A poem by Stephen Watts




his father was

from farming folk

Braes of Munlochy

staunch man among

other staunch men

from the Black Isle

Eilean Dubh but

the language was lost

generations back





she minds me 

of my brother’s

wife’s granny out

of Limavaddy :


that says a lot






“the patient was an alcoholic

& alcoholics are known as more

likely to commit suicide”






our language of deception

& our withheld truths






his folk were travellers

that’s where he gets

his sense of justice from :

his right & wrong, his

spade is but a spade


all praise to the horsie-man !






he’s been angered

by all the lies & deceptions,

not just his brother’s suicide

but this also :


procurator fiscal,

care home director

all the suited & recruited

lopazeman traces that don’t

tally, that can’t be traced


he’s been made angry

by all of this : he’ll not let it go

he’ll pursue just care for

his brother all the way






of death, as of life






I want to note & admire :

his openness, his friendliness,

his determination, his weariness,

his coping, his grace, his grit


I want to admire this & say





did you go to the funeral

that’s when it hits you

that’s when you’ll know

that he’ll never be back





suddenly she was left

bereft & unanswered






i still do not know

why you let go …





they say you get over

it, but you never do






live, o nameless one !






she couldn’t understand

what had happened

to her man …






nothing is ever

the same again






breathe, my little one





as in all of us here






i will never leave him

on his own coping


i will never walk away






why does the bastard past

come back to haunt us ?






i brought you

into this world &

i won’t let anyone

take you from it






live, my little one !

live ! be strong !






you enter a sudden

zone a tunnel vision &

everything seems sucked

clean of choice & light





you seem to

become two &

the one who will

not live has lost

all sense of light

& balm of time





sun through trees

of white writing






sun through trees

of white writing &

the tree-heads caught

in the sun’s last gold

an alphabet written

across tree-floors : 

moss & crottle






he’d been to

four funerals in one year

musicians & friends, all

dead by their own hand


the fifth he couldn’t :

he couldn’t take the waste,

the remnant loved ones’

grievings, the dereliction

of genius sound







the language of it :

commit – don’t ever use that word –

take your own, end of it, some

call for help


the language of it doesn’t do at all

the language of it is shoddy

to their hearts






we have to stop & listen,

stop & listen, stop & listen

right the way through 






the sharp curve, the burden,

the shadowed absence






sun through trees

of white writing

right through

to the end



STEPHEN WATTS has published numerous collections, including Mountain Language: Lingua di Montagne (translated by Cristina Viti, 2009) and Ancient Sunlight (2014), and the prose work Republic of Dogs / Republic of Birds (2016). He lives in East London.


Illustration by KATIE MARLAND.

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