The Overhaul

The Overhaul

by Kathleen Jamie


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Winner of the 2012 Costa Poetry Award, the latest collection by Kathleen Jamie, "the leading Scottish poet of her generation" (The Sunday Times)

See when it all unravels—the entire project

reduced to threads of moss fleeing a nor'wester;

d'you ever imagine chasing just one strand, letting it lead you

to an unsung cleft in a rock, a place you could take to,

dig yourself in—but what are the chances of that?

Of the birds,

few remain all winter; half a dozen waders

mediate between sea and shore, that space confirmed—don't laugh—by your own work.

—from "Materials"

The Overhaul continues Kathleen Jamie's lyric inquiry into the aspects of the world our rushing lives elide, and even threaten. Whether she is addressing birds or rivers, or the need to accept loss, or, sometimes, the desire to escape our own lives, her poetry is earthy and rigorous, her language at once elemental and tender. The Overhaul is a midlife book of repair, restitution, and ultimately hope—of the wisest and most worldly kind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555977023
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Publication date: 02/17/2015
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 5.48(w) x 8.19(h) x 0.23(d)

About the Author

Kathleen Jamie's poetry collections have received the Costa Poetry Award, the Forward Prize for Poetry, and the Scottish Book of the Year Award. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, Findings and Sightlines. She lives in Fife, Scotland.

Read an Excerpt

The Overhaul


By Kathleen Jamie

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2012 Kathleen Jamie
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-702-3


    The Beach

    Now this big westerly's
    blown itself out,
    let's drive to the storm beach.

    A few brave souls
    will be there already,
    eyeing the driftwood,

    the heaps of frayed
    blue polyprop rope,
    cut loose, thrown back at us –

    What a species –
    still working the same
    curved bay, all of us

    hoping for the marvellous,
    all hankering for a changed life.

    The Dash

    Every mid-February
    those first days arrive
    when the sun rises
    higher than the Black
    Hill at last. Brightness
    and a crazy breeze
    course from the same airt –
    turned clods gleam, the trees'
    topmost branches bend
    shivering downwind.
    They chase, this lithe pair
    out of the far south
    west, and though scalding
    to our wintered eyes
    look, we cry, it's here

    Five Tay Sonnets

    1. OSPREYS

    You'll be wondering why you bothered: beating
    up from Senegal, just to hit a teuchit storm –
    late March blizzards and raw winds – before the tilt

    across the A9, to arrive, mere
    hours apart, at the self-same riverside
    Scots pine, and possess again the sticks and fishbones
    of last year's nest: still here, pretty much
    like the rest of us – gale-battered, winter-worn,
    half toppled away ...

    So redd up your cradle, on the tree-top,
    claim your teind from the shining
    estates of the firth, or the trout-stocked loch.
    What do you care? Either way,
    there'll be a few glad whispers round town today:
    that's them, baith o' them, they're in.

    2. SPRINGS

    Full March moon and gale-force easters, the pair of them
    sucking and shoving the river
    back into its closet in the hills, or trying to. Naturally

    the dykes failed, the town's last fishing boat
    raved at the pier-head, then went down; diesel-
    corrupted water cascaded into front-yards, coal-holes, garages,

    and there's naethin ye can dae,
    said the old boys, the sages, which may be true; but river –
    what have you left us? Evidence of an inner life, secrets
    of your estuarine soul hawked halfway

    up Shore Street, up East and Mid Shore, and arrayed
    in swags all through the swing-park: plastic trash and broken
    driftwood, bust TVs ...
    and a salmon,
    dead, flung beneath the see-saw, the crows are onto at once.

    3. MAY

    Again the wild blossom
    powering down at dusk, the gean trees
    a lather at the hillfoot
    and a blackbird, telling us
    what he thinks to it, telling us
    what he thinks ...
    How can we bear it? A fire-streaked sky, a firth
    decked in gold, the grey clouds passing
    like peasant-folk
    lured away by a prophecy.
    What can we say

    the blackbird's failed
    to iterate already? Night calls:
    the windows of next-door's glass house
    crimson, then go mute


    Then specialists arrived, in hi-viz jackets and hardhats
    who floundered out every low tide
    to the log-boat, lodged
    in the mud since the Bronze Age. Eventually

    it was floated to the slipway, swung high
    in front of our eyes: black, dripping, aboriginal
    – an axe-hewn hollowed-out oak
    sent to the city on a truck.

    What were you to them, river, who hollered
    'Shipping water!' or 'Ca' canny lads!' in some now
    long-forgotten tongue?

    an estuary with a discharge of 160 cubic metres of water per second
    as per the experts' report?
    or Tay/Toi/Taum – a goddess;
    the Flowing(?), the Silent One(?).

    5. 'DOING AWAY'

    Nowhere to go, nowhere I'd rather be
    than here, fulfilling my daily rituals.
    Why would one want
    to absent oneself, when one's commute

    is a lonely hillside by-way, high
    above the river? Specially when the tide's
    way out, leaving the firth
    like a lovers' bed with the sheets stripped back

    baring its sandbanks, its streamy rivulets,
    – the whole thing shining
    like an Elfland, and all a mere two fields'
    stumbling walk away ...

    Someday I'll pull into a passing-place
    a mile from home, and leave the car,
    when they find it
    engine thrumming quietly

    Fragment 1

    Roe deer,
    breaking from a thicket

    bounding over briars
    between darkening trees

    you don't even glance
    at the cause of your doubt

    so how can you tell
    what form I take?

    What form I take
    I scarcely know myself

    adrift in a wood
    in wintertime at dusk

    always a deer
    breaking from a thicket

    for a while now
    this is how it's been

    Fragment 2

    Imagine we could begin
    all over again; begin

    afresh, like this February
    dawn light, coaxing

    from the Scots pines
    their red ochre, burnt-earth glow.

    All over again. South
    – facing mountainsides, balcony

    above balcony of pines – imagine
    we could mend

    whatever we heard fracture:
    splintering of wood, a bird's

    cry over still water, a sound
    only reaching us now

    The Longhouse

    Who lives here? Don't
    you remember that hill? How it
    shut out any winter sun –
    or those ash trees
    sheltering the gable end?

    Hefted to its own land
    like its few yowes –

    Today the wind's swung north –
    in overcoats and headscarves
    two women are crossing the yard

    As if yoked together,
    they stall, and turn to face us –

    and though you look
    from one to the other,
    one to the other,
    you just can't tell

    which is daughter, which mother ...

    This is what happens.
    This is why we loosed our grip and fled

    like the wind-driven smoke
    from the single lum
    in the crooked roof that covers
    both women and beasts, a roof
    low and broken like a cry

    The Study


    what do you mean,
    entering my study
    like a curiosity shop,
    stroking in mild concern

    the telescope mounted
    on its tripod, the books,
    the attic stair? You
    who rise by night, who draw

    the inescapable world
    closer, a touch,
    to your gaze – why
    query me? What's mine

    is yours; but you've no more
    need of those implements
    than a deer has,
    browsing in a glade.

    Moon, your work-
    worn face bright
    outside unnerves me.
    Please, be on your way.

    Hawk and Shadow

    I watched a hawk
    glide low across the hill,
    her own dark shape
    in her talons like a kill.

    She tilted her wings,
    fell into the air –
    the shadow coursed on
    without her, like a hare.

    Being out of sorts
    with my so-called soul,
    part unhooked hawk,
    part shadow on parole,

    I played fast and loose:
    keeping one in sight
    while forsaking the other.
    The hawk gained height:

    her mate on the ground
    began to fade,
    till hill and sky were empty,
    and I was afraid.

    The Stags

    This is the multitude, the beasts
    you wanted to show me, drawing me
    upstream, all morning up through wind-
    scoured heather to the hillcrest.
    Below us, in the next glen, is the grave
    calm brotherhood, descended
    out of winter, out of hunger, kneeling
    like the signatories of a covenant;
    their weighty, antique-polished antlers
    rising above the vegetation
    like masts in a harbour, or city spires.
    We lie close together, and though the wind
    whips away our man-and-woman smell, every
    stag-face seems to look toward us, toward,
    but not to us: we're held, and hold them,
    in civil regard. I suspect you'd
    hoped to impress me, to lift to my sight
    our shared country, lead me deeper
    into what you know, but loath
    to cause fear you're already moving
    quietly away, sure I'll go with you,
    as I would now, almost anywhere.

    Highland Sketch

    Another landscape,
    another swept glen,
    more roadside wildflowers
    breezing through their season
    and round the next bend
    – lo! another sea-loch
    shot with nets of aquamarine ...
    We're old enough, dear friend,
    not to need to explain, not,
    at least, to each other:
    – sufficient years between us
    to recognize, raked
    down the threadbare hillsides
    long-forsaken lazy-beds
    where a crop was raised.
    – We don't make love,
    we read a while,
    leaf through a book
    of 19th century photographs:
    hands like stones,
    shy, squinting faces
    admonish us.
    We really ought to rouse ourselves
    to greet some weather –
    now westlin' winds, now shrouded bens
    now a late sklent of sunlight to the heart.

    A Raised Beach

    – of course, that's what –
    a plain of stones, perfectly
    smooth and still
    showing the same slight
    ridges and troughs
    as thousands of years ago
    when the sea left.
    – It is a sea – even grey
    stones one can
    walk across: not a
    solitary flower, nor a single
    blade of grass –
    I know this place
    – all with one face
    accepting of the sun
    the other ... Moon,
    why have you turned to me
    your dark side, why am I
    examining these stones?
    Our friendship lapsed.
    – And sea, dear mother,
    retreating with long stealth
    though I lie awake –
    Ah, you're a grown-up now
    I've sung to you
    quite long enough.


    When we first emerged, we assumed
    what we'd entered
    was the world,
    and we its only creatures.

    Soon, we could fly; soon
    we'd mastered its grey gloom,
    could steal a single

    even as it fell.
    Now you who hesitate,
    fearful of the tomb-smell,

    fearful of shades,
    look up – higher!
    How deft we are,
    how communicative, our
    scorch-brown wings almost
    translucent against the blue.

    Deserts, moonlit oceans, heat
    climbing from a thousand coastal cities
    are as nothing now,

    say our terse screams.
    The cave-dark we were born in
    calls us back.

    The Spider

    When I appear to you
    by dark, descended
    not from heaven, but the lowest
    branch of the walnut tree
    bearing no annunciation,
    suspended like a slub
    in the air's weave
    and you shriek, you shriek
    so prettily, I'm reminded
    of the birds – don't birds also
    cultivate elaborate beauty, devour
    what catches their eye?
    Hence my night shift,
    my sulphur-and-black-striped
    jacket – poison – a lie
    to cloak me while, exposed,
    I squeeze from my own gut
    the one material.
    Who tore the night?
    Who caused this rupture?
    You, staring in horror
    – had you never considered
    how the world sustains?
    The ants by day
    clearing, clearing,
    the spiders mending endlessly –

    The Gather

    The minute the men
    ducked through the bothy door
    they switched to English.
    Even among themselves
    they spoke English now,
    out of courtesy,
    and set about breakfast:
    bread, bacon and sweet tea.
    And are we enjoying
    this weather, and whose
    boat brought us, and what
    part of the country – exactly –
    would we be from ourselves?

    – The tenant, ruddy-faced;
    a strong bashful youngster,
    and two old enough
    to be their uncles,
    who, planted at the wooden table
    seemed happy for a bit crack:
    – one with a horse-long,
    marvellous weather
    and nicotine-scored face
    under a felt fedora,
    whose every sentence
    was a slow sea-wave
    raking unhurriedly back
    through the rounded
    grey stones
    at the landing place
    where their boat was tied.

    Beyond the bothy
    – mended since the last gales –
    the sea eased west
    for miles toward the parishes,
    hazy now,
    the men had left early.
    A sea settled for the meanwhile,
    Aye, for the meanwhile!
    Then, knocking their tea back,
    they were out
    round the gable end,
    checking the sheep fanks, ready.

    High on the island,
    uninhabited these days, sheep
    grazed oblivious,
    till the dogs – the keenest
    a sly, heavy-dugged bitch –
    came slinking behind them.
    Then men appeared, and that
    backwash voice: will you move
    you baa-stards!

    Bleating in dismay
    the animals zig-zagged down
    the vertiginous hill
    to spill onto the shore
    where they ran, panicked,
    and crammed into the fank:
    heavy-fleeced mothers
    and bewildered lambs,
    from whom a truth,
    (they now realized)
    had been withheld.

    'Ewe-lamb', 'tup-lamb',
    each animal was seized,
    its tail, severed with one snip,
    shrugged through the air
    to land in a red plastic pail;
    each young tup,
    upturned, took two men -
    doubled over, heads together,
    till the lamb's testicles
    likewise thumped softly
    into the tub, while we joked:
    'Oh, will they no' mak a guid soup?'
    No – we will deep-fry them,
    like they do in Glaa-sgow
    with the Maa-rs bars!

    Then thrust, one by one
    to the next pen, the lambs
    huddled in a corner,
    and with blood dribbling
    down their sturdy
    little thighs, they jumped
    very lightly, as though in joy.

    Summer was passing:
    just above the waves,
    guillemots whirred toward
    their cliff-ledge nests,
    but they carried nothing;
    few young, this year –
    Aye, the birds –
    not so many now
    and the men stood, considering.
    Then it was the ewes:
    each in turn, a man's thumb
    crossways in her mouth
    was tilted upside down
    like a small sofa, and clipped
    till she stepped out trig
    and her fleece
    cast over the side:
    Fit only to be burned! –
    No market nowadays

    All the hot Saturday
    the men kept to their work
    – a modest living –
    pausing every so often
    to roll cigarettes, or tilt
    plastic bottles of cola
    to their parched mouths,
    as their denims and tee-shirts
    turned slowly rigid
    with sweat and wool-grease
    and the tide began to lift
    fronds of dark weed
    as though seeking
    something mislaid,
    and from the cliffs,
    through the constant bleating
    came the wild birds'
    faint, strangulated cries.

    When, late in the day
    they were done, the sheep,
    began to pick their way
    up to their familiar pastures –
    first the old ewes,
    who understood
    – if anything – that they,
    who take but a small share,
    are a living, whom
    now and then
    a fate visits, like a storm.

    But though the sky
    was still blue with
    teased out clouds,
    and the sea brimmed and
    lapped at the shore rocks gently,
    and they could have rested,
    the men wanted away
    before the wind rose,
    before – they laughed –
    the taverns close!
    And I run out of tob-aacco!

    Before – though they didn't
    actually say this – the Sabbath,
    so they loaded their boat
    – a RIB with a hefty outboard –
    and hauled the dogs in.
    At first they chugged out
    slow and old-fashioned,
    like a scene in a documentary,

    but suddenly with an arched,
    overblown plume
    of salt spray
    they roared off at top speed,
    throwing us a grand wave.


    for M D

    This is the moment the roses
    cascade over backstreet walls,
    throng the public parks –
    their cream or scrunched pinks

    unfolding now to demonstrate
    unacknowledged thought.
    The world is ours too! they brave,
    careless of tomorrow

    and wholly without leadership
    for who'd mount a soap-box
    on the rose-behalf?

    'I haggle for my little
    portion of happiness,'

    says each flower, equal, in the scented mass.

    The Overhaul

    Look – it's the Lively,
    hauled out above the tideline
    up on a trailer with two
    flat tyres. What –

    14 foot? Clinker-built
    and chained by the stern
    to a pile of granite blocks,
    but with the bow

    still pointed westward
    down the long voe,
    down toward the ocean,
    where the business is.

    Inland from the shore
    a road runs, for the crofts
    scattered on the hill
    where washing flaps,

    and the school bus calls
    and once a week or so
    the mobile library;
    but see how this

    duck-egg green keel's
    all salt-weathered,
    how the stem, taller
    – like a film star –

    than you'd imagine,
    is raked to hold steady
    if a swell picks up
    and everyone gets scared ...

    No, it can't be easy,
    when the only spray to touch
    your boards all summer
    is flowers of scentless mayweed;

    when little wavelets leap
    less than a stone's throw
    with your good name
    written all over them –

    but hey, Lively,
    it's a time-of-life thing,
    it's a waiting game –
    patience, patience.


    Bird on the cliff-top,
    the angle of your back
    a master-stroke:
    why should kittiwakes

    plunge at your head
    with white shrills?
    You're only just falling
    from your parents' care,

    they've dared slope off
    together, to quarter
    the island's only glen
    leaving you sunlit, burnished,

    glaring out to sea
    like one bewildered.
    Some day soon you'll
    topple to the winds

    and be gone, a gangrel,
    obliged to wander
    island to mountain,
    taking your chances –

    till you moult at last
    to an adult's mantle
    and settle some scant
    estate of your own. Already

    the gulls shriek Eagle!
—they know
    more than you
    what you'll become.

    An Avowal

    Bluebell at the wayside
    nodding your assent
    to summer, and summer's end;
    nodding, on your slender stem

    your undemurring yes
    to the small role life
    offers you – a few weeks
    seasoning the hill-foot grasses

    with shakes of blue ...
    You accept, and acquiesce
    thereby, to any wind,
    though the winds tease:

    'Flower,' they ask –
    'd'you want to be noticed?'
    Yes, yes, noticed!
    'Or rather left alone?' Yes,

    left perfectly alone! 'Flower,'
    they whisper, 'd'you love
    the breeze that wantons
    the whole earth round

    breathing its sweet proposals,
    but does not love you?'
    – then laugh when your blue
    head nods: I do. I do.

    The Galilean Moons

    for Nat Jansz

    Low in the south sky shines
    the stern white lamp
    of planet Jupiter. A man
    on the radio said
    it's uncommonly close;
    sequestered in the telescope lens
    it's like a compere, spotlit,
    driving its borrowed light
    out to all sides equally.
    While set in a row in the dark
    beyond its blaze,
    like seed-pearls,
    or coy new talents
    awaiting their call onstage –
    are what must be, surely,
    the Galilean moons.

    In another room,
    my children lie asleep, turning
    as Earth turns, growing
    into their own lives, leaving me
    a short time to watch, eye
    to the eye-piece,
    how a truth unfolds –
    how the moonlets glide
    out of their chance alignment,
    each again to describe
    around its shared host
    its own unalterable course.

    Tell me, Galileo, is this
    what we're working for?
    The knowing that in just
    one Jovian year
    the children will be gone
    uncommonly far, their bodies
    aglow, grown, talented –
    mere bright voice-motes
    calling from the opposite
    side of the world.
    What else would we want
    our long-sighted instruments
    to assure us of? I'd like
    to watch for hours, see
    what you old astronomers
    apprehended for the first time,
    bowing to the inevitable ...

    but it's late. Already
    the next day
    plucks at my elbow
    like a wakeful infant,
    next-door's dog barks,
    and a cloud arrives,
    appearing out of nothing.

    The Bridge

    Mind thon bridge? The wynds
    that spawned us? Those hemmed in,
    ramshackle tenements
    taller, it seemed, every year ...

    Caller herrin'! Ony rags! On the mountain
    stands a lady
    What a racket! Coal smoke,
    midden-reek ... filthy,

    needless to mention, our two
    old hives, heaped high
    either side of the river,
    crammed with the living, with the dead-beat

    and joined by that sandstone ligature ...
    Did you ever notice
    how walking out over the water
    made us more human:

    men became gracious,
    women unfolded
    their arms from their breasts –
    and where else could children,

    beggars, any one of us,
    pause and look up at the sky!
    And that river! Forever
    bearing its breeze to the sea,

    like a rustic bride, scented
    now with blossom,
    now with pine sap,
    – But what was the sea to us, then?

    What was a mountain?
    Yes; us. Me and you. That bridge,
    long ago demolished
    where we first met.


Excerpted from The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie. Copyright © 2012 Kathleen Jamie. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Beach,
The Dash,
Five Tay Sonnets,
1. Ospreys,
2. Springs,
3. May,
4. Excavation & Recovery,
5. 'Doing Away',
Fragment 1,
Fragment 2,
The Longhouse,
The Study,
Hawk and Shadow,
The Stags,
Highland Sketch,
A Raised Beach,
The Spider,
The Gather,
The Overhaul,
An Avowal,
The Galilean Moons,
The Bridge,
Tae the Fates,
The Lighthouse,
The Roost,
The Wood,
The Whales,
The Widden Burd,
Hauf o' Life,
Even the Raven,

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