Poems by Claire R McDougall



I stand up on this hill again

And crave the schrieching wind

To stir within my shackle bones

Its pagan beat:

The dance of runes and druid sleep,

The rock of boatless sea – 

My blood worked in this ground

Might remember me.


For here memory stands

Facing the open sand,

Calling home the rustle of grass

And hauling in its hands

The ground and swell

Of these mulls and islands.

And here the sum of all I am

Comes creedless down to this:

Fingers of bracken curled in my flesh,

Heron-wing drum in my brain.



I knelt in daffodils

Long before the need was born

To count myself among the rest

A poet and retainer of the bright things

Offered by the gods and clasped in hands

In yellow moments shot through dismal time.

Before all that, prone beneath the blanket sky,

I knew the blood was strong

And the lure of the shadow

Was not the wound of Eden

But the claim of the child

And the unformed cry of the self.



Misted evening, dark among the lanes,

Hazels damp against the hill,

Boy’s touch in a moon-dark shed

And the rolling, rolling sea.

Above the islands, within my sleep

The buzzards circling round.

There is no colour in these lines,

No light on time’s bare walls,

That was not first found painted here,

That did not flow through wings.



My ancestor’s eyes are sunken holes

Watching from the standing stones;

Their voices, moon drunk,

Echo in my step

And make the heron lift his neck.


My ancestors’ bones are moving sod,

Furrows in the peat and bog.

They chatter in the night walk

Of their buried sleep.


And leaves that drop to the mulching floor

Know the sound:

The droning life of Celtic blood

Spilling from this noisy ground.



What if this blood were broke into parts

To find something lurking there

And in every cell a portrait or place,

A flush in the hand of the player?


Would Emily’s lids flaunt her moor-grey eyes

And send Yorkshire through me coursing?

Would DH lament the soul that I spent

In ivory towers rehearsing?


Hermann might nod for the path I trod

To muses from moralizing,

But, Oh Fritz N., when the blood is all spent

On your heart I’m depending.



 Night unfolds from day’s routine

- To sleep, to sleep, perchance to dream

And through the wall of mind’s intent

A chink of coloured light is rent,

Besotted by the richness there

And amber aspect of her hair

Once dull and dank and moribund,

I scale the wall to find

A floating spiral round me winds

That throws on every strand and curl

A portrait of this life unfurled,

And reeling I resign each bind

Till contents of the upturned mind

Lay strewn around my jaded feet

And day undoes the heart and dance

That thrive alone in sleep.



The curled cat slumbers on my couch

Caring not a fig. Her time is now.

And I, deep perplexed by all things,

Watch her stillness stopped at the moment

While I scrawl my heart’s depths

And race with my pen head-long,

Head over heels with my feet dug in

Along a line of time that is always tomorrow

And never as round and still and forever

As this moment in sleep 

Of the cat at my feet.



Ring around the looming night

Splattered now with blood

Threatens sleep and drinks me in

For hope and soul are once more thin

Paled by the crushing light.



Virgin on his seasoned bed

He laid me down in street-lamp glare

And bred me callous, breaking ground,

Where soft-mouthed kisses dared not tread.

But driving in, he drove me out

To musky woods and damp mossed lanes

To the shadow of boy on the wall of a shed

To the endless drone of the sea.


Now I find the door is locked

And bolted from the inner side –

The aching night that conjured flesh,

The press, the hard, the yield, the Yes,

Fled storming from this brittle zone

When sterile hand turned sap to stone,

The kissing shed to wall and cage,

Where chisels are dreams

And the dance all rage.



She broods upon the desert storm

- A sightless ache for more – 

And clasps at sand the wind hails round

And dusts upon the floor,

Each grain a myriad-reflecting thing

Configurating inchoate imaginings

Of other lives than this

And other moments full of bliss,

Of water-gush on some oasis.


The storm wails down to eerie hush

And tightened eyes blink open,

The smooth horizon dunes run on

In creeping arid monotone.

Her wishes to the sun return – 

The sap to quench the numb and burn

Is in a goat-skin by her side,

And water-tight, no man of straw,

He looks for love and sunburned heart

To yield a little more.



Wash me in streams of womb-red earth

Lick this slip of clay

And dance a dance of coyote moons

Round the hollow of my bones

Till I creep in the dark and howl.


Coil of snake unfold me

Bring me loose at turning’s end

Where centres fail

And time unwinds,

But burning ground remains.


Mute in sleep I hear you call

Wailing down the run of years – 

Listen, the dust sighs in my silted breath

And shifts in trails where dream bears lie

Like death in woman’s primal cry.



Come flesh me out and flesh me in

And slay this iron dragon door

That holds me in its virgin deep

In turrets of my vaulted sleep - 

Scaley dreams that wrap me round

And lie between my feet.



Lace in the ice of the horse trough – 

The breath you never breathed –

As you slipped through life

From the heaving womb, a scrap of bone.


Little black foal, still sticky in your mother’s wrap,

I came to find a dance of wings

But all you are is tatters

Smudged upon the frozen ground.


Death has no presence here – 

Nothing lurking round the barn – 

But absence cowers in my coat,

And I am lost,

Rigid as this steel grey fence,

Holding a hand to your mother,

Waiting for her warming lick

To stir me into life.



Death, rude and smiling,

There’s a mouse on my floor

I’ve seen it before

But last time I hid upstairs.

What makes it worse

I’m intent on some verse

But the cat doesn’t know, hardly cares.


She’s up for a feast

And cares not the least

For my pen-pushing hobbies and airs.

So I’ll stay in my seat

And count it a feat

That my couplets are rhyming in pairs.

Thumbs through the pages of this bookAnd vestige of intent that closed upon these words

To ruffle many a flight

To life and for the living.


Too long now the tattered cover still

Too long the scribbled marks unseen

For frozen hands that have no business here

Clamour for the measure of a different line.


But still a dust of warm breath falls on me here,

Still the shadow on the open page of this heart.



Death, rude and smiling,

Thumbs through the pages of this book

I hold and weigh for dint of life

And vestige of intent that closed upon these words

To ruffle many a flight

To life and for the living.


Too long now the tattered cover still

Too long the scribbled marks unseen

For frozen hands that have no business here

Clamour for the measure of a different line.


But still a dust of warm breath falls on me here,

Still the shadow on the open page of this heart.



When darkness drifts the eye-wink shut

And black air hums above the field,

Down where the river’s dry on its bed

A rabbit turns its bristle ear

To the wave of wind in the dreaming grass.

And in the fold of the warmest bed

A finger stirs, then twitches still,

While the night owl drops from a dry-rot branch

To the silent pant of the rabbit’s breath;

His swooping talons slice the night

And wrap around the screaming death

That leaves no sigh in the misted bed.

For the unseen dreamer holds no sound

But the hush of the gong in his yearless sleep.

He does not smell the splash of blood,

Or the cold rain that drips now

From the roof to the catch of his unfurled hand.



I would lie with everyone

Until the sea swept moats around me,

Between the gulls and hands that hold me

I am washed in drifts of sand,

And fields of faces drift away

On wind-howls swirling from the sea,

Till I am left a single strand

Of lightening-bolt slashed from his hand;

Weed-dripping wet he parts the folds,

His thrashing, foaming horse-drawn waves,

And lifts me from the sinking floor

To lie with fireless flesh no more.



Piling inches, the noiseless snow

Drifts soft upon this midnight window,

And the scattered moments of restless sleep,

Like words slipping deep from the poet’s lip,

Gather towers around her retreat

 - the self stark beneath the living and show

Stopped still at this moment of snow on snow

Like a frozen freckle forged white

Upon the dark skin of the darkest night.