it is dawn and my wife is coming to bed
and she has been watching a film about the life of charlie parker
and the air in the bedroom is silent while she undresses
and the light is there at the side of the curtain beyond her head
and she tells me his body gave up of drink and drugs when he was 34
and I decide I am awake and go to the kitchen for a drink of water
and the sky in the north is translucent like a lake
translucent like a lake though it is only 3 am
and when I go back we lightly hold hands as we sometimes do
until the first to be falling asleep begins to twitch and tonight it’s Sonya
and I withdraw my hand and lie back looking at the ceiling
I am aged 51 years and nine months and nine to ten days
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2009. 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 2009 was Andrew Greig.
Along with the ground-breaking and highly influential early poems – much imitated, never bettered – in this must-read collection of Tom Leonard’s poems 1965-2009, there were a number of late ones that came as a surprise to me. I dithered over which to pick, but have gone for this rare domestic and personal poem. Its radical simplicity, at once lyrical, angular and plain, could be by no one else.
I wrote this poem in the summer of 1996 and put it away in a drawer as being too personal to publish. About seven years later I decided it was reasonable to read the poem at readings then later it was published with Sonya’s consent: it is now included in my 2009 collection Outside the narrative: Poems 1965-2009.
Most times I compose on the computer but this poem was written longhand, sometimes I vary ways of writing just to give the Muse a coax. Regarding the early arrival of dawn in the poem, this will be because of Glasgow’s northern latitude that results in this during the summer.
A few drafts towards the poem are held by the National Library of Scotland manuscripts department which acquired them in 1997.