In lambing season my father threw
—-my schoolbooks into the hearth,
—-said, this is not the kind of people we are
—-and turned me out of the house with the collies.
I knew better than to protest
—-but my shoulders sloped
—-like the sides of the valley
—-as I followed him into the fields.
At first I only watched
—-from a safe distance, half-hidden by heather,
—-holding my face in both hands
—-while my father’s hands, cracked
—-and swollen and leathered by the wind,
—-calmed ewe after ewe
—-with a softness he’d never shown
—-me before. Slowly, I crawled
—-through the gaps between my fingers,
—-creeping up on him
—-like weather, like a wild animal,
—-hypnotised by his magic.
He taught me how to touch
—-the distended bellies of sheep:
—-where to look; when to wait;
—-when to help and when
—-to leave well alone. I began
—-to make some magic of my own.
I abandoned my books, traded battles
—-and verbs and figures and maps
—-for canine telepathy,
—-resistance to the cold,
—-an eye for the nuances of bleeding
—-and a waterproof soul.
I learned from my mistakes.
I learned from everything.
Even the hills have lessons in them
—-if you know where to look.
I could read entrails strewn across snow,
—-clots of wool caught in barbed wire,
—-meanings rendered in stone, or shit,
—-or footprints, or the flightpaths of birds.
On my eighteenth birthday I delivered
—-a two-headed lamb. The mother didn’t make
—-a sound. She and I looked at each
—-other, and the lamb looked at us
—-both, at the same time, with all of its eyes.
I caught their disease, spent
—-nine weeks in a hospital bed
—-unable to stop humming.
They found bees in my blood,
—-and my body was sheathed in blisters,
—-which burst, one by one, and peeled
—-me away from the holiest life I’d ever know.
Finalist, the Poetry International Prize 2022