In Easgann Wood

Robin Robertson

For Don Paterson

Rain works the road;
its grey hand passing over and over, in waves: lashing,
stotting down. A stour-wind’s in the trees,
churning their heads, and the sky’s
full of leaves and the sky is raging:
it will not subside
and will not cease,
and will not be consoled.

As thunder brings the toads so
rain draws worms from the ground, the rapt god
to this bedroom window, this house
of panic, of closed mouths,
a bird trapped in every room.
Listen to me.
The man who lies beside you’s not the man I used to be.
I think the wind is easing –
I take that as a sign from the other world
until I remember the other world has abandoned me.
Listen. I will tell you both.

No birds fly over Coille nan Easgann,
the sacrificial wood; no animals stray there,
only the insects and worms can make use of it.

The first was that daftie, Doogie McRae:
moon-struck, wanting a feather in the wing.
I found him hunkered in the ruined church;
dust round his mouth, from eating moths again.
As we reached the wood, the dusk was drawing in,
erasing every tree, and he was pleading,
offering a piece of chalk, a white marble –
he held out a hawk’s tail like a hand of cards.
I took him to the black burn, under the snags,
and hung him by his feet over the dark water
and fed his face to the eels.

I told Mary Greig about the deer-couch in the wood
where they slept – that I had a half of whisky;
she fell for it all: the flattened bracken,
the fresh fallow droppings like liquorice.
She was full rank by the bottle’s end
and I had to disorder her, trying
to get my fingers in her purse, and she wanted it
well enough I could tell, so I riddled her through
and shot my roe – and left her
in her peltry of jellies and syrups
with a smile that went right round her head.

That long cullion, Sandy Gallivaster,
wanted a go at Mary
so I took him to the wood and showed him.
She didn’t look so good now, and then
suddenly neither did he, when I smacked him
with a rock and then cut him to collops,
made force-meat of his stupid legs,
hard-gralloched him and glibbed him, and pinned
his stones on a blackthorn bush for remembrance.

They’re all still there somewhere, those three,
in Easgann Wood, mulching the trees,
and we have the riddance of them,
but I am done with that. That place is evil.
There: I confessed to you, and to him –
that face in the window. Let’s make a peace.
Would you accept this,
this gift of hands, this necklace?
I think you will.