Pressed along the lip of the lávvu, our bodies were rocks around a fire pit.
Tarpaulin crinkled under our shuffling. Smoke overhead curled
into the pinnacle of this conical tent, tonguing a hunk of reindeer leg
hung from the forked poles, freshly slaughtered for a herder’s birthday.

The herders of this siida passed a knife, its bearer standing to carve
chunks of meat and sear them in the fire’s lick. Though the daylight beyond
our tent wouldn’t melt during this Arctic summer, in our cocoon they drank for the darkness,
tossing back moonshine and cranberry until safe enough to hand me, an intruder, the knife.

Sapling birch hissed steam, its freshness dampening the flames. To reignite it,
said the youngest man, picture a love as you blow on the logs.
I hunched, cheek to floor, and sighed. The fire roared back. Who is she,
the herders teased, making these embers growl like a wolverine? Whose spirit had I conjured,

my breath sounding out a silent yoik:
a song of lyric and yodel, chant and trance, yearning for places and people,
not merely stoking memories but calling them from elsewhere: enchantment,
akin to a spell, kindling that which you love, and potent when sung onto flame.

This was my yoik: an ex whose cancer spread as spring destroys a snowscape;
a pal whose alcoholic heart would soon halt, becoming tranquil as the fjords;
a divorcée whose incandescence was fire enough to never need warmth again.
These basins of attraction summon me back, echoing through the latitudes,
evoking a home I left, expecting to build elsewhere but lost along the way.


Lávvu: A tent constructed around a tripod of forked poles. The structure is used, among other things, as a temporary dwelling or a place to smoke meat.

Siida: A community of reindeer-herding households working together, traditionally based around kinship and tied to customary rights to land. Membership of a siida can be seasonal: People might belong to different groups during different times of the year as they follow their herds.

Yoik (or Joik): Sámi song, called luohti or juoiggus in the Northern Sámi language. Fourth stanza provides a definition.

(Published in SAPIENS)

A Photograph

Under the sudden weight his neck cracked a little like the shutter-release button.
Not the weight of stories or self-aggrandised memory or shit like this:
the straight-down weight of a 1971 Russian-made SLR
(no matter he thought it was the same age as his father).
She focussed slowly then became a blur, a sunset on a plain.

For the occasion he wore his best 58-mil lens: factory-standard,
actually, but there’s no need for her to know. He held it to her.
The smell of the ageing leather case threw her to a world of a father,
breath of American lager, cigars, a green recliner and a fire.
She tossed it back, tossed off her pants, let her arch punctuate a question mark.

By chance the bottom of the case still held his father’s ‘Property Of’ label,
in gold, in larger font, above his, punctuated by a full stop.
The weight on the wrist at this angle hurt. He aimed again, her sunset fell
behind the night curtain shutter only to rise one hundred and twenty five
milliseconds later. He thumbed the winder, finding nothing to spool,

no film for the sprockets to chew, and his eyes – wide, stark – shuttered on bulb
for an unfocussed time, gulping images onto the reel of his
mind: thoughts of all those times lost, all those eternities dismissed
with each flick of that switch; not even memories now: events, without
a chance to become fading antiques coated in their tears, dust and grease.

He opened his eyes. She’s still naked, still there, more an imperative now
than an indirect, seductive question.
The mirror behind her
and the mirror behind him juggled the couple for an era
he just couldn’t muster and, wishing for film, he pressed on the plunger:
an inrush of light puffed off the back of the camera. Nothing was preserved.

(Published in issue three of Haque magazine.)

We Burn Daylight

My friend Kathleen Bryson and I co-wrote and co-directed (and co-starred in) a filmpoem with the editing wizardry of Kimmo Moykky and the cinematographic skills of Ollie Drackford.

Poem words below the video. The text of the poem is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike License so feel free to do with it what you will (as far the license allows…).

We Burn Daylight from Kathleen Bryson on Vimeo.

We Burn Daylight

I heard the foxes mate last night, full sting,
all coil and pleasure crawl, all bitter pierce and tuft.

I made you into a hedgehog instead,
tied twigs in your hair, and you let me laugh;
no shaman blossomed by berry blood,
serious with stag horns and pinebranch shadows.
You are at the very least a tolerant man.

I’ll sing like foxes sing, I think,
orange wounds and sultry bites;
you’re tied to twigs that might not scratch you, or they might
not cut you, or they might.

The foxes with their tails scooped from fires
The foxes with their red hair and their cauls
The foxes with their teeth now hidden axes
You tried not to think of them at all.

I do not care if they call me home.
I must have time to pick away your twigs
and count your freckles, scratch your hands by chance.
I want you to hear the foxes sing.

. . .

What will it come to mean, the mournful sting
of pollen on the breeze, the twilight
shivers through his hair?

No man could have been a man,
who chose this creature, vulpine
on her haunches, her thick brow
sheltering her flowstone eyes,
belly ripened, juicy with life.

She tends his body in this shallow pit.
Stubby fingers paw at yarrow and lay grape
hyacinth on his collapsed temple.

Here is the first grave, bedded with groundsel,
flecked with the shadows of Shanidar Cave.

Nobody knows what it meant – a burnt ochre
bouquet, tousled breaths, this first act
of devotion – an explosion
into humanity, into lives
full of unfossilised moments.

There is no word yet for the kick of her
almost-human child, no word for why
she soothes his hair from the taunts of the wind.

She opens her mouth, as if to sing.

To Ink

It’s 8pm & she & I are dusk
again lost, fuzzed – a lush, & me near-drunk –
just us, just as the popcorn air & sunk-
en August sun against us drills & clasps
my wind-burred fingers, turns their subtle task
from rolling fags, from gestures, to ink.
Were I to write her some words, some small chunk
of what I’ll call the heart, what harm? What risk?

. . .

The words at hand now handed, now I stand
indoors, in fear, yet pleased with what I planned.
Now I can barely speak to order drinks.
As time ticks slow, I sink as sunlight sinks.
Outside, the heaters start to glow & warm
her, reading. I mistake the light for dawn.

(One of three poems published in Haque magazine.)

Whimpers and Bangs

“Do you want us to not be doing that?”
He’d jump to ask the nearest authority figure
soon as we started larking about or
having a laugh which gained us
a bollocking at school and earned more
work at work.

And he turned to asking it of himself, offering
out the mirror invariably in his pants, half-cut
on cut-price plonk, panicked, forcing
a sliver of a grin.
We stuck it out together though – through
more thicks than thins.

Now in the old boys’ home, he’s got perennial
shits and we all have to sit around
bearing the brunt of it while in his turn
the fella slumps with a globule
of saliva like quicksilver glistening
on his chin.

I tell him:
“You shouldn’t be going out like that,”
but he won’t listen.

(One of three poems published in Haque magazine.)


My flapping hands Freudian-slip, or whatever
the equivalent is and she cracks up.
(Still can’t get the hang of this lark).

The carriage clatters with her
primal laugh, her primate laugh.
Her retarded laugh.

She signs: Busy day?
I rock my hand from side to side.
I sign: You?
She weaves a reply

like tumbleweed after a bad joke,
as the commuters cough and rustle
their papers and don’t look.

She signs: I love conducting you
She signs: my symphony

and laughs again and I know
my reddening cheeks and derailed gaze
are signs, shouting at her

louder than voices.

(One of three poems published in Haque magazine.)

Agnostics & Alcoholics

Some years back, we made this. Poem by me, video by Sarina Gascon McCavana, read by Garrett Millerick.

(Watch Agnostics & Alcoholics on Vimeo.)

Agnostics & Alcoholics

In a pub the other day, I saw a sterling English lad
Who pondered not a vapid thought: did creators create man?
I said: ‘My boy, this beer you see
Was fermented in a brewery,
Fermented much like you and me
As god’s master plan.’

The lad simply turned with ease
And said to me: ‘Now listen, geez,
If this god’s all he’s cracked up to be
And if he’s linked inextricably
To ale and beer and stout techniques,
How come my pint tastes of piss?’

Alas, I could not answer this.