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Four Poems

Robin Robertson, 6 May 2004

... La Stanza delle Mosche The room sizzles in the morning sun. A tinnitus of flies throbs at the bright windows, butting and dunting the glass; one dings off the light, to the floor, vibrating blackly – pittering against the wall before taxi and take-off: another low moaning flight, another fruitless stab at the world outside. They drop on my desk, my hands, and spin their long deaths on their backs on the white tiles, like tiny humming tops that stop and start: badly-wired armatures, or (literally) flywheels, chasing their tails, first one way then the other – fizzling dervishes, whining to be stubbed out ...

Out in the Open

Robin Robertson, 25 May 2006

... after Tranströmer 1. Late autumn labyrinth. A discarded bottle lies at the entrance to the wood. Walk in. The forest in this season is a silent palace of abandoned rooms. Only a few, precise sounds: as if someone were lifting twigs with tweezers; as if, inside each tree-trunk, a hinge was creaking quietly. Frost has breathed on the mushrooms and they’ve shrivelled up; they are like the personal effects of the disappeared ...

Signs on a White Field

Robin Robertson, 18 October 2007

... The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon has woken the sealed lake, leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind, just curved plates of air re-shaping under the trap-ice, straining to give; the groans and rumbles like someone shifting heavy tables – or something gigantic turning to get comfortable. I snick a stone over the long sprung deck to get the dobro’s glassy note, the crying slide of a bottleneck, its tremulous ululation to the other shore ...

The Coming God

Robin Robertson, 13 September 2012

... after Nonnus Horned child, double-born into risk, guarded by satyrs, centaurs, raised by the nymphs of Nysa, by the Hyades: here he was, the toddler, Dionysus. He cried ‘Daddy!’ stretching up to the sky, and he was right and clever, because the sky was Zeus his father, reaching down. As he grew, he learned to flit through other forms; he’d become a newborn kid, shivering in the corner, his soft pink skin suddenly the pelt of a goat and the goat bleating, his hands and feet now taking their first steps on tottering hooves ...

Two Poems

Robin Robertson, 20 July 2000

... The Language of Birds The sides of the hill are stubbed with fire-pits. The sky is paraffin blue. A pigeon’s heart swings here on the kissing-gate, withered, stuck through with pins, while out on the estuary, beaks of birds needle to the wind’s compass, the sky’s protocol. Swans go singing out to sea; the weather is changing cold.                             * In the elm above me, a magpie chuckles and turns the magic wand of itself away, towards the light ...

Two Poems

Robin Robertson, 7 February 2013

... The God Who Disappears after Nonnus Born to a life of dying, the boy-god’s first death came when he could barely crawl, the budding horns just there, nudged among curls, as he played on the floor with his toys: a knuckle-bone, ball and spinning top, golden apples, a tuft of wool, and on his other side, the thunderbolts of Zeus. They entered the throne-room’s dark, their round faces smeared with chalk into pale moons, and they slid forward, drawing their hungry knives ...

At Roane Head

Robin Robertson, 14 August 2008

... for John Burnside You’d know her house by the drawn blinds – by the cormorants pitched on the boundary wall, the black crosses of their wings hung out to dry. You’d tell it by the quicken and the pine that hid it from the sea and from the brief light of the sun, and by Aonghas the collie, lying at the door where he died: a rack of bones like a sprung trap ...

Two Poems

Robin Robertson, 24 August 2000

... The Long Home I hadn’t been back in twenty years and he was still here, by the fire, at the far end of the longest counter in Aberdeen – some say Scotland. Not many in, and my favourite time: the dog-watch; the city still working, its tortoiseshell light just legible in the smoked windows, and through the slow delay of glass the flutter of the streetlights batting into life ...

Asterion and the God

Robin Robertson, 1 November 2001

... nec enim praesentior illo est deus Asterion, his name is, King of Stars. Some joke of his father’s, who now stables him here in these spiralled halls, this walled-up palace, where shame cries itself to sleep. Where is my mother? Why has she left me here alone? This is a house of many corners but only one room, made of stone. I live inside this stone ...

In Easgann Wood

Robin Robertson, 18 February 2016

... For Don Paterson Rain works the road; its grey hand passing over and over, in waves: lashing, stotting down. A stour-wind’s in the trees, churning their heads, and the sky’s full of leaves and the sky is raging: it will not subside and will not cease, and will not be consoled. As thunder brings the toads so rain draws worms from the ground, the rapt god to this bedroom window, this house of panic, of closed mouths, a bird trapped in every room ...


Robin Robertson, 8 September 2011

... In this bled landscape wind moves through the desert bones, fluting their white notes. * Wildfires sweep the hills, jump the highways. Outside town fence-posts are burning. * The guns go one way, drugs go the other, over the desert border. * There’s crystal meth, coke, PCP, smack; after that Tipp-Ex, gasoline. * In Juárez tonight three decapitados hang from the Bridge of Dreams ...

Beyond Dubh-Chladach

Robin Robertson, 23 May 2019

... spring flowers – marsh marigolds, buttercups, pansies, primroses, silverweed, vetch, ragged-robin, yellow rattle, eyebrights, thrift. It was a false spring, though, that year; the cold held on, deep-rooted in the ground. We walked a lit candle three times round the crib; washed him three times in saltwater, passed him three times over the fire, but saw ...

The Flaying of Marsyas

Robin Robertson, 28 April 1994

... nec quicquam nisi vulnus erat (Ovid, Metamorphoses, VI, 388) I A bright clearing. Sun among the leaves, sifting down to dapple the soft ground, and rest a gilded bar against the muted flanks of trees. In the flittering green light the glade listens in and breathes. A wooden pail; some pegs, a coil of wire; a bundle of steel flensing knives. Spreadeagled between two pines, hooked at each hoof to the higher branches, tied to the root by the hands, flagged as his own white cross, the satyr Marsyas hangs ...

March, Lewisboro

Robin Robertson, 19 August 1999

... The estate at dawn hangs like smoke; the forest drawn in grainy bands of smeared, cross-hatched, illegible trees: a botched photocopy of itself. Swamp maple, sugar maple, red and white oak; first light lifts the pale yellow flare of a beech tree’s papery leaves. Where are you going? What on earth’s the time? A salting of snow, blown across the white table of the lake: thrown leaves scrape and scratch the hard new surface, to be fluked away, in another gust, like cards ...

Inside Tobar na Marbh

Robin Robertson, 5 December 2019

... for Maggie FergussonFour years old, I was, when her thrawn mood finally snapped.‘What you staring at? That daft face on you.You’re always gawking, always querious.Watch the wind doesn’t change, or you’ll stay like that…’So I stayed and watched the wind so long I became it;became it, for its very changing.My sklent eye took in everything –the fear, the wonder of this world:the haughland; the simmer dim; that broken birdlike a furtive Christ, moving, in the half-light, tree to tree;the fox on the beach, the deer at gaze, the bite of fireat the gorse-field; the way men passed the deadthrough a hole they’d made in the wall, then closed it fastagainst the soul returning ...

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