Learning to Talk

This is our game for now, rehearsing words
to make the world seem permanent, and ours;
before it disappears, I will have named
all we can see, from here to the snow on Kvannfjellet,
the yarrow in the grass, a passing swan,
eider and black-backed gull at the rim of the sound.

I gloss uncertainties – this lime green weed
that fetches up a yard above the tide;
those seabirds in the channel, too far out
to call for sure; these unspecific moths;
a chequered wagtail, similar enough,
though different, to those we know at home.

It never ends; there’s always something else:
a single blackbird quietly arrives
from nowhere, at the far edge of the lawn
and everything we know is strange again,
the daylight turned to gloaming on the fields,
your face a maze of sleep and inattention.

Coming indoors, the house is still as glass;
a half-read book lies open on the table.
Later, you’ll sleep and dream of something else,
a seamless order, dark with flight and tides,
a silence to replace my questing voice,

but I’ll go out at midnight in a haze
of moths and pollen, on the Hella road,
finding and naming, one thing at a time:
fieldfare, redshank, cranesbill, alchemilla.

A Duck Island Flora

For Michael Longley

On the road to the Brensholmen ferry:
snow gentians, mineral blue
and perfect, like a child’s idea of north;

but here is all marshland
and water between the fields
where they still cut and rake the hay
with tools that are heirlooms.

Two types of bog-cotton grow:
torvull and duskull;
and lady’s mantle: Alchemilla mollis;

On the high road, over the pass,
there are purple orchids;
but close to town
a common beauty thrives:

cornflowers; bluebells; dogwood; purple vetch;
kornblomst; blåklokke; skrubbaer, fuglevikke.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN


Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences