We’ve been playing unobserved
in the old brickyard, a place abandoned
to its toy-town railway, rusty iron tubs.
Slick clay-sided pits have filled
with water. We give them names,
as if to protect ourselves from harm.
They say a woman once fell in, a boy
found a dead baby there. We’re unsure
what’s true, what’s said to frighten us.
Then we’re almost home, lingering
in the unmown field behind the house,
sulky, fearful of being found out.
Our bodies press grass flat, the way
I’m told hares make their forms
in fields: shallow, too easily erased.
Breathing seeds and stems, I see
we’ve made an outline in the grass,
the space a little rowing boat would fill.
All four of us can comfortably
lie between its sides, summer’s
dry sea waving above our heads.
I’m unafraid to leave the place
behind, to think there may not
be a boat when I come back.
I have learned a thing can both exist and not exist;
I understand I have created for myself
this boat, and that I’m sailing in it.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2021. 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 for 2021 was Hugh McMillan.
A wonderfully wistful and lingering poem. The poet captures the child’s eye view of the world, with its insecurity and fear, and also its sense of mystery and magic. The image of the grass boat is a powerful and all encompassing one: the voyage we must all make, in the vessel we all create. Forster’s understated imagery, tight structure and the memorable final image make this a truly effective piece.
This poem is almost a direct transcription of a memory from when I was perhaps six or seven years old. I can’t have been more than that, because we moved from the places I mention in the poem when I was eight. All the details were there, simply to be recalled and shaped. It records a moment when I became aware, in a way painfully, but with a feeling of private excitement, that I saw something that my companions did not, and that this experience was to be valued and that it would be significant for me in the future. ‘Sailing’ in this context means to capture, to breathe life into an observation or an experience.