What began as a single poem written on a long drive into the countryside north of Glasgow has evolved into an imaginative collection exploring memory, journey, vulnerability, and love. This book of haunting verse ranges in theme, with observations on everything from a plane's ascent into the evening sky to imagined piano notes being absorbed by the earth. The beauty of Scotland combines with a sense of human fragility as the poems examine the relationship of an old Spanish exile and his wife, the memory of a father's voice, and much more.
|Publisher:||Carcanet Press, Limited|
|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 LtdCopyright © 2008 Gerry McGrath
All rights reserved.
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
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
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.
out the downpour
he nods upwards
to the gossamer rain
Forget the old life.
Yesterday. The future
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.
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
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
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.
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
dull in the baubled wool;
laundered stars unsparkled
In a voice
by its own remoteness
my father not knowing
he was entering
his final month
in the jaws of his fingers
as if there was something
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.
mean the room blushes
then turns pale
in quicker than quick
while I'm watching all this
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
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,
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
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
No End of Exile,
In No Time,
A Man Unable,
The Colour of Water,
Shape of a Chair,
Among the Blue,
The Language of Pines,
The Water, the Shore,
A Sense of Occasion,
The Middle Distance,
A Milky Sunlight,
A to B,
Around the Edge,
In Loving Memory,
About the Author,