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New Poems – Robin Robertson – Scottish Review of Books
by Robin Robertson

New Poems – Robin Robertson

November 10, 2009 | by Robin Robertson

Cat, Failing

A figment, a thumbed maquette of a cat, some ditched plaything, something brought in from outside:
his white fur stiff and grey, coming apart at the seams.

I study the muzzle
of perished rubber, one ear eaten away, his sour body lumped like a bean-bag leaking thinly
into a grim towel. I sit
and watch the light
degrade in his eyes.

He tries and fails
to climb to his chair, shirks
in one corner of the kitchen, cowed, denatured, ceasing to be anything like a cat,
and there’s a new look
in those eyes
that refuse to meet mine
and it’s the shame of being found out. Just that.

And with that
loss of face
his face, I see,
has turned human.

A Gift

She came to me in a dress
of true-love and blue rocket,
with fairy-thimbles of foxglove
at the neck and wrist,
in her hair she wore a garland
of cherry laurel, herb bennet, dwayberries and yew-berries, twined with stems of clematis, and at her throat she’d threaded twists of bryony stalk, seeds
of meadow saffron and laburnum, linked simply in a necklace,
and she was holding out
a philtre of water lovage,
red chamomile and ladies’ seal
in a cup, for me to drink.


What is he to think now,
the white scut
of her bottom
down the half-flight
carpet stair
to the bathroom?

What is he to do
with this masted image?

He put all his doubt
to the mouth of her long body,
let her draw the night
out of him like a thorn.

She touched it, and it moved: that’s all.

My Girls

How many times
have I lain alongside them
willing them to sleep
after the same old stories;
face to face, hand in hand,
till they smooth into dream and I can slip these fingers free
and drift downstairs:
my face a blank,
hands full of deceit.


Tune to the frequency of the wood and you’ll hear the deer, breathing; a muscle, tensing; the sigh
of a fieldmouse under an owl. Now

listen to yourself – that friction – the push-and-drag, the double pulse, the drum. You can hear it, clearly. You can hear the sound of your body, breaking down.

If you’re very quiet, you might pick up loss: or rather the thin noise that losing makes – perdition.

If you’re absolutely silent

and still, you can hear nothing
but the sound of nothing: this voice
and its wasting, the soul’s tinsel. Listen… Listen…


It wasn’t meant to be that way.

I never expected it to shoot so hard
it blinded me: I’d wanted to watch
the way it went. The pumping-out not like coming at all, more like emptying
a bottle: blacking out
a little more with every pulse.

I just felt light and very cold at the end, astonished at how much red there was and my wrist so white.


The sudden sea is bright
and soundless: a changed channel of dashed colour, scrolling plankton, sea-darts, the slope and loom of ghosts, something slow and grey
sashaying through a school
of cobalt blue,
thin chains of silver fish
that link and spill and flicker away.

The elements imitate each other: water-light playing on these stones becomes a shaking flame; sunlight stitches the rock-weed’s rust and green, swaying, sea-wavering; one red
twist scatters a shoal like a dust of static – a million tiny shocks of white dissolving in the lower depths.

The only sound
is the sea’s mouth and the ticking
of the many mouths
that feed within it, sipping the light.

Dreaming high over the sea-forest
– the sea-bed green as a forest floor – through the columns of gold
and streams of water-weed,
above a world in thrall,
charting by light
as a plane might glide,
slowly, silently
over woods in storm.

Hammersmith Winter

It is so cold tonight; too cold for snow,
and yet it snows. Through the drawn curtain shines the snowlight I remember as a boy, sitting up at the window watching it fall. But you’re not here, now, to lead me back
to bed. None of you are. Look at the snow,
I said, to whoever might be near, I’m cold, would you hold me. Hold me. Let me go.

From this Issue

A Half-Wit Hero

by Allan Massie

Old and New Makars

by WN Herbert

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