Scottish poet, Pippa Little


People thought my father drank: he never said

it was my mother

who stuck like moss to dark places.

She gives us wipes for the train

to wash away the sticky fingerprints of strangers.

We descend from Ward 4 in a dark box

without him. Street level

says the final sign.

He is a crane-fly, hurt

and folded. He forgets

he once walked like other fathers.

I can make him strong,

afraid of nothing. That’s not true.

I am ashamed for both of us.

The roads have been closed,

the railway lines pulled up.

We live and die inside these bodies.

I was so old when I was not a woman,

when I weighed nothing.


He thinks he’s unobserved

in his lonely grace

circling the five-acre field

fence to fence –

he is a running cloud,

a fast-flowing river,

ripples of mist or smoke.

I scent him on the wind,

imagine how the nap rises on his spine:

don’t want to bridle

or fetter him, just watch

and watch how life

loves him whole,

muscle and bone. 


You began to trouble yourself about death

at nine years old when you would stumble

finger by finger the unlit passage to their closed door,  

inch inside their smoke-fumed dark, climb them

lying back to back in bed, deliver yourself

to that scorched plain between volcanoes (one long-spent, 

the other simmering): you didn’t know then 

being untouched was an affliction; being fed

through bars by knucklebone, you were just

ashamed of this need to return night after night

where you were unwelcome – too old for this, 

picked up and taken back to where death muttered 

he would get you later from behind the curtain

and you held yourself, stoppered your mouth with your thumb

so the long smouldering-out wouldn’t melt and fuse

your lungs to your spine but it would take years before

you could breathe without hurting.


Mangoes ripened and fell

clotting in your tropical garden.

Your mother cut them open

for you to suck their woolly flesh.

You bumbled around the garden leaning on the dog

mouth bright with mango glue and tongue fermenting, 

perfectly happy.

But then in another country, it was cold,

the chair hard, your plate a great moon

with a secret which had to be revealed

by swallowing gristle and muscle and fat.

You’d sit there until you’d swallowed every cold bite

in the darkening room.

Those were different times.

Like the night you hadn’t wanted to come home

from your friend’s sweet and lawless kitchen,

told your mother you wished she wasn’t yours, meaning

you hated her unhappiness,

then found waiting on the table her special  

spaghetti, breadcrumbs crunchy in blonde cheese.

You ate it all and wanted more but couldn’t ask.



humans are 0.01% of the living, murderers of 83% of wild mammals


this fire and flood summer

it oozes out of the earth

dull throb of knowing


and seventeen days and nights orca has carried her newborn dead

photographed/filmed/followed/ for a thousand miles


I walk back and forth at the edge of this northern sea

can’t leave  can’t rest


with no language to say this in any other way

sea calls, repeats                                       the harm/the damage


two lost before this one which she won’t let go

constantly retrieving and lifting its sinking body

pushing against the will of the sea

how her body trembles     I dream of the weight    the cold throat

closing up in silence  again and again  


bloodsong   bloodcall                                       the hurt/the damage


this evening a report    six females circle her

close and slow 

she has allowed her young to slip away

fall through the soft layers and threads of the sea


who will mourn in six generations’ time?


I want to be sung to as if everything is all right   

Scottish poet, Pippa Little

Pippa Little is a Scots poet living in North East England. Overwintering (Carcanet) was shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney Centre Award, Twist (Arc) for The Saltire Society Poetry Book of the year.  Her work appears widely in anthologies, online, in print, film, and on radio. Her third collection is forthcoming.

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