Elizabeth Rimmer was born and educated in Liverpool and moved to Scotland in 1977. Poet, gardener and river-watcher, her roots are Catholic, radical, feminist and green. Her work is inspired by weather, landscape and tradition, the work of craftsmen, gardeners, foresters and musicians, and by language, legends and heritage. Or anything else that appeals to her magpie mind. Wherever We Live Now is published by Red Squirrel Press.
Visiting the Dunbrody Famine Ship
Grief bubbles like rosin out of the pine
they built these stacked bunks from –
one to a family, and bring your own bedding,
each adult’s life packed into no more
than ten cubic feet, says the ticket, including
utensils for eating and drinking.
Bad enough in fine weather, queuing to cook
in their cold half hour on deck, but in storms
battened under hatches, chewing raw oatmeal and biscuit,
sweating, vomiting, pissing in the dark,
and the smell of loss and fear. The actors recall
a good captain, five deaths only the whole trip.
It’s the lists that really hurt. The database
remembers everyone, keeps them safe by name,
and age and occupation, by ship, and by landfall.
I look for my Foleys, Richard and two daughters,
my grandmother’s family, left Waterford
in 1873, and lost at sea, still lost.
It’s the way they tell you, as if they know
it’s you, crying in the dark for your mammy,
and the sweet taste of new milk, and sunlight,
and just to be still. They know those names mend a link
in the chain that leads us back to our dead,
and makes us whole, wherever we live now.
A Doll for Lucy – The Orkney Venus
It would have taken time without metal –
hours, weeks, grinding the stone to part
the head from the shoulders, score the lines
that gave her hair, hands below wide sleeves,
the flow of her dress and the pins
that kept it together, like owl eyes, like breasts.
Who else would they have done it for, endowing
two inches of pebble with wisdom,
her mother’s fertility, her father’s smile,
the memory of hills in her brow-line,
the lochs of home in her eyes,
except a loved child?
More than a play-thing,
they made her a doll to keep in her pocket,
a blessing of family, homeland and story
to keep her safe, as we would keep you.
Museum Exhibit at Arles
Two thousand years ago they put the child
to sleep in the cupped length of a roof-tile,
as in a cradle. Her longer bones
are fine as knitting needles, the small skull
sunk into the cavity of her crushed ribs.
Behind glass walls, earth and ash cling to her,
and the smudged caressing fingerprints
of mourners long since gone to clay.
Breaking through Gravel
My Muses have nine children.
They go mad, lose their jobs,
live on rolled oats and vegetables.
That’s how they write. In three languages,
in trains, in kitchens, in libraries,
on the back seat of the bus. They write
about sex and history and fairy tales,
the shape of a sonnet, splitting the atom,
where the rent is coming from. Their lives
are made of food, and soap, and meetings with strangers,
the family china, the slammed door, a child’s stamped foot,
the hurt silence, the stolen kiss,
the need to write.
The art of women is not a quest, like the whale,
but salvage from a storm of perplexity.
It is unlicensed, illicit, defiant,
and inevitable as starlight,
or the trajectory of the lily of the valley
disregarding gravel, and breaking the tarmac
with unapologetic, overwhelming joy.
Orpheus Plays 2: Battlechant of the MCRmy
He has never seen the venue from this side.
Behind the amps, behind the rocksteady
cordon in liveried t-shirts, he has not seen
the broken vinyl, the congealed sweat
that drips like greasy rain, advertisements
for help-lines for the drugged, abused or disappeared.
From his side, in the stagelight bubble’s
liquid pulsing, he sees glitterflashes,
a snowfall of shredded tickets, and the hands
waving when he waves, love graffiti
in tattoos and eyeliner, skull mittens,
fingers making horns. He hears the screaming,
singing in the pauses, maenad chanting
MCRmy! What is your profession?
He says he thinks of them as family.
They tell him how his music saved their lives.
He gives them songs of alienation
disillusionment, despair, death, pain and hell.
They sing too. They already know those words.
He tells them to be gentle to each other.
He comes downstage, takes the mike and shouts
I want to hear you mother-fuckers scream!
The MCRmy is the ‘street team’ of the rock band
My Chemical Romance. “What is your profession?”
is the first half of the password on their website.
from Wherever We Live Now (Red Squirrel Press, 2011).
Order Wherever We Live Now.
Visit Elizabeth’s website and blog.