“The shame of our island” and other poems by Siobhán Campbell

The shame of our island

is that we killed the wolf.
Not just the last
but the two before that.

I knew a man who met a man
who was the cousin removed
of the great-grandson of the man
who killed the third-last wolf
on the island.

Slit it he did,
to see the steaming innards –
how long they were, how tightly wound.

Had it a white paw to the fore?
That gene would have been recessive.
Was there a black bar across the yellow eye?
No time to notice its différence.

Is this a wolf with its bared teeth
and its lairy smell
and its fetlock tipped with white?

Is this wolfish?

 

Tone

Tone says here is the other cheek, why don’t you have a go at that?
Tone is when you’re giggling at a double bluff and you see someone crying.
Tone is an artist dropping a Ming vase and calling that art. Tone is another
artist slashing that guy’s canvas, calling him a fart. Tone is muscling up to
the Peace People, they don’t have a mandate for peace. Tone sings a Satanic
mass in the civic center, where tone agrees to use vinegar for urine.
Tone is an author in search of a character able to roll tone home from the bank.
Tone wants a reader in tune with the tone that is there and the one that is not.
Tone is peeling an orange in its pocket so the smell will madden, building
a bungalow on your eyelid with an overlook to the back. Tone is a weasel,
drawing the birds down with a special sensuous dance and then, tone is lunch.

Nothing trumps tone but when there’s a crack in it, watch what slips in.
It might be an anti-tone – undoing bravura, dulling the gloss, leaving tone spent,
in a fierce bad mood, exposed in the light of all that we once thought we shared.

 

Weeding

When you weed a field, bend over the long root suckers,
the weeders moving in a line across the ridges,
a stippled human stripe of inclined heads against
the ordered rippling rows of mangels,
then the world seems right and we are in our place.

When you refuse to weed and hang out with a friend
under the dreeping willow in the bend that is not ploughed
where no grass grows over the stones and what is buried,
you watch the workers easing themselves to night,
its shadow keeps ahead of them as they cross.

Then you might think of sacrifice or the greater good
but you don’t, flirty with heat as heat leaves the day
and you separate, seeing things anew, filthy
with possibility. It’s too late now to join the weeding crew.
And the willow laughs its long thin laugh at you.

 

Quickthorn

Don’t bring haw into the house at night
or in any month with a red fruit in season
or when starlings bank against the light,
don’t bring haw in. Don’t give me reason
to think you have hidden haw about you.
Tucked in secret, may its thorn thwart you.
Plucked in blossom, powdered by your thumb,
I will smell it for the hum of haw is long,
its hold is low and lilting. If you bring
haw in, I will know you want me gone
to the fairies and their jilting. I will know
you want me buried in the deep green field
where god knows what is rotting.

 

Photos of the islanders

They have forebears. Noses and foreheads
forged in the art of fact.
They have seen a daughter wither from ill use,
prayed for her, sent bread to her funeral.

There’s a welcome stapled to their tongue
and they count your leavings when you’re gone.
       What we make now must get us through the winter.

What do they see when they look out —
a one who says they are still married to belief,
a one who thinks they are mired in a falsehood?

Is the split at the picture edge
an implication? That they neither do
nor undo.

*

Poverty Isolation Tradition
Pressure comes in threes.
Devout in practice, loved by an unnamed god,
who will they be today?

Who will they be today?
Masked by the strip of archetype.
Life as a scene of foreshadows.

*

He wears the dagger tattoo of his father
and his cap, and like him can
twist his eyes into his head
leaving the whites behind.

Losses eddy in lines about the mouth
and when he sits, because his father asks
to help repair the trawl,
he is tamed in the fray of its knots.

*

A line of men along a wall
each of them matched by a pine behind.
They sit and the dry wall presses back
a heritable skill, plucking and picking
by sight and feel. Wall-making by touch.

One has a hat with ribbon bands,
the dandy among them –
equally protected and despised.

They share the hill behind until they die
thinking it is theirs.

*

clearing stones the first peoples made the fields
and on nights with a red dusk you can hear them ease
the pain of strained backs, too much bend
how three feet takes a whole night to clear
how the wall begins at the edge with what they sling
the wall begins to keep something in

if you follow a heifer she will show you where there’s a spring of fresh water
not everything is old wives’ tales

*

just what would fill the head of a goat
we know the fleet of its feet
the bass of its baa
the burr on its coat

when we know the fleet of its feet
the burr of its baa
the bass of its burr
how to turn on a goat
look it square in the eyes
the dare of it

disrespect in the pupil

it can be slit before its hoary time
the flat black capsule of the pupil

slit and hung before its hoary time
how to better a goat
we’ve passed this down

the only way is to make a pipe we play
from the sac of its udder
then blow a melody out of her

a mournful lament is the only way
to get the better of a goat

is the way we put a pipe in its udder
 then finger a melody

put in the pipe
   put in the pipe and squeeze a music from the teats

 

Piebald

Horses of the others,
the thinkers, the travellers,
tethered on the edge of new dual carriageways,
tied in the blank side of advance factories.
They verge on the flanks of dealers and shakers
where plans end in a thicket of rubble and stumps.
What are they for?

A yelled canter down the scruff-sides of dusty villages,
barebacked warmth sidling
and a hearts-beating thud between your knees –
where mis-remembrance is a dream to nourish,
where promise can out-run irony.
Not the hero horses, beauties black and brave,
who took the warrior to battle and will not return,
these are compromised, misled and confused,
heads too big for their ribcage, scrawny as the
screed of grass they pull.

Yet they must have been there from the start –
round the back of wired-off ruminations.
We pretended not to notice the occasions
when they recalled a field,
the hock-stripping speed of a gallop down a long hedge
where a quiver of legends misted into song
but when they started to gather
in places built to house a desperation,
they seemed to trick our vision of a freedom.

That was a world we lost before it named us –
none of the promise, the clang
of potential,
instead the fetters that hold us to self-interest
the binds that make taxes out of failure.
That was a world lost before we named it,
part of a larger undertaking
to help us understand captivity.
Go back, go back they seem to say
but we have no direction,
rounding again the ring road to the city
as if we know the story behind the story.

The shame of our island and other poems are © Siobhan Campbell
From Heat Signature (Seren, 2016) and Cross Talk (Seren, 2010)

Siobhán Campbell’s latest collection is Heat Signature – ‘poems that give us an insight into alternative ways of being… a poet invested in words as a powerful social currency.’ (Compass Magazine). Previous books include Cross-Talk (Seren), The Permanent Wave and The Cold that Burns (Blackstaff Press) and chapbooks That water speaks in tongues (Templar) and Darwin Among the Machines (Rack Press). She is co-editor of Eavan Boland: Inside History, (Arlen House/SUP) and critical work appears in Making Integral: the poetry of Richard Murphy (CUP) and in The Portable Poetry Workshop (Palgrave). In 2016 she was awarded the Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize which follows awards in the Templar Poetry Prize and the National and Troubadour International competitions. Siobhan is on faculty at The Open University, UK. Anthologised widely including in the Forward Book of Poetry, Women’s Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English, Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets and The Golden Shovel Anthology: Honouring Gwendolyn Brooks, she publishes in magazines including Poetry, The Southern Review, Magma and Agenda.

website: www.siobhancampbell.com
twitter: www.twitter.com/@poetrySiobhan

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