In the manuscript, the verses
are written out on pages washed
with subtle colour, aquamarine, coral, peach.
The artist worked with a crafty hand
and picked out this one word in blue:
On the gold-flecked page
an insect has bitten through
the edge of story.
Silverfish, I hope you relished
that sliver of gilt.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2020. 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 2020 was Janette Ayachi.
This poem for its simplicity, its generosity with white space; for its hunger for history, for old worlds and older languages, for the suspense of frailty in the undertow of each, until it is so suddenly consumed, the act is almost invisible to the eye. Also, for its visual essence on the page, for the words basking in imaginary calligraphy and mystical colour. The poem sates itself, and the reader need not hunt or chase anything, just as the silverfish, nibbling away at its meaning, consumes to swim so to gear towards more plentiful waters.
‘Story’ was part of a series of eleven poems gifted to the Queen, my response to an exhibition of Mughal art organised by the Royal Collections Trust and shown at Holyrood. I was taken in to the Royal Library in Windsor Castle to see the art in the collection, centuries of ‘gifts’ from Empire. The miniatures were delicate, with their own lineage of skill, and made me think about what is taken and what is freely given, what is intended or understood by the giver of the gift and the taker, who gets to tell the story and who consumes it. It was moving to see those pages touched by the artists’ hands and the image of the nibbled page stayed with me.