The sound down low, the impossible blue
of the Water Cube in Beijing filling the screen.
A young diver stands on the board,
toes spread wide, heels edged over the brink.
His ribcage billows out and in as he lifts
his arms into an arrowhead.
I take my daughter and hold her close,
hug her to me until I don’t know where
my body ends and hers begins – as stream
joins river, river meets sea – until we are
back where we started; the aqueous cradle
I know neither of us can ever really leave.
Headlights send their beams across the ceiling.
Back in Beijing, the boy arcs through air,
spinning like a bobbin on a loom.
Slices the water with hardly a splash.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2013. 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 2013 was David Robinson.
I read this as a poem about the depth of maternal love, which always comes with an awareness of separation, as inevitable as gravity. Right now, though, the mother is close to her daughter, emotionally and physically, in ‘the aqueous cradle I know neither of us can really leave’. The balance between these two forces is contained within the poem yet not portentously: it also works as just a snapshot of the weary, loving, dislocated nights of parenthood.
This poem was written on 29th August 2008 and first published in Gutter 01 in the autumn of 2009. My initial draft is titled ‘The Hug’ and this simple, intimate act of communication between parent and child remains firmly at the core of the final poem. I remember that goodbye hug well, the huge swell of emotion, the sheer physical pain of separation as I bid farewell to my firstborn child; she had just turned 18 and was leaving home to spend a year living in Barcelona. This took place at about 4a.m. and of course the Olympics were being broadcast that year from China, mainly in the middle of the night. The diver, Tom Daley, was taking part in his first Olympics, aged just 14. The poem affirms that however much we may coddle and cosset our children as 21st-Century parents in the West, they are perhaps capable of more than we expect from them. We only hope that we have loved them well enough to prepare them for the leap into the unknown that adulthood entails.