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Recipe, Alarm and the Weight of Leaked Time

For Christmas I received a big fat volume of Norman MacCaig’s poems. I asked especially for this as I had been recently haunted (this happens once in a while) by his poem, Recipe. On the occasions when I am so haunted I begin to see MacCaig’s skeletal form – his piercing gaze, his thin knowing lips – in various corners of the city.

It has been some time – years – since I turned to poetry. It used to be the first place I would look for grace and balance, and a certain stillness of mind. It felt strangely like Mother’s Milk.

A couple of nights ago I came to bed late and saw that S. had used the big fat volume to weigh down the digital clock in an effort to still the electric hum that disturbs us right through the night.

It has been years since I turned to poetry. It also occurs that it is now a decade since I thought to lift my own pen and write the stuff.

I scolded S. for daring to use the book in this way and returned it to the shelf. Then I killed the light and listened to the hum of leaking time thinking any poet would make something of this moment.

Recipe, Norman MacCaig

You have to be stubborn.
You have to turn away
from meditation, from ideologies,
from the tombstone face
of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

You have to keep stubbornly saying
This is bread, though it’s in a sunset,
this is a sunset with bread in it.
This is a woman, she doesn’t live
In a book or an imagination.
Hello, water, you must say, Hello
Good water.

You have to touch wood, but not for luck.
You have to listen to that matter of pitches and crescendos
without thinking Beethoven is speaking
only for you
And you must learn there are words
with no meaning, words like consolation
words like goodbye.