Ballad of the Clyde’s Water
The burr of the wind is seeping through the door,
pink stumps of rhubarb are breaking through the soil.
Though it is February I have the mind of autumn.
Though it is February ...
The upstairs baby is crying through the wall,
the bay tree at the window wagging its branches;
huddles of leaves, the wave of a green hand.
It is February.
You left your imprint on the bed —
I preserve it, light a candle,
sip saltwater to help my body cry.
I have visions of basking sharks,
great slow-moving shadows,
waning moons for tails —
females — come to birth in the Clyde.
I see babies in the night,
their blue-black eyes barely open,
mouths searching for their mother.
There is no hush where you are
but the endless shudder of waves,
thrum of seal and submarine,
the singing of seaweed
and algae-wrapped stone.
You will never rest, lie still, water blends
into every part of you, your heart engorged,
brain waterlogged, bones —
a creel for the fish.
My William lies dead.
His thick hair floating on the Clyde
is a bouquet of black tulips growing
out of the river.
Who will remember you but the body that birthed you.
Who will remember you but the clouds that swallowed you.
Who will remember you but the moon you threw sticks at.
Who will remember you but your double buried under the apple.
With a torch of burning wood I drain the river.
Who will remember you? Your death is forever.
When the time comes
I scratch your name on the back of a stone
and throw it into the Firth.
Because the river is a collector — it gathers relics from the living and the dead.
Because the river carries the elements out to a plastic sea.
Because the river cannot contain the warmth of your rough hands.
Because the river is a hospital corridor, swinging doors without end.
I have seen the rising of the Clyde, waves hurling,
thrashing the road. I have teased them as a girl,
turning as they whip my heels, rain riding my arms.
The Clyde is a dark horse permeating the mind,
carrying off trees, land, the moon,
and my son.
The Firth covered his face, his body sank to the maerl.
But where is he now? — The Kilbrannan Sound.
And now? — The Atlantic.
The house is flying around me.
I opened a window and watched him leave.
I ran a bath at the moment of his drowning.
As my body pushed him into this life
so I carried him back over the threshold.
How could I tell him not to go?
How could I tell him I saw it in a dream?
Ally bally, ally bally bee,
sittin’ on yer mammy’s knee
He came to the door like a flood,
the waters rising.
I was caught in the tsunami of a dream
when he came to the door;
my bed riding the waves.
He came while I was sleeping
though my hair sensed he was near.
In the stranglehold of drugged sleep
but I could not break free.
The Clyde came alive under an orchid moon
like a thousand white snakes
and caught him by the neck.
Thundering in his ears, burning in his lungs.
He is searching
for a silhouette on the riverbank
but finds none.
He is searching for the blood-sun,
break of dawn —
it does not come.
The sky withdraws like a car reversing
down a street, his arms outstretched
like an act of supplication.
I came to the Gantocks to find you, William,
I followed your footsteps in my mind.
I was caught in the red eye of a beacon, William,
I was caught in a double bind.
The Firth and sky meet in smoky blue, light cracking the mist,
the tired body of a pier slumped in the water;
my arm burning from your last touch.
At first the Clyde came up to my ankles,
then to my knees, my chin.
Your hat caught in the wild animal
of a piece of driftwood — with tusks,
a wooden tooth, a wooden tongue.
Fragile ripples now roll into nothing.
I watch a gull rising in you.
You had a witch for a mother, William,
I did too.
So now together we lie
in Clyde’s water
like brother and like sister.
And we shall sleep in Clyde’s water
like sister and like brother.
Through a closed door I spoke to him.
Through a closed door he thought I was my daughter.
Through a closed door I sent him away,
told him I had another.
The arms of the rowan are split,
they vibrate in the wind like a tuning fork
releasing pure tones
of sine and cosine — high pitched
like a keening mother.
For whom does she cry?
The berries are her daughters.
Plump, mushy hearts, multiplying —
there are so many of them,
each one star-kissed.
I carried a sprig with me —
bent the twigs into the shape of a cross
and sewed them into the lining of her coat.
The coat they found like a dog
washed up on the beach,
bearing no one.
May Margaret, May Margaret,
why did you go?
The waves of the Clyde inhabit you.
I talk to the water, listen
to the drumming of the crab.
I dress a doll in your baby clothes,
white bonnet, mittens —
sit it on my knee.
Greetin’ for a wee bawbee,
Tae buy some Coulter’s candy.