As light dims, I take my shaver outside
to trim my holiday beard. The grey drifts
down to tinder-dry grasses; the small blades
chirr like insects as my blind hand sifts
through the stubble. That’s when my wife appears
and sees at once something else we can share.
In tending each wanton bristle, she blanks
out all but the job at hand. A car roars
through the vineyards; a dog barks. The leaves
rattle in the almost breeze, while I lean
forward like an old man in surrender.
There was stubble behind his blue jaw-line
my father always missed. His late kisses
exposed it when, trusting in her answer,
he tipped his face towards my mother. His mask
briefly hovers in the warm evening air.
Between my face and it, my wife’s sweet breath
travels the blind trajectory of love.
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.
Fine poems celebrating the loyalty and endurance of married love are not common. The pitfalls – smugness, sentimentality, embarrassment – are evident. But not here. The scene is simple; the mutual moment underscored by memory and mortality – and what else is marriage? The poem’s form, its subtle and shifting partial rhymes, help ward off any self-indulgence. The poem feels at once natural and made, as it should.
I wrote Spanish Shaving after the publication of Landscapes and Legacies (2003). Clearly it had no place in my next full collection, Dear Alice – Narratives of Madness (2008), so it had to wait till 2009 to be included as one of the new poems in my In The Becoming – New and Selected Poems. I feel it sits well in this context, as the general themes of the New Poems are love, death and the sweetness of life. The closing lines of ‘The Walnut Gatherers’, which precedes it, are:
Per il dolce. How right on such a day
to make time for sweetness: to mark presence,
sunlight, silence, with the rhythmic
click of walnut on walnut.
I think the narrative of Spanish Shaving is very clear. I am shaving, blindly, outside, when my wife decides to help me. It becomes a ritual that enforces submission and reflection on times past and times to come. I wanted both that intimacy, but also the sense of figures in a landscape – the soft, falling half-rhymes of evening.