Richie McCaffrey: Taxidermy
They often took people from these shores,
pariahs of the law or kirk. Sent them down
into the holds of ships with flint as ballast,
mined locally as plentiful useless weight.
The nodules looked like bone joints, broke
open to dark quartz, the black iris of a Sphinx,
unknowable and inscrutable. The dud cargo
was often dumped by the salt-chapped rim
of other seas where it did not naturally occur.
It’s still there today, mostly, but some sparked
great fires, sharpened to double-edged blade,
a forgotten clan knapping their arms in the swash.
My late aunt spent much of her spare time
knitting antimacassars for every armchair
and settee in each of our houses.
It was a skill she had learned on sufferance
as a young girl but found it essential later
when she withdrew to the same high-back.
Then one day she simply stopped talking,
refused to speak to anyone. It was strange
to see her sit, an antimacassar behind
her head like a frilly thought bubble,
an empty white halo. A barometer hung
beside her front-door, a broken heirloom
that always predicted rain and no change
and her prized Worcester ballerinas
seemed to want to break from their plinths.
In the harbour bar, dead birds of prey perch
in the memory slips between whisky bottles,
ready to swoop, pluck out the pickled-onion eyes
of drunk short-sleeved men at the pool-table.
There is an ‘infinity jukebox’ in the corner
and someone has paid fifty pence to hear
Big Country’s Wonderland soar above
the workaday fug of if only, but not quite.
Later on a brash pop pubescent sings
about facing a speeding train, holding
a grenade, or taking a bullet for a girl,
the birds stare down blankly the guns of love.
I used to drink
with some characters,
I say drink but drown
would be better.
all suited and booted
often came in to hit
the Stella and the deck.
They’d loosen their fat
loud-silk kipper ties
like men trying to escape
a sartorial noose.
One said whenever
he cheated on his wife
he drove to the carwash,
thought of jumping out.
Another fell guttered
in a patch of nettles
while meandering home
and felt he deserved it.
A toast to every draught,
we would drink
to each other’s health
and never our own.
I rambled up Dumyat
one time drunk
at the world
near the top
the path strewn
with mica scree,
of ice and thaw
the air hit
like Perrier water
I came down,
seeing the lie
of land from
at the cairn of reason.
Richie McCaffery was born 1986. His poems have been accepted by The Rialto, Stand, Magma, Agenda & Iota. He is in Cromarty as an auxiliary writer-in-residence in the lead up to the Thomas Urquhart conference. His first pamphlet is due out in 2012 from HappenStance Press.