Four Poems



He’s back in the ghost house
where he, himself, is the ghost.
In this slow silt of neglect
half the light bulbs are blown, the drawers
jammed full of emptiness; the mail
still drifts unopened by the stair.


Outside the old house
—which his mother would call
broken, a ‘broken home’—
he’s trying to clear his head:
sweeping leaves into piles
that the wind just blows away.



On the Island


We were displaced birds, and weathered here
a winter: long wing under heavy wing,
grey wing over brown.
The sun slipped into the sea and sank,
and our clambering hearts fell in
with the draw and plunge
of the wave in the bay, the surf


breaking, drowning itself
deep in the sand.
The moments of shaking
shudder through me still.
Our mouths are stopped; my body
rests against yours now, my hand
sleeps in your hand.


Tillydrone Motte

(Seaton Park, Aberdeen)


I played my childhood here on this highest edge,
this hill, in this park: my garden
spread out for me two hundred feet below,
the Don coursing through it, out towards the sea.
Fifteen years in every kind of light and weather:
my castle-keep, watchtower,
anchorite’s cell, my solitary
proving ground, a vast sounding board
here amongst the gorse and seabirds.


As the river terraces below me filled with cloud
I stood over it all, making a ghost, a brocken spectre,
trying to cast the shadow of a man.


I knew all the places to disappear, to go
where you couldn’t be seen from the path:
the pillbox, the tree house, that secret beach
and hidden above it, the charmed wood. I knew
where the hawthorn tree stands,
bent and fixed like blown smoke,
the sun skimmering in the twist of the river water,
the rough hand of the sea wind in the elms
and sycamores, the soft courtesy of snow.
I knew where to find the cloaked heron,
the cormorant clergy, where I once saw
the swan in the rapids with the Don in spate,
knew the names of the brothers
that drowned there, at the mill turn
—the Crook of Don—where the river tightens in,
where sweetwater meets the brine reaches. I knew
how it came down through the braes and weirs
to the green sluice under the hill, to coast
its way past Walker’s Haugh and Kettock’s Mill
to the Devil’s Rock, drawing
deep through Tam’s Hole and the Pot, over
the Black Neuk of the Brig o’ Balgownie
where the river rests before the last pull
through the machair and out
to the sea beyond.


A distant smatter of applause and, seconds later,
I see the flock lifting, down in the valley,
losing itself in the far pines.


What I didn’t know was this:
that there would come a time when I would find
the trees unclimbable, the river too fast to ford,
that I would learn it wasn’t a motte at all
—this place I went to be born—
but a Bronze Age burial cairn,
and not Tillydrone either
—this place where I stood my pale cross—
but tulach draighionn, which means,
and has always meant, ‘the hill of thorns.’


The Dream House


For ten years I dreamt of the same house:
until I knew every corridor and cornice, the grain
of the wood in every board, the way light fell
in different rooms at different times of day. Its lines
and angles grew more perfect, dream by dream.


This summer, walking in woods near a town
I’d never been before, I came to this familiar gate
and beyond that saw a path I recognised.
And there it was, with a sign for sale,
among larch and pine and sycamore: the dream house.


I rang the bell, and when the owner came
I asked him if he’d think it very strange
if I showed him round. To the left, I explained,
is the lounge and panelled library; to the right
the long dining room with the kitchen beyond.
As we went upstairs to the four bedrooms
with their broad bay windows and blue drapes,
I was stopped, dead, on the landing
by a small red door I’d never seen before.
It was new, he said, and just put in that day.


Downstairs, I asked him what he wanted for the house.
He named a price so low I think I showed my surprise,
but said I’d take it. Then he told me why it was cheap:
because it was haunted. But said I shouldn’t mind—
it would be fine for me—since I was the ghost.


That was a month ago, and now I have the keys.
I explore, knowing each room like my own body,
until I remember the tiny red door.
The keys are all too big, except for one
the size of a sparrow’s claw. I kneel down
and open the lock. And there, in the darkness,
is a miniature house. Through the windows,
in behind the walls, I see my son is safe indoors.
How little he’s grown. Look at him!
The boy I dreamt had died ten years before.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Robin Robertson is a Scottish poet.


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