There’s a man in you, his face like melted tallow,
for yours are the old words and yours the old
unusable, soot-grimed things. I spy you tonight,
one night from full, through a pair of cheap binoculars,
hauling up the mountainside your gong of chalk.
If there were a pond nearby upon whose surface
you might lean your subtle silver highness,
I would try to gaff and grapple you, out of courtesy,
for some nights there’s more bulge to the seas,
more reflectance from your coal-bright craterscape.
But tonight unreason separates from reason,
as oil from water, dark from light, bedspread
from blackout cloth, your reflection from yourself,
O creamy, scraped-out shell of a king crab caught
off a north-east sea-coal beach, no less a beach
for glittering black, its anthracitic curve laid
down along the length of my occluded early mind
at grandpa’s house in Newbiggin where at night
I heard the harbour bell clonk like a bell around
a black goat’s neck. O caprine sea! O grandpa dark!
There’s a moonlight man with cords of silk who binds
the destined together, but tonight my mind’s
undone, great turner-away, O whole of holes,
walnut of night! You turn the tides, so give me blisters,
burn my retinas, break my heart; prove by silence
that the mouth that speaks the moon should whisper.
The night is still. The stars are fixed.
You are the moon, your silver dress,
your disappearing constancy.
The night is still. The stars are fixed:
we move through phases of the flesh.
About this poem
This poem was included in the Best of the Best Scottish Poems, published in 2019. To mark the fifteenth anniversary of our annual online anthology Best Scottish Poems, the Library invited broadcaster, journalist and author James Naughtie to edit a ‘Best of the Best’ drawn from each of the annual editions of Best Scottish Poems.
Jacob Polley is one of the most exciting contemporary poets, and a thrilling reader of his own work. The tapestry of these words is rich and complex, lifted by flashes of dazzling colour. This is poetry of throbbing confidence, every turn and change of pace instinctively right. The plunge into an ‘undone’ mind contemplating the moon is startling and profound.
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2012. 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 2012 were Zoë Strachan and Louise Welsh.
Dark and gothic; one might be tempted to imagine Renfield by the asylum window at night, incanting an ode to the moon. But then we’re disconcerted by the ambivalent familiarity of ‘grandpa’s house at Newbiggin’ – this is a lot closer to home, and the moon moves us all through ‘phases of the flesh’.
1. To write a patchwork quilt.
2. A patchwork quilt can incorporate, hidden inside it, the scraps of paper that were the shapes and structures around which the fabric was cut – bits of newspaper, old love letters, brown paper.
3. To let pattern emerge, pattern that can’t be recognised until the scrap has established this pattern itself.
4. The moon is scrap.
5. My familiarity with the moon is a patchwork of knowing, needing, dreaming and making up.
6. Stitch-work is pattern and fastening.
7. The thing that holds together – thread, stitch-work, stitches – can both assert scrappiness, because it shows the joins, and establish, because it is a relic of gesture after repeated gesture, wholeness.
8. Even when it’s not full, the moon is whole.
9. The moon impresses its change and its fixedness on every night of our lives.
10. My life is scrap.
11. The moon is a needle, flashing through the interstices between waking.
12. I have no balance.
13. O is OK, right? Uh-oh. You ogling loony.
14. I sleep under the moon, like a quilt.