Most Read... Rebecca WattsThe Cult of the Noble Amateur
(PN Review 239)
John McAuliffeBill Manhire in Conversation with John McAuliffe
(PN Review 259)
Eavan BolandA Lyric Voice at Bay
(PN Review 121)
Patricia CraigVal Warner: A Reminiscence
(PN Review 259)
Vahni CapildeoOn Judging Prizes, & Reading More than Six Really Good Books
(PN Review 237)
Tim Parksin conversation with Natalia Ginzburg
(PN Review 49)
Next Issue Gwyneth Lewis ‘Spiderings’ Ian Thomson ‘Fires were started: Tallinn, 1944’ Adrian May ‘Traditionalism and Tradition’ Judith Herzberg ‘Poems’ translated by Margitt Helbert Horatio Morpurgo ‘What is a Book?’
Poems Articles Interviews Reports Reviews Contributors
PN Review 276
PN Review Substack

This poem is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

Ghost Scenes Andrew McNeillie

(i) Gone for Good

How many more poems will you haunt,
old man? I know you won't say, but
don't pretend you're not keeping count.
I know you and I know you're not done yet.
As on those endless dour days you'd cast
and cast into the evening and keep casting
while I'd pray the next would be your last
not knowing then that faith is everlasting.

My mother said you just upped and left
but that was ever your way, if you could.
Given half a chance to fish I'd do the same.
There's nothing new except we are bereft
and now we say you've gone for good
which so far hasn't lived up to its name.

(ii) Shade at the Funeral

This is how I search my wounds:
feeling my pockets from outside.

Patting them to check, for example,
spectacles and verses are to hand.

(iii) Natural History

I must be bananas or bird-brained myself
drifting at the margins of this moorland lake
to be so taken by the sight of it, even if it is
a rare one here, a lost soul, calling like a siren to me.
Seen once it calls to my eye to discover it again,
but I can't in the wind-drift waftage where
the water beats and saps at a stand of conifer
and even the stones and pebbles seem yellow.

Something in the light and chopping water
keeps it from me. I'm far out, anyway, in a
trance-state, fishing all day for reluctant trout.
My boat yields to the waves, rolling, my rod
to casting. Nothing else yields, but I yield
to tsweep and tsweep and sweep my oars and stare at sound,
flicking my line out to and fro. The bird,
for all it calls out, to and fro, might not be there.

What might be? Tsweep... spirit. I remember how
they thought I had a short attention span
but I had the longest there is, and it still holds good
refuge now from common or garden grief. The rod I wield
bears my father's name, and in his hand,
varnished over. I fished this water with him.
The world is not simply a place of privileged effects
or hindsight could be truly twenty-twenty.

Or I could not look now and see him intimately.
If heart is not sure, what can be? It's feelings I look for
and into, in every sense, and nothing called escape
but respite only. The bleached firs wrecked
at the water's edge, he told me, are skeletons
of giant fish, picked clean by a bear the size of Ursa Major,
and all shooting stars are yellow wagtails.
And make of it what you will I believed him.

(iv) No Resting Place

What are you to him? I smile now to think of it.
Oh, the woman said, and gazed long after me.

I walked down the street and at the smithy
another, nicknamed Crockett, looked out idly.

I gave him his name. Who was I? Dwammy
ghost, as if memory itself quenched there in his tongs.

His name punned Christ's son: Christisson.
A Viking of that parish once? One of us by marriage.

The metal beaten very thin by now like
the look in an old man's rheumy eye. Farther on,

as I walked out by Malzie, a bunch of wintry bents became
a heron and wheeled away on rounded wing

with sharp look back, as it crossed the burn.
I thought it could be him, troubled by me.

I'm sorry for your trouble. I'm troubled, by my sorrow.

I saw a hare go, pensively, jinking by birches,
composing a passage in his head? I wonder yet.

At the moss the whaup I dare not conscience,
the blackcock I'll never see. And on I went

all day out in the wilderness as he did once
looking for a water, by word of mouth only.

No resting place I realise no mere title for a story.
A cock of hay in that country is called a Kyle too.

I labour and tinker, rake whisps together the while to
faint tunes on a melodeon, the wearing o'

the green linnet's melody, singing from a thorn.
Sadness poignant in delight he would say.

Shades of meaning here, shade away to thin air.
Did we lose a pony, or only thought we lost one?

I'm sorry for your trouble. I'm troubled, by my sorrow.

(v) The Art of Imitation

I'll sit on here, then, until
you join me or I join you again,
the way I'd sit in to watch you tie
a favourite pattern or a new one,
learning by eye, the art of imitation:
your big hands as incongruous as
an eagle feeding its young, delicately
tendering your offerings, whipping a shank
with olive silk or black and the tempered hook
singing like a Jew's harp
until you tied off or tied in
lurex, herl, or hackle, or
however many filaments of
a thrush's secondary would make
a wing, or grace a sentence:
those thrush wings I took bounty for
in the name of art, to be like you,
serving my apprenticeship.
Such stories and others from
the heart of memory's remaking,
the burden of our relation, ask:
what am I to do with you now?

This poem is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
Further Reading: - Andrew McNeillie More Poems by... (9) Report by... (1) Articles by... (3) Interview by... (1) Reviews by... (6) Reviews of... (2)
Searching, please wait... animated waiting image