Caught by the River

Gaelic: a poem by Jen Hadfield

3rd March 2021

It’s not ok to rub your head against air like a cat. It’s not
ok to be too sincere. I know you can tell I’m cribbing
as I go, and when I ask, ‘What would you say is your 
mother tongue?’ I’m the last surviving speaker
of my language. But when I’m fully exhausted of
conjugating feeling, parsing silence between speaker
and listener, and remembering to ask
questions, direct but not too
direct, and pausing to really hear the answer,
and hearing you, really hearing you, but under
the ribs, sensing slack
water . . . it does sometimes happen
I let an oar drop.
I know how it looks.
And I see your shock.
Like you saw a face through a dark river.
To you I’m suddenly speaking Gaelic,
like language translated
into slow light –
and swift dark –


Taken from Jen’s new collection ‘The Stone Age’, our Book of the Month for March, which is published later this month by Picador. Pre-order your copy here (£10.99).