'Recovering Ground' poem in Northwords Now/Issue 44 Spring 2023

Recovering Ground


You will love again the stranger who was your self

Derek Walcott


When you come back to me

and call me by my name – Ruadh,

I can breathe freely


when you stay long enough

for stillness to settle,

I am unmuscled

in the softness of now.


Under a supple sky I rest

here where many places meet –

hawthorn and hill,

sea-loch and alder,

bog myrtle and river.


Under a supple sky I ache –

if I were the river this would feel like boulders moving

through the bed and breadth of me;if I were a fox denned in the earth

it would be the liquid dark of my eyes.


When you are close in like this,

and Ruadh slips off your tongue

I can dare to remember

the threat of snares laid

among the innocent trees,

I dare to remember how you left me,

skin bursting in bites of steel,

throat frozen, mouth foaming crimson.


You get an inkling don’t you –

familiar stranger,

of the agony of abandonment?


Between turns of ingrown rage

I get an inkling too,

of how sometimes exile is the only way.


You left me for the chase,

the taste of other women,

men, trees, beasts,

for blood and bark and pheromone,

for the potent draw of wounds

that won every time.


I understand a little.

I have hunkered down, I have waited.


I see fox now, how she weighs the seasons

soft-footed, outfoxing,

but is killed, again and again – cubs’ slow starvation,

senses pierce the dark,

hope snuffles against musky earth.


Under April showers

this welling of sadness

settles at new levels,

allows something else;

from the sun comes the hailstone,

from the rock comes the smile,

from the lungwort comes the longing

to hold, to be held, to be whole.


I badly want to touch you.


See how the colour of me runs off your tongue like rain.

In this spell we stroke each other into a tree,

hawthorn – heart tree – unmistakably.

Each curve, gnarl, whorl, exposed root,

contour of bark, telltale of moss

a story of eroticism, of form, of life.


There, in the living wood I see the

ruadh of winter fox, of trout spots,

of red-deer flank during the moult,

of eagle in dying light, in rising light.

I see the beauty of humanity –

the tenderness in fingertips

the faithful rise and fall of rib cage,

hearts feeding longing and fire

into kin and cultivation, art, and hearth.


I smell smoke. Hawthorn burns hottest.


Eyes deep in reflected flames

the tide calls to us,

draws us along stars of upturned roots,

through air cut by snipe,

past the heart-blur of duck flying off water,

pulls us to the river mouth,

confluence of fresh and saltwater.

We lie down by the high tide mark,

its utter integrity –

the rolling together of

oak and berry, feather and kelp.


I badly want to touch you.


Clasped in bivalves,

we open in a golden helplessness of delight,

we glitter, pecked to life by barnacles and beauty.

Laughter blossoms, blisters,

explodes between the sinking hills.


I badly want to touch you.


Stay with me now,

call me by my name, again and again

until I sink to sinew and decay

until maggots rove my rotting flesh

until I am a mass

heaving cheerfully to humus,

until I draw in the iridescent beetle,

until bluebells thread me with bee after bee

and we sing back our space

in the undivided nature of things,

until we lean in, wavelet by wavelet,

and we dare, lightly, to touch.



Footnote: ‘Ruadh’ the Scottish Gaelic for ‘dark-brownish red/wild/fierce/rough/strong’