Flinching in my hands
this soiled and studded but good heart,
which stippling my cupped palms, breathes –
a kidney flinching on a hot griddle,
or very small Hell’s Angel, peeled from the verge
of a sweet, slurred morning.
Drunk, I coddle it like a crystal ball,
hellbent the realistic mysteries
should amount to more than guesswork
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2008. 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 editors in 2008 were Rosemary Goring and Alan Taylor.
The way some have tried to see the world in a grain of sand, Jen Hadfield turns her gaze on this most prickly of customers in search of insight into the universe. Her feel for the natural world is heart-felt and acute, but she resists sentimentality. The hedgehog immortalised in this poem is nothing more, or less, than itself. This poem works not only for its deceptive simplicity and the feelingness of its language – “peeled from the verge of a sweet, slurred morning” – but because the tipsy Hadfield recognises that this animal, like all creatures, remains resistant to being mythologised. It is more interesting and meaningful just as it is.
‘Hedgehog, Hamnavoe’ was written as I crept back home from my friends’ house, in the half-light, in midsummer. It was one of those walking poems that used to come very easily to me. My friends offered me their spare bedroom but I am one of those that likes to sleep in their own bed. Drunk, especially.
It’s a walk of maybe forty minutes to my own house, along a bandy bit road that climbs out of the community of Hamnavoe, hugs the coast over a crescent beach of white sand and up and down over the Rummelies; a high patch of exposed moor, looking out to Foula. I was insistent on getting my little pilgrimage home, and rarefied with wine, encountered the hedgehog on the way.
I’m intrigued that it’s necessary to interrupt a hedgehog and pick it up to get the gist of it, and a bit ashamed. They’re still a bit miraculous to me, as are hermit crabs and the carnivorous sundew and all the spectacular small creatures domestic to our country that I was introduced to in Ladybird Books as a child, but met with rarely.
I live in Shetland mostly because here I encounter nature outwith the cabinet. And because I knew, that as I had found with Skye and British Columbia, it would break my heart to visit. For all the accessibility of the cliff tops and beaches and moors and lochans, and the ease of living here, the wild-life and plant-life and sea-life that manage to thrive, and the fact that there are places you can just about be alone under the sky define Shetland as wilderness, as far as I’m concerned. To be elsewhere, at least at this point in my life, seems wrong.
I decided a while ago not to try and suppress my hope-dream-desires about home place, and to move somewhere remote, rural, and probably Boreal. The alternatives were less selfish (it’s not easy to visit friends and family) and more straightforward. Having moved to Shetland and settled somewhat and realised one of those dreams, I encountered intense enjoyment of the place Shetland proved to be, interrupted with emptiness and what-next-ness. The realistic mysteries of Hedgehog, Hamnavoe, I think, sum up for me the what-next-ness of satisfying a dream and wondering where next to invest your hope.