New Poetry, Fiction, Essays

5 poems by Beth McDonough


5 poems by Beth McDonough

Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing at Glasgow School of Art. Following an M.Litt at Dundee University, she was Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts (2014-16). Her work is strongly connected to place, particularly to the Tay, where she swims, and forages nearby. Her poetry may be read in Gutter, Northwords Now, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Interpreter’s House, many other journals and anthologies. She reviews poetry at DURA. Handfast, a poetry duet pamphlet (with Ruth Aylett) was published in May 2016. There, she investigates her experience of her son’s autism, as her co-poet considers that of her parents’ dementia. The poems ask questions and find parallels. Handfast is published by Mother’s Milk Books.

30th October

3.5°C. Dawn air hoars grass.
These suddenly important numbers.
Facts which matter under trees
which glorious down their Hallowe’en clothes.
No matter, really
to skin into this sea
foot deep, knee deep, thigh
pelvis, gripped ribs – no matter – just swim, begin to
breathe. For half a counted mile
to the upstream, turnaround
simply bitter into this. Then
adjust. Go with cold’s false warmth.

Stroke on. Another fixed land mark. Stop.
Press digits together. One by one.
Every finger can still touch a thumb. Return.
Walk back onto sand.
Dry into the gift of sparking skin.

Twenty minutes landed,
drop colder than possible,
piss away too much of today.
Corpse in a bath, lit by grey skies.
New sleeps of leaves drop pale and huge,
weightless behind blurred bathroom glass.
Autumn falls as snow.


Let me try to explain,
chalk out how that word gauzes dusk.
In slowed descents, in silting air
become aware of mugging heat.

You’re captured in the absence of sun.
I’d lead you through specifics, beyond causes
but we must pinpoint where I stand.
No path leads out. There’s no reliable map.

Watch this thinnest dust
ghost below doors, shift between boards.
Come to sediment your lungs,
suffocate all valid exit points.

Seven veils danced from nowhere.
When this lifts,
if this lifts,
I’ll try to explain.

He is growing through his hair

After-swim, his shaggy blond clumps
bright, lighter in this light.

He is growing through his hair

Taller now, his face plumps up
with all that tapas,
grows soft on clawed butter,
filched from the fridge.

He is growing through his hair

An extra roll grabbed.
Dad nodded, didn’t mind, but
I mind.
Remember all those doctorly words.
Watch side effects kick in –
that prescription’s upscaled hunger
a greater chance of fits.
More Valproate. More

He is growing through his hair

Nothing is funny. Everything
scales up. His Celtic skin
prickles freckles on what must be
a pate, a circle, some tonsure
in his father’s shape, and my own father’s too.

My son is growing through his hair.
Everyone tells me he’s not.
He is. And I am scared.

How not to touch Mallorcan rats

Terrified, what we recognise
already exists in these dykes.
Cracks, just wide enough
for a forced-in marker pen.

Formless things can slippery in
to all those artisan walls.
Built as farmers’ barriers,
hand-made 3-D jigsaws, keen to keep

directionless geese
naughty goats
inky almond trunks.
But never meant as rodent homes.

No sleeky exits noted, but
thoughts are enough. Hiking folks
walk a little back, avoid the touch
of finger-trailing stones at dusk.

Alert to unexpected emergence,
we fear clumped humping bodies.
So many seething nests. Teething teams.
Those thought-cadet young.

Midwinter trails

Mossy sogged on the hip-high wall:
one former Dr Who’s long scarf
Discarded between gardens, in spent clematis knots:
a crepe sole wedge suede shoe (black, not blue, but nevertheless
all partied out)
Dripped from already-berried skimmia (not my plant, alas):
some fat puffa jacket, hanky-stuffed, ripped, unzipped
Perched on that skelfy fence:
men’s themal gloves, with clips
Spiked by this jollity of too-ferocious holly:
a flashing hat, with silent bells.
I undo buttons, quicken boots
keen to join their unclad ceilidh
stripping willows in this mild.

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