The first poem is set in the Orkney Islands in north of Scotland; the second in Orcas Island, the most remote of the major San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington State.
The minister sees the monster
It was a wet summer:
the village a damp fort surrounded
by field water. Four o’clock I was up –
the grey light punched and wrung –
like it had called me, like it needed to be seen.
I’m not a walker, but with stick and boots
and picked-thin overcoat I went.
Under the backfiring streetlights,
over the green with the dawn sky
turning like milk.
By the chapel the river was loud.
By the dyke the path was addled
with the glyphs of many hooves.
In the hedge birds quipped and flinched.
My boots turned black in the damp.
I cut round a ditch loosed
and pooled by rain.
On Cemetery Road
there’s a gate I climbed,
slipping, giggling adrenaline.
Though it made no sound I turned there,
the old, hot wire of fear pulled taut,
and saw it through the blown thorns
for a moment. Long enough to know
that it was grey, and larger than a dog.
I inferred teeth. I cut home through the graves
for cover, wet white fog rising
round the houses like a useless keep.
I haven’t told the village. I believe
whatever comes is what’s deserved.
When it rains, you can hear the forest drinking.
On the scabbed veranda, tea cooling in a chipped cup
sends its little breaths up like an offering
to this place made of weather.
Nothing seems to matter but the deer
materialising on the trail
like parlour tricks; the black snake
on the stone steps by the spring.
We sit around like old clocks
winding down, happy to watch for hours
the heads of fog knit in the tops,
the tide pull its wet clingfilm off the stones.
When it rains, it's like the rain
comes from the trees. There is no sky:
around the cabin there's only noise,
the canopy's malachite ring.
In one place on the road out
there's a rise, where the cab driver says
you folks want to make any calls?
If I pull over here you get two bars.
He's the first of us to speak in days:
the phone in his hands like a stone
he might throw. I drank the rain, I want to say,
but can't. I've turned into a doe.
Claire Askew's poetry has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Guardian, The Edinburgh Review, Gutter and PANK. Her work has also been thrice selected for inclusion in the Scottish Poetry Library's Best Scottish Poems (in 2008, 2009 and 2014). Her first collection, This changes things, is forthcoming from Bloodaxe in early 2016, and poems from the collection have already been recognised by the Mslexia Women's Poetry Competition, the Charles Causley Poetry Prize, and the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, among others. Claire divides her time between Edinburgh and Cumbria, and blogs at onenightstanzas.com.