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It didn’t contain the tools of her trade:
clot-red lippy, war-paint, a Stanley-knife,

French-ticklers, a skint wallet of old plastics.


Instead it stank of salt, the sweat of ozone.

The rusty buoy’s distant garnet bulb,
a jittery tabernacle on the rough sea.


                 from; Flotsam by Richard McCaffery






     Fairy Pools
     Blackboard at St. Cuthbert's




     Rocket Kirk

     Willow Pattern

     The Professional

     Het Lam Gods 



1 – BIOGRAPHY:  Richard McCaffery


Richie McCaffery was born in Newcastle in 1986 and now divides his time between Winchester and Warkworth, Northumberland. He is a Carnegie scholar at The University of Glasgow, writing a doctoral thesis on the Scottish poetry of World War Two. His first collection from HappenStance Press, entitled 'Spinning Plates' has just been published. He has been the recoent of an Edwin Morgan Travel Bursary, a Hawthornden fellowship and is soon to take  a month long writer's retreat at Hugh MacDiarmid's cottage 'Brownsbank' in Biggar. His poems have been accepted by such magazines as The Rialto, The Dark Horse, Magma, Stand, The Reader and many others.






Fairy Pools
We pitched our tent that evening
in the basalt glower of the Cuillins
and went barefoot for firewood.
In the pines, in a fern glade
a burn ran like marbles over rocks.
Huddled around your pocket radio
that night, we danced blanketed.
A song called 'Secret Heart' came on.
Through hailstorms and squalls
a voice from the dark wavelengths.
I held you like a decanter
in the tent, pouring splashingly.
We were the only people alive.
I was all kaleidoscopes and adrenalin
and never told you it was my first time.



In an underground copy
of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’
a shaky plum inscription.

To Renee, my sweet –
from France via the Dunkirk
holocaust, 2/8/40, Sid.

All that way in a kitbag,
through panzers and snipers.
Bullets hitting the water
like kingfishers.


Blackboard at St. Cuthbert's


In the chalky trough under the blackboard

are lessons dusted and already forgotten.

The teacher is squawking away once more,

scratching into the dark Welsh tabula rasa

the truths so far about God and arithmetic

with the expungible white of fossil shells.




When my mother arrived,
no one would sign for her,
left out like a parcel
on a stranger’s doorstep.

Bundle of birth, fly-tipped,
swathed in a linen bag
stamped ‘Tate and Lyle sugar’
seven lbs too heavy.

No mobile, just rain clouds,
her lips sapphire blue,
tiny lungs like strawberries
full of pneumonia.





In the dunes at Warkworth beach,

wartime barbed wire corrodes

in marram grass, coiled like cilices.


All the gins in the Duke’s woods

lie shut in leaf pulp, their teeth

stuck in a lockjaw of oxidation.  


The languages I used to speak,

that ferric tang when you cough,

the staples in booklets that failed us.





They found her faux-leather handbag first
with the usual tidal stuff, shore-froth, pincers,

bits of broken shells, ragworm casings.

It didn’t contain the tools of her trade:
clot-red lippy, war-paint, a Stanley-knife,

French-ticklers, a skint wallet of old plastics.


Instead it stank of salt, the sweat of ozone.

The rusty buoy’s distant garnet bulb,
a jittery tabernacle on the rough sea.

Somewhere, with lungs of brine, wet clothes
rippling as fins she floated, eyes amphibious.
The tide was turning, they needed the boat.






Rocket Kirk
of lost chapels
congregated by swallows.
A broken pocket Bible
sits on a driftwood lectern
in the tiny Rocket Kirk.
Sea wind cannot preach
more than its sting of salt.
Outside two lovers lie
boxed under marram grass.





 Willow Pattern


We spent the day mudlarking in a newly tilled field

and found little beyond dud currency of big pennies

that might buy us defunct brands or extinct flavours.

But we have collected enough broken pottery to make

our own mosaic service to shatter again in our time.

I offer you the gilded handle of a chintzy porcelain cup

that may have been dashed in malice or by accident.

This is the fractured toast of the dead to our future,

no matter how many pieces we gather, we’ll never

make the same as once was. I break open a rut clod

to find a bit of the ubiquitous willow pattern plate

that depicts only one lover with a soil-stained crack

between the other who may not even lie in this field,

clawing its way through such acres of domestic moraine.



The Professional


You ask what I do for a living

and I don’t think I can say.

There is something in the way

I take this teacup from you

without the tell-tale click

of ring on hot porcelain.


You ask will this take long.

maybe. My questions must

be answered. Some are pointless

as wasps and the pain they give.

Others will take you many lungs

to satisfy the depth I need.


You’ll remember my dolphin smile,

my signature like snake-crossed sand.

You will notice some day soon

that all your cups carry my trademark –

a faint hairline crack. I specialise

in such subtle, half-bearable damage.






Het Lam Gods


Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent is ornate as a geode

the size of fifty quarries, and in a plain back room

stands a medieval barn-door that was painted

in polyptych by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck.

Tourists pay to spend hours examining its keyholes

of Edenic voyeurism. Though our eyes were in

a kind of heaven, it was the marble floor we studied.

In one corner slab we found a tiny secret escutcheon

of a white heart, laid centuries back, perhaps forgotten.

As low as the soil and bruised, in this musty vastness,

our vision whittled to the smallest labour of love.



 3 - Publishing History

Fairy Pools published in Northwords Now – issue 16  

Dedication published in Envoi – issue 157

Blackboard at St. Cuthbert's published in The Rialto issue 72

Mother published in  Envoi – issue 157

Rust published in Fire – issue 33/34

Flotsam (An earlier version of this poem appeared online, on The Scottish Arts Council website as ‘poem of the month’ for August 2009)

Rocket Kirk published in Other Poetry – series 4, no. 3

Willow Pattern published in Previously unpublished



4 - Afterword

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We are looking for other poets to feature in this series, and are open to submissions.  Please send one poem and a short bio to - info@poetrykit.org

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