A to B

A to B

by Gerry McGrath


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, December 19

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857548778
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 08/21/2008
Pages: 64
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Gerry McGrath studied modern languages and Russian at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. His poems have appeared in Edinburgh Review, Painted, PN Review, and Spoken. He received a Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Award in 2004.

Read an Excerpt

A to B

By Gerry McGrath

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2008 Gerry McGrath
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-800-0



    So, this evening ends on a palette
    of leaves, flushed lilac sky, bramble
    punnet dwindling to a shadow of itself
    in the darkening heat

    while above the city
    the forgetful droning of a pencil-thin
    aircraft climbing higher and higher
    drains away all resistance.

    No End of Exile

    In a house
    on the outskirts
    of Perpignan
    at a funny angle
    to the rest of Spain
    the man who never was
    a Spanish Republican
    sits in full view
    of the old country.

    His dog welcomes us.
    His wife since 1939 says hello.
    Where he looks out
    grass the colour of nicotine
    stands taller than the mountains.

    I became a florist, he tells you.
    Flowers called me: what kept you
    all these years
    I wasn't listening, but I am now.

    The dog is sprawled on the floor.
    Anastasia sits in exile
    at the table in a corner of the room.
    Fresh-cut flowers here
    there and everywhere unite
    the furniture.

    Perdoneme, Manolo says.
    Sometimes I forget myself.


    The magpie stands to the side,
    sucks in its cheeks, calls.

    There are times I need
    to chase down the old life
    not climb over
    or tunnel under it
    but take its weight and shudder.

    Times I'd like to ask that bird
    how it gained its loneliness
    how it got to be how it is
    fixing things with that one eye
    like a dark moon.


    Since then they have come at the rate
    of one a day. A rough, ballpark figure,
    but honest. Is it luck, or a turnaround
    in fortunes? I hope so. Where they spring
    from God knows. I just remember the day
    it all started, being so glad it was the month
    when things start to happen. Blue and green.
    A certain blossoming. Warming baths of air.
    I have no right to say this but yes they come,
    like questions from children, with equal amounts
    of trust and worry. That's it, trust. You are
    entrusted. After all this time, what you've done,
    others waiting for the 'big fall'. Now. Go ahead.
    Take the gate off its latch, run, feel the grass like
    a cradle beneath your feet, generous and cool from
    heel to toe, keeping you steady. Who knows what will
    crop up in the future? But for now, go, play, live.


    Standing in
    out the downpour
    he nods upwards
    to the gossamer rain
    beading down.

    Forget the old life.
    Yesterday. The future
    lies somewhere
    in the afternoon.

    * * *

    Later, watching the wind
    lift the sycamores.
    Everyone he loved he left.


    Met by fog today and the remains of a frost
    on the leaves and windscreens. Never mind
    that yesterday the barber got it all wrong and
    the book of Milosz's poems still hasn't arrived.
    Never mind. Was it a year ago or last night
    you bit me on the earlobe? Kissed me on the lips
    and held me? I can still feel your weight.
    A snell October wind finds the bruise, has me
    tucking my head to the right, smiling. Everything.
    Everything's a blur.

    A Question

    Wake up, baffled, from where sleep
    took you to last night and glimpse
    in a daze of rain the young couple,
    in matching jackets, heading for
    the park, arm-in-arm, obscured now
    by a flurry of leaves that are the colour
    of fresh, peeled ginger root.
    You mouth the words through the liquid
    glass: may they remain that way.
    May they love each other ceaselessly,
    without quarter, even if it kills them.
    Alone, you raise a hand up your back
    and feel at where nails tore flesh last night.
    Why do you do it? It's a question you ask all
    day, searching with watertight fingers for the

    Sleep Alights

    The earth
    shows a grey flank
    to the moon.

    Old Brain, he says,
    toothpaste in one hand,
    rubbing down that face
    with the other.
    Old Brain is rattling
    in its cage.

    no matter what
    he is up.

    And the sun also rose

    Baby Spuds

    Two days ago, for example. After the showers that their friends
    insisted they should come and have, if the need arose. Well, it did.
    So they went. Had dinner, too. Roast chicken and cauliflower
    cheese, caramelised carrots and boiled baby spuds. Gravy.
    The red wine flowed. Water came out a frosted jug. They got
    round to talking, about death and finality, mostly.
    But the saddest thing he heard all night, definitely, wasn't
    the floorboards, or the creak of the panelled door swinging
    on its hinges, or the racket the tortoise cat made on the landing.
    It was this: we're just language. He could've gret. Tell the truth,
    despite the good times, maybe even believed it.

    Early Flowers

    March. Winter over and no one can remember
    blue skies like it. The early flowers are out.
    Birds are singing in the evening. It's light
    till six and beyond. In a week or two the clocks
    will leap forward.

    Yesterday I returned a cd loan, but not before
    I'd bought a tape and taped it.
    It's on now. Side A of the last of the last
    quartets. Far away I am listening.


    Springday like a tusk. Buds at last
    have outrun the long-distance winter
    to push through.
    Snowdrops, crocuses, daffodil stems
    quake like cowards in a pale springlight
    that has settled like overnight rain
    on the garden's top lip.

    In No Time

    Clyde Falls in May dense sunlight soothing leaves
    the low conversation of water we walk on
    your hand in mine come across the signs for falcons

    follow on up the path to where a warden trains
    his glasses on the nest hands them to us
    points to where a mother and her young

    walking back we hold each other but tighter now
    shouts singing wolf-whistles come from the boys
    across the river same ones we saw on the way up
    let them sing dance show their backsides all night
    if they want

    in no time at all the path shallows the water broadens
    voices peel away to our amazement there is a silence
    of squirrels

    Only Life


    Lint glimmers
    dull in the baubled wool;
    laundered stars unsparkled
    blink on
    off on


    In a voice
    by its own remoteness
    my father not knowing
    he was entering
    his final month


    butt clamped
    in the jaws of his fingers
    and said


    as if there was something
    absolutely extraordinary
    and memorable
    about this
    his only life.

    A Man Unable

    Noticing a man unable
    to gather the softness of a pup
    up in his arms, I looked again
    at the animal, at the curve of
    its slinking away, slinked-back
    ears. From this slow retreat a single
    forepaw inched skywards. Immediately
    the pup was swept up. Cuddled, loved
    beyond love, reason; held above
    the rig of buildings to the sun. So small,
    it fitted in to the high country, the high
    pocket of a short-sleeved summer shirt.
    From there, shivering, it chased the nodding
    world, this world, and the next and the next,
    scenting each and every rare grass blade, as if
    shaken by its origins on the homeward road,
    shaken to its root.


    Pointing North

    Frequent showers
    mean the room blushes
    then turns pale
    in quicker than quick
    succession. It's
    while I'm watching all this
    going on
    the little starling re-appears.
    Watchful, it travels back and
    forth, smuggling food
    to its young
    who are in a nest somewhere
    inside the wall.

    Tolstoy was wrong about Chekhov
    but he didn't care. Last
    Saturday I saw a fledgling
    by the kerb, skin all pink
    and tough, like chewing gum.
    The little yellow nib of a beak
    pointing north.
    The first thing I thought about
    was the starling and its chorus of chicks,
    then about beautiful days. Then Time.
    Then poetry. History.
    In that order.

    The Colour of Water

    On glassy Turnberry beach
    we went looking
    for a world without stars.
    From sand you magicked
    a castle; moat, portcullis,
    ramparts, turrets
    ie the lot
    while my cheap feet made
    do with carving the date
    and our names
    beside a feathery burn.

    See, poetry, what you can do
    when you try?
    If I was feeling brave, poetic,
    painterly, I might say:
    take one potato (halved)
    a few watercolours
    and attempt to draw
    this threesome –

    hand that weighs, judges
    man's equine shiver
    a charnel house of shells

    Dry Flood

    Today unlike yesterday
    the wind was only audible
    as rain bundling into trees.
    Understudy, it mouthed
    its lines behind wet lips. But
    yesterday was another story.
    A dry flood, it turned leaves
    silver, dented fields of grass.
    Dwarves had to hold on to their hats.
    Zany butterflies beat their wings
    inside the stomachs of giants.
    It was something, to say the least.
    Bats were phoning their friends up.
    The earth plugged an ear, hummed
    a foreign tune. Schubert quintet.
    Rain when it fell, hardly disquieted
    the fish basking in glimmery shadows.
    Then the wind died. Covered its mouth.
    Tomorrow was suddenly unploughable.
    Everyone stood on one leg, with one eye
    looking over their shoulder, waiting
    for Time to do the same.


Excerpted from A to B by Gerry McGrath. Copyright © 2008 Gerry McGrath. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
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


Title Page,
No End of Exile,
A Question,
Sleep Alights,
Baby Spuds,
Early Flowers,
In No Time,
Only Life,
A Man Unable,
Pointing North,
The Colour of Water,
Dry Flood,
True Air,
Old Masters,
Dead House,
Same Bird,
Shape of a Chair,
No Forgetting,
Soft Tissue,
Among the Blue,
The Language of Pines,
The Water, the Shore,
Brief Season,
Watching Primrose,
A Sense of Occasion,
The Middle Distance,
Small Fires,
A Milky Sunlight,
Two Friends,
Mint Tea,
Blue Light,
Forest Path,
Bright Walkway,
The Painter,
Yellow Ticket,
First Detail,
A to B,
Powder Blue,
Imaginable Longing,
Small Hand,
First Love,
Around the Edge,
White Rain,
In Loving Memory,
Green Shallows,
About the Author,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews