Stubble

by John Wedgwood Clarke

None of us can be with you as you prepare.
You send us out for a walk. It’s been
raining for hours. I keep looking back
for cars down the lane, but it is only
the streams gunning for stones
along the edge of the loch. Overhead
the glass insulators on power lines
measure the rush of the sky with their
frozen rings of mineral stillness, blue
as Glacier Mints. The day walks all over us,
but still we listen, still we arrive at
the small point, the static caravans, windows
dark as teapots, smoky fingers, old
photographs by an eddy of gold baubles
spun under a carriage clock. The burn
brims with the tide, held up, full
and coiling in the lea of the point,
the mountains and clouds in its mouth.
fresh water floats; you can see it
mixing, the skeins and clouds of translucence,
smoke from an icy fire. You were always
‘emptying the waters’ down at the shop
to keep us afloat, sliding brimful trays
of condensation from under the fridges,
balancing planes of water before
pouring them into a galvanised bucket.
The lights of the nuclear submarine shed,
on the other side of the loch, flicker
through a squall. Dusk. It will be soon.
It will never come. The radar, among birches
beside the lane, spins silkily, spins its
disappearing web to the hiss of propane
from a mildewed cylinder. Like scales
from a golden fish we never caught, or
an unplayable stave of notes, birch leaves
shine in the green-black gloom, ineffable
as your stubble, a kiss from the darkness.