Richie McCaffery – five poems

Derick John Milburn (1954-1997)

A ‘demonstrator’ gravestone
for an undertakers
that went out of business,
if you can believe such a thing.

They were chucking it on a skip
and I took pity, planting it
at the foot of a tree in my garden.
People think I’m mad

but I can’t tell what’s worse:
mourning a man who never existed
or mourning the life of someone
real who never really lived.


The Cup-Ring Olympics

On the top of her oak bedside cabinet there’s a handful
of white cup marks overlapping like the Olympic rings –

from the all times she brought herself tea in the late-rising
mornings after his death, thinking To hell with coasters.

I’m not sure what her event is, but it must have taken
stamina and endurance. With most of her friends dead

and her husband too, perhaps she’s beginning to think
the last one over the finish line might not be the winner.


The broken cobblestone

Although the road doesn’t go
anywhere special, a man is on
his knees as if in prayer,
putting in new cobblestones.

I watch him for a minute
and one of the granite blocks
breaks under his hammer
like it won’t yield to the will

of anyone or anything
other than itself, that it would
rather shatter than be beaten
into a place far from its quarry.


Ballast

You complain about your size
and I’m never happy about mine.
Even if we’re thinner since coming here
we’ll still have put on weight
in ways that don’t show on scales.

The thing is, I need your weight
right now, and you need mine –
all of it, as ballast to stop
the whole thing from capsizing.
I never entered into this lightly.


Swiss Army Knife

Sitting with him in his last days
I had a Swiss Army knife,
warm in my pudgy little palm.

The knife was supposed
to be good for all eventualities
so I took it with me to visit him.

I opened it like a red banana.
He gave me scraps of paper
to cut, showing the knife’s keenness.

I sharpened a pencil that didn’t
need sharpening. It was just
a toy of imaginary survival.

He played along gamely.
It’s been in a drawer since he died.
I’ve only needed the corkscrew.


Richie McCaffery lives between Scotland and Belgium. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets as well as a collection, Cairn (Nine Arches Press, 2014). His second collection is due out in 2018. He is busy working on an edited volume of essays on the work of Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915-1975).

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