Richie McCaffrey: Taxidermy

Richie McCaffrey


Ballast Flint

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.


Professional types,

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.


The Cairn


I rambled up Dumyat

one time drunk

and raging

at the world

near the top

the path strewn

with mica scree,

little chisellings

of ice and thaw

the air hit

my blood

like Perrier water

I came down,

seeing the lie

of land from

every angle


like chips


from shoulders

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.

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  1. […] down – there is a bareness to his work that comes from openness and honesty.  Read his work here and […]

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