A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This is a poem to be read in an evening, a novella in half-lines of sparse words, of how a young man’s life gets changed because his mum Lizzie sends him to work on a relative’s farm for a year. He’s had a rough time in the city, with (we suspect) drink or drugs or both, and doesn’t seem to have anything else to do with himself except go helplessly to this refuge. The farmer looks after his aged mother, whose dementia reduces her to being another animal to care for and keep from dying, but whom the men can never forget was a loved, strong woman. The farmer is a shining light of purity and goodness, a carer, a storyteller, and a landsman, who can sell a sheep and knows the Bible inside out. Since the young man arrived, his prayers have grown twice as long. The young man is furious and ashamed when he arrives, and hates his exile, not knowing where else he can go. He stalks about on the hill and returns, still with nowhere else to go, and begins to shadow the older man, learning despite himself. They argue about religion and poetry, and the young man starts to see how the hill changes in the seasons.
on the hill:
He can see where the foxes are.
Fox, I’ve almost lost sight of you:
your presence is musk,
a severed feather,
a hedgehog skin
a twisted dropping,
paw prints on snow.
The fox is as much a character in this story as the two generations of farmers, since she lives on the hill and rears her young much as the farmer brings on his lambs and calves. The young farmer keeps an eye on her growing family, and starts to recall his own upbringing, his father problems, and the older man seems to have had a bad time with his as well. The mother fox, and Lizzie the farmer’s cousin, are the strong ones, rearing their young, sending them out into the world, and keeping them safe while they can. The old woman with dementia calls her own son ‘Faither’ in confusion, and she is soothed and goes back to sleep.
The farmer is a flockmaster, a teacher and a poet. He fixes people and he mends things. He’s getting old, and nearly dies when the heifer kicks him unexpectedly, but he can tell the young man how to do this and work that, and over the year the young man turns into a young farmer whom the dogs will obey. I loved this poem. The poetry is terse and deeply felt, and the story unfolds inside it, as many linked fragments of record and observation as if written in a notebook over the course of a year. Jim Carruth is Glasgow’s Poet Laureate. Bernard MacLaverty calls Killochries a collection, but I read it as a whole poem made of moments. Jim Carruth, Killochries (Freight Books, 2015), ISBN 978-1-908754-91-2, £8.99