Just because death came
close enough to feel its non-breathing
and then stepped back,
you are no matador.
The blackness does not charge
in some bullring
but waits in yoghurt pot and coffee cup,
tapping the fingernails.
The reprieve papers are not signed.
Stand at the cliff’s edge.
Watch great birds
rest their easy weight on the north wind.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2016. 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 2016 was Catherine Lockerbie.
I read many poems about illness, ageing and approaching death in making this selection – poetry naturally lends itself to such meditative ruminations. The multi-talented Alison Prince, novelist and biographer as well as poet, has written a deeply personal collection of pieces on her own mortality. 'Reprieve' considers the fragile border between life and death with elegance, restraint and acceptance.