It’s 1 a.m. and someone’s knocking
at sleep’s old, battered door – and who
could it be but this boy I love,
calling for me to come out, into
the buckthorn field of being awake –
and so I go, finding him there
no longer talking – but now crying
and crying, wanting to be held;
but shhh, what did you want to show
that couldn’t wait until the morning?
Was it the moon – because I see it:
the first good bead on a one-bead string;
was it the quiet – because I owned it,
once – but found I wanted more.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2019. 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 2019 was Roseanne Watt.
Noctuary, Niall Campbell’s second collection with Bloodaxe Books, is a word which means ‘a diary of the night’, and here we witness Campbell’s fluency in that strange language of the small hours, a lexicon which many new parents are familiar with. Campbell’s carefully-crafted lyricism acquires the tender quality of a lullaby in this poem, seeming to occupy a place somewhere at the edge of dreaming and rising, that ‘buckthorn field of being awake’.
New parenthood is a strange dream. Everything exists in a haze of tiredness and emotion. The kettle is always boiling. This poem was written in that first stretch of parenthood – the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award had allowed me to leave work and immerse myself in this new way of life. It’s not a life that allows the most time for actually writing – but somehow some poems were written. Micro-sleeps, washings, tiny vests on the heater. Every memory of that period seems to take place at night-time. The world was a series of dreams and waking-ups – and on top of this a new emotional life was beginning.