‘…They release in me great waves/ of warmth and affection – the message/ sparking across my cerebellum is Reach Out.‘ I feel the same about sparrows and about the goldcrest in this poem. The poem is addressed to my close friend, the historian and writer, Alistair Moffat. Both of us abandoned an unimaginative English department at St Andrews University for the fresh landscape of Medieval history. Alistair eventually became a full time writer of history and I carried on writing the poems I have been writing since I was seventeen. I could picture him in his writer’s shed when he sent this email. Over the years, among the ‘personal stuff’ common to emails, there have been many nuggets; like the one I shaped into the haiku for May in Life (Roncadora, 2021):
out in the early dark
dealing with animals, glint
of diamonds in the snow