after The White Road, Edmund De Waal
When clay makes something for itself
it goes for a cliff just slightly to scale
no leaping carp or calligraphic crane.
No arch of melting cobalt,
no drench of cobalt rain. In a fairy-tale,
a boy squeezed a pebble
until it ran milk.
Traverse this snowpack and the details blur
wrists crawling with midges
as you clamber
over its fat, white belly,
treading out the whey.
Count to sixty.
Into the opposite of ribs and spurs,
slip crawls secretly.
Dear mud trickles into blind caves,
climbing the growing ladders of itself,
a growth spurt losing momentum.
This is how we entertain our Shadow.
How stone moves in to stake a claim in the valley
a silk invasion, oblique, polite
as the please and thankyou
of stalagmite and stalactite –
until the mould is full as an egg.
Is the wind fat with rain? Count fifty
if it comes from the North
with the North’s terrible thirst, a prospector’s wind
a dry blade whetted
with the scent of walrus.
It licks the mould.
The thirsty plaster sucks up slip.
The clay is fattening the form
soft keys rusting in every lock,
light growing in every shadow.
Now with a Jersey slosh,
milkmaid it into the bucket.
Let the wind lick dry the mould.
winces from negative
a thin skin tearing
like a turtle’s egg
The burn runs right off the peat-hill
and under the porcelain cliff.
Even when there hasn’t been rain
it runs fast and strong and brown and deep
reliable as a vein
clearing its throat
Dust is curious.
Dust is thirsty.
Dust is watching you outside
It silts your broken tributaries –
lifeline and loveline –
wanting to plus up every minus,
clothing your lung-tree with brittle bark,
putting weight on the apples
of your alveoli,
doing what it is made to do
quenching its thirst
filling a form.
Thanks for turning the water off. Instead
of swallowing the tapeworm of the snowy M6
I too opened a cave of making with just two little hooks
painted white to keep bad guys
out at night and dreams.
Dentists you scrape and vibrate
the open mouth of the side of the house
Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba A-
in speech like a Northerner, like a silty river ‘will you do me a favour gonna get me some nails?’
Two crows peer through the skylight putting me
in mind of audience. A bang like a drum
reveals you’re in the hall, calling Hellowww –
Hellowww you’ve cracked us open like an old lion’s mouth
and I have opened something too.
You’re carrying bricks, beams, a tune, a joke.
I a pail of slip, heavy as a house.
We are both beginning to make something you
a lion-tamer prising
open the old house’s jaws
Clay ties itself
in knots for you.
Pots as thick as a hangover.
Migraine bowls that spin and ring.
Clay has no idea
what it’s making.
Innocent of commission,
it knuckles down
to knead itself.
From clay we learn to lose our train of thought
in satin whirlpools’ marbling weight
– what was I saying?
with our bare hand
The form drops from its mould when it’s ripe,
like a fruit faithful
to every damage
done, each scratch a raised scar
each bubblet of air a rash
The impression is faithful.
Bruised like the ur-apple in a golden sleeve of ice.
Smooth plunge into the vortex of the stem
the place it ends and begins again –
crush each like a turtle’s egg
melt stone into the milk it’s made of.
About this poem
This poem was written as part of ‘The Blue Crevasse’ project, which marks the centenary of W.S. Graham in 2018. The image of a blue crevasse famously appears in W.S. Graham’s poem ‘Malcolm Mooney’s Land’, and the author’s estate welcomed the idea of creating a similar metaphorical space where admirers of the poet might, in a sense, be lowered for a month’s solitary ‘residency’.