I tasted brine on the air
the moment before I saw them;
it was like learning to swallow again
without shuddering after the caravan
had brought oysters to our desert:
they were out of place, out of time,
muscular yet feathery, straight-
talking and winging it. You had to take them
with a pinch of salt though news got around.
No wonder the men of Sodom
wanted to sleep with them:
season their palate with something
When I peered
back through the blindness,
the fire and the brimstone,
it was me I tasted on the desert air.
I stiffened and swallowed hard.
Ruth stands in the field and sees that it is hot and hard and dry,
feels she must not stop, say ‘No’ to Naomi,
who chafes her dead son’s wife: ‘Turn again,
go back; I’ve no more sons in my barren womb for you to marry’.
‘No’, Ruth says, and bends to gather up stray
barley heads that lie like individual bells,
notes lost as the harvest’s hum is baled
in neighbours’ barns. She works all day
careful of all that falls away,
then places her basket on the threshing floor:
at first she sees a simple glean of corn,
of grain, a glean of yellow thyme and wheat,
but as she stares a shoal of herring
weaves the wicker, dark glass glints,
brass shavings gleam, she sees
in part and finds her tongue.
‘Where you go, I will go’, she says to Naomi,
turns to the owner of the field,
proposes marriage, feels the kick of David
jump up the weir of generations,
the King who will love Jonathon
and the endless line of women who will give birth to God.
When I was a girl, each time I turned
a corner there was a rustling, as if
someone had just left. It was hard
to wait until I could be spoken to,
and terrifying when the child took root
in a bed no man had visited.
It was hard to wed an old man
just because his gift of withered branches
bloomed on the alter that I served,
harder still when I noticed how the calm,
distracted boy always looked right past me
to the sunlight at the window.
He was the quietist activist I’ve ever known;
love was a miracle for him; to me
it was real, even when he noticed I was there
and turned aside. He preferred men,
ate and laughed and slept with them.
I feared for him, placed my hands like wings
upon his head. He shrugged them off
and after supper, in a local park,
they arrested him. It was hard
to see his fine, emaciated face
when I stood beside the bier
with the disciple that he loved.
Och, Mary just stares up at him, like, with her big
rabbit eyes. But there's pots and pans to be cleaned
isn't there and feet to wash and corpses to lay out;
I bustle round him and he tells me you're an awful bustler
Martha; — he remembered my name! — asks me if I think
my brother Lazarus will rise again; he'll rise again
on the day of judgement, says I; says he, I am
the resurrection and the life; says I, well help me
resurrect this bucket for the well. It has a hole in it
and Lazarus will need a bloody good wash
when you've finished with him, there's a dear.
What I remember is a terrible dream;
of something hanging nearby, above me,
just to the right and I couldn't look up.
There was blood. The whiteness was tremendous.
What I remember is that I was weeping,
that I turned to the gardener — who looked like
my husband — and cried that the body had gone.
He told me to look inside, to look within:
two words, so I think he meant my inside.
I tried but could not find it. Their questions
never stop and I feel my bones going off
to preach on their own, each one with a slightly
different story. Some days I put on my red dress,
sit with my alabaster jar, to bring it all back;
even the sins. They write it all down.
But what good will that do? 'Scratch that.'
‘Start again’, was his favourite saying.
He didn't bleed.
The whiteness is tremendous.
Heartwood in softwood thought of Adam
and the chair back he gave the young gardener.
Sapwood in softwood remembered the shadow
cast by the apple on bark; springwood,
too young to recall much at all, imagined
the coming and going under the palm tree
at Timnah and corewood still felt the essential
pain of being bush in a world thinking itself
divine. Latewood allowed a final
sparrow to take its last blood red berry.
Then they shrugged and began to concentrate
on cell length, wall thickness, cellulose crystallinity.
Between them they wove their own myths
about moisture and fire, never took earth for granted.
[David Kinloch is from Glasgow and is the author of five books of poetry including the recent Finger of a Frenchman (Carcanet, 2011). He is currently Reader in Poetry at the University of Strathclyde where he teaches Creative Writing and Scottish Literature. A past recipient of the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Award, he co-founded and co-edited Verse for many years, established the Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition and has been instrumental in setting up the new Scottish Writers’ Centre.]
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