Full March moon and gale-force easters, the pair of them
sucking and shoving the river
back into its closet in the hills – or trying to. Naturally
the dykes failed, the town’s last fishing boat
raved at the pier-head, then went down; diesel-
corrupted water cascaded into front-yards, coal-holes, garages,
and there’s naethin ye can dae,
said the old boys, the sages, which may be true, but river –
what have you left us? Evidence of an inner life, secrets
of your estuarine soul hawked halfway
up Shore Street, up East and Mid Shore – and arrayed
in swags all through the swing-park: plastic trash and broken reeds,
driftwood, bust TVs . . .
and a salmon,
dead, flung beneath the see-saw, the crows are onto at once.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. 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 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.
This is the second from a set of poems called ‘Five Tay Sonnets’ which appeared in Edinburgh Review and which will feature in Jamie’s forthcoming collection. Like Pippa Little’s poem presented here, this is a loose sonnet with lots of line variations and it has interesting enjambment which infects the rhythms of the poem.
I’ve been living beside the Tay for fifteen years, just where it widens into the Firth. It’s a massive event in the landscape. It’s tidal; so sometimes there are long shining sandbanks exposed, sometimes, at very high tides, it floods. I’d never written about the river, but then I did, in a sudden series of five ‘sonnets’ of which this is second. There was an exceptional tide, a flood, a lot of detritus and groups of townspeople went down to watch the drama, myself included. I just arranged what I saw and heard. I like the energy of these sonnets (I use the term loosely) and hoped for more, but after the five, none came. I’ve heard it said that ‘Tay’ means ‘silent’; so that’s appropriate.