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The Tay Moses

March 18, 2020

A small group of Twitter poetry fans appeared to think that Elliot, Auden, Larkin and Hughes encompassed the modern canon. We were pointed to this powerful poem about maternal ambivalence, framed as a retelling of the biblical Moses story. It’s by the Scottish poet Kathleeen Jamie. To my shame I’d not even heard of her. I have now.

The Tay Moses

By Kathleen Jamie

What can I fashion for you
but a woven creel of river-
rashes, a golden
oriole’s nest my gift
wrought from the Firth –

And choose my tide: either
the flow, when, watertight
you’ll drift to the uplands
my favourite hills, held safe
in eddies where salmon, wisdom
and guts withered in spawn,
rest between moves – that
slither of body as you were born –

or the ebb, when the water
will birl you to snag
on reeds, the river
pilot leaning over the side
‘Name o’ God!‘ and you’ll change hands:
tractor-man, grieve, farm-wife
who takes you into her
competent arms

even as I drive slamming
the car’s gears,
spitting gravel on tracks
down between berry-fields,
engine still racing, the door wide
as I run toward her, crying
LEAVE HIM! Please,
it’s okay, he’s mine.

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