Four Poems

Robin Robertson

Law of the Island

They lashed him to old timbers
that would barely float,
with weights at the feet so
only his face was out of the water.
Over his mouth and eyes
they tied two live mackerel
with twine, and pushed him
out from the rocks.

They stood, then,
smoking cigarettes
and watching the sky,
waiting for a gannet
to read that flex of silver
from a hundred feet up,
close its wings
and plummet-dive.

Going to Ground

That smell of over-cooked vegetables
under the cupboard
was a dead mouse; so small a body
it would soon be gone, I said,
dousing the boards with
our daughter’s cheap perfume.
Later, you remembered
where you’d smelt that smell before
– that last sweetness, that old
double act of death and vanity –
a hospital room
where your Trinity friend
was dying of Aids,
his toes and fingers
starting to rot and go brown,
how he’d sprayed the bed
and his nails
with eau de Cologne.

Middle Watch, Hammersmith

He switches off the fridge
just to sit and watch
the hardness of the iced-up
icebox start to drip,
its white block
loosening like a tooth.

Grave Goods

He wanted to outlive the grim husbandry
of battle order, outrun
the breath of the damned, his sleeves
flecked with their spit, his sword with their dung;
to move beyond the hooks and eyes
of women, their insinuated blades, to pass
through the scrim of tissue, through this
chanonry of blood, to reach a place
of peace and honour, fresh running water,
a morning of porcelain and lavender
combed by light, folded and smoothed over.

He came instead to a closed silence. Here
were the attributes and trappings of the hunt:
flint blades and fish-hooks, bone pendants,
carved figurines of elk, snakes and humans,
a wild boar’s leg-bone whittled and whetted
into a dagger, bear skulls for bowls, stone flakes
for arrowheads. A seated woman with a baby
in her lap, dusted in red ochre, next to a man
wearing a crown of antlers. Between the two,
and dead like them, a young child laid down
into the wing of a swan.