Poem from Lydia Macpherson

The wonderful Lydia Macpherson recently came second in the Edwin Morgan Competition with this poem. She’s no stranger to being on the podium of the big competitions, our Lydia, and with good reason. Even by her own usual lofty standards this is a gem and I’m very chuffed to post it today.


And when his father left
he learned to carve, to whet the blade,
worn arched and thin by years
of Sunday lunch, against the steel,
the Bakelite handle gentled
as a bird cupped in his hand.
Then, to test it on his thumb pad,
drawing the finest wire of blood.

He found the easy slip in bone
and muscle, how to break
a woodcock’s leg and bring
sleek tendons out with the foot.
The lolling head, plucked back
to black-eyed fledgling, turned
in upon itself, the long beak
pinning the reed-fed breast.

Like marking former Soviet states
on maps, he portioned up a steer
in doodles on the fly leaves of
Philip’s Modern School Atlas.
On the way home, his dinner money
bought a whole ox-tail, a fleshy
jointed dinosaur dripping its trail
through his satchel’s hide.

It took a year of careful choice,
getting the right cut, saving
shoulder blades, ribs, hocks,
wishbones standing in for all
the delicate bits too hard
to find. The skull was worst,
a patchwork of chicken backs
and Christmas turkey leavings.

His father always said,
“if a job’s worth doing it’s worth
doing well”, and Dad would be proud,
he thought, to look under the single
bed and find, among the dust,
the furry sweets and Lego,
the bony keepsake, complete,
laid out upon the shagpile.

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