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This poem is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

Songs of Loss Ian McMillan

The strange facility holds the door shut
and empties the well of all but cats.
In a previous incarnation I was a pair of curtains
in a caravan. I moved in many directions.

Picked up his madness
and walked to the village pump
he did. Thought the pump
was a woman, in his madness,

he did. 'I stroked her long hair
and she cried,' he said, wiping
his madness down in the shade.

Put his madness on his head,
he did, and kissed the church goat.
Thought the goat was The New Year,
he did, in his madness.

'Always kiss The New Year'
he said. The village pump
smiled, it did, and the goat died
in the gateway of the graveyard,
folding its ears forward.

Comfortable in the ground
my Great Aunt Bella Howatson
composes a rhyming letter
about the great fun to be had
beyond the grave. In the land
below the inflated hills
she stitches a hem
for her stone's roots
as I skip her verses
in Modern Border Poets
and flick the pages
in a backyard dancing song
from nobody's childhood.

They will leave only the church and the shop.
If you lean towards the crown of the green
you will hear the terrible drumming of a pig's bones
changing pitch as the outcrop surprises the sky,
falling rhythmic as a good wood steers

close to the white,
closer to the white than was thought possible,
closer to the white than the white.

Very like a whale, Melville, you wait
to climb into the cage to fall down the pit,
but the winders have news of a storm,
very like a whale after a three-day chase,
great, built, gale-warnings at the pit-top;
Faeroes, Bailey, South-East Iceland, Lundy,
Mitchell's Main. In the ripped drizzle,
very like a whale.

Melville waits with my life to cross the lines
at Mitchell's, leans away from a long train
very like a whale after a three-day chase,
trailing blood, drizzle, warnings, lights.

The longest fingernails ever recorded
walk across the motorway's floor.
Grief upon grief, a blighted country.

Speedy foxes leap high in a far yard
of the mind; lexicography, crying before sleep,
a blighted country, grief upon grief.

Grief upon grief, a blighted country,
sheep nibbling around the graves of
metal 'as harsh as a porter's bell',
a blighted country, a blighted country.

Your small sounds, room builder, reader of lists,
are compatible with my small sounds, take it from me.
From the bare sea on which they are building a net
to the dry roof-trusses of Edward Street in the sun

take it from me
'but this is not the half: look again'

This poem is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to
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