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.


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).

Richie McCaffery – five poems

Legal alien

Running dangerously low on petrol
we’re driving to visit my family
home and spend Christmas.
We seem to be getting by on air.

Passing all the petrol stations,
not wanting to stop even once
we at last reach my old house
where I refuel and ignore the car.

When we go back to Belgium,
we’re going to live in your home.
At the border I worry whether
my ticket will be accepted –

it’s valid only for one
but I’m two people now.

Spots unknown

In the Black Bull,
there’s a Georgian
steel engraved map
of the British Isles.

Many years of boozy
breath and sweat
have got under the glass
and foxed the paper.

These blotches look
like little ghost islands,
perhaps the places
where pub regulars

who’ve not been seen
in years have gone.

Filling in forms

Are you happy here? No.

Then why did you come? To make someone I love happy.

Do you intend to stay? Yes.

Are you sure?
Your answer to the previous question was shaky.
Please give details.

Yes, I intend to stay. It was this wonky table
and not my resolution that wobbled.

The plume boom

Never usually careful, crossing the road
carrying only my life. But I am when
I carry a box of eggs that will never hatch.

Well over a century ago, when Darwin
walked the earth, people were shooting birds
out of the air for feathers to make hats

to wear to a church that was beginning
to be shot down itself. It’s hard to believe
we’ve ever done any good. Whenever

I applaud a songbird it flies off in fright.

The ark

From the raised beach of the loft
a Victorian wooden ark with carved
animals covered in lead paint.

The whole menagerie’s there
but the children who played with it
have not been spared the flood.

Richie McCaffery is from Warkworth, Northumberland but now lives in Ghent, Flanders (Belgium). He has a PhD in Scottish literature from the University of Glasgow. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets, including Spinning Plates (HappenStance, 2012) as well as the collection Cairn (Nine Arches Press, 2014). A third pamphlet is due out this year from Red Squirrel Press and he is working on his second book-length collection.

You can read Richie’s previous contributions to Clear Poetry here.

Richie McCaffery – four poems


In the morning she comes down
and from the kitchen table sees
a robin cocky at the bird-feeder.
She shouts out his name, then
remembers there’ll be no reply.

She goes into the garage for a tab
and lighting up sees a mouse
making its frenetic chess moves
and again she calls out for him
realising even quicker he’s gone.

From then on the day just sinks,
going down as she climbs upstairs.
Tomorrow she’ll try all over again
and will forget to remember
to forget to speak his name.

A. K. Davidson Hall

They’re demolishing
my old halls of residence.

Fit for habitation back then
but not any longer.

The day I went back, the place
was all making and unmaking

the old pathways blocked off,
torn-up or already built upon.

I was reminded of a York hotel
where it’s said the ghosts

of Roman centurions march
through brick or stone,

following straight roads
they made for fear of bends

and meeting the ghosts
they became for never turning,

and the paths I knew
are becoming walls.

Runaway wives

I read in a copy of The Leeds Mercury
from 1797, that missing women
were known as ‘runaway wives’
as if the only reason to disappear
was to pick open the wedlock.

I am two centuries too late to join
the hunt for these fugitive brides,
having kept my eye on my mother,
decades hanging on the garden gate,
and my father happy to run off too.

A Northern accent

They say even victory does not please me
and that is true when you consider
the trophy cabinet of the cricket club –
so many cups won over the years
and no place to display them
because the joiner who built the case
made it so pessimistically small
he set the limits of our success
even before we began to play.

Richie McCaffery (b.1986) recently completed a Carnegie Trust funded PhD on the Scottish poets of World War Two, at the University of Glasgow. He now lives in Ostend, Belgium. He is the author of Spinning Plates (Happenstance, 2012), the 2014 Callum Macdonald Memorial Pamphlet Award runner-up, Ballast Flint (Cromarty Arts Trust, 2013) and the book-length collection Cairn (Nine Arches Press, 2014). Another pamphlet, provisionally entitled Arris, is forthcoming in 2017. He is also the editor of Finishing the Picture: The Collected Poems of Ian Abbot (Kennedy and Boyd, 2015).

Richie McCaffery – three more poems


There are granite curb-stones missing
like the town is under investigation –
evidence for some child grown old
who cannot believe the photographs
of him playing in in the street
and how in the dusk the eyes ceased
to be king, dethroned by the ears,
how somewhere there was one stone
that made him fall, drew blood
but, for once, not a single tear.

The fob-chains of the Corrigans

The men stand starched in their collars
perched on clicked heels of hobnail,
one antler between the lot of them
cut into buttons to keep them decent.

Their paunches draped in fob-chains
of thick silver drooping from waistcoats,
two arcs mirrored in greased handle-bars
below unbreathing broken Roman noses.

The chains tether at the belly-button
a hunter watch and a vesta of matches,
time and the flames still held at bay.
They weed behind chained civic gates.


The skulls of lost sheep
that once grazed these hills
are found with flat teeth,
plated with gold-leaf.

There are traces of gold
in more or less everything –
over the thousands of pages
I’ve dragged my stub nib.

The value seems to be in
the living, not the finding.

Richie McCaffery is a doctoral candidate in the Scottish Literature Department of the University of Glasgow. His articles have appeared in such places as The Dark Horse, Études écossaises, The Scottish Literary Review and The International Journal of Scottish Theatre and Screen.

His poetry collections are Spinning Plates (HappenStance Press, 2012), Ballast Flint (2013) and Cairn (Nine Arches Press, 2014).

He recently finished editing Finishing the Picture: The Collected Poems of Ian Abbot (1947-1989) for publication later in 2015 by Kennedy and Boyd.

Summer hols and gratitude

Hi folks,

Firstly, many thanks for all of your support since Clear Poetry was launched in January. I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that so many of you would be so keen and kind, nor that so many excellent writers would gladly furnish me with their brightest and best unpublished work.

Secondly, after tomorrow’s post (three more poems by the marvellous Richie McCaffery) this site will take a well-earned break, returning on Monday 6th July with yet more accessible, approachable and (I daresay) downright astonishing contemporary poetry.

In the mean time, please browse the archives and feel free to get in touch if you’d like to see more by a previously featured poet (or propose someone else whose work might sit well here).

While I’m away, submissions will remain open so please continue to send your work for consideration and I’ll look to respond to everyone by the end of week commencing 6th July.


Ben x

Richie McCaffery – three poems


The new year
began for us
with a dead magpie
spangled in the road.

That bairns-song
skipped into my head,
of One for sorrow
and two for joy.

Woe lay done-for
in our peripherals,
the flat bird already
like newspaper print.

Only these past years
could take a death
and turn it so well
into a good omen.

The missionaries

The missionaries came to try and save me
up the narrow alleyway to our house
where the cat killed and plucked a pigeon,
leaving the wings to brush up the mess.

They came with badges and email addresses,
it was all free, but I still wasn’t buying
and sent them back that narrow way,
watching them step over detached wings.

Season ticket

When you have waited a life for signs
that your time is now, you settle

for those left behind that say it’s over,
like the shop that still uses letterheads

from a previous broken business
that treated you well, knew your name

or the blue communal carpet of the train
that only shows grey hairs in its weft.

In the train window, all is doubled –
a cup becomes a figure of eight, the tea

inside it tastes twice as bitter, but I am
not so clearly cloned, like my ghost

hovers always an inch outside my body
so I am both the haunter and haunted.

Richie McCaffery grew up in Northumberland and now lives in Stirling, Scotland. He has been a Carnegie scholar and a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Glasgow and is busy finishing a PhD in Scottish Literature on the Scottish poets of World War Two. He is the author of two poetry pamphlets, including Spinning Plates (HappenStance Press, 2012) as well as the 2014 collection Cairn from Nine Arches Press. He is slowly editing and collecting poems for another pamphlet.