Samara, Graham Mort
Illustrations by Claire Jefferson
4WordPress, 2021 £7.50
In the poem ‘Limousins’, the September morning is ‘skim-milk blue’ and the sow thistle is yellow but it’s the three letters of ‘red’ that carry weight:
There are the red cattle, woken
from a cave painting, daubed
with red clay into an old religion
waking with rooks to stand
in the pearl-soaked grass.
[…] The cows
groan under the great red bull —
daughters and dams of red clay —
On the page facing this poem, a red tag (shaped not unlike a ragged heart) hangs in the ear of a Limousin cow, drawn beautifully by Claire Jefferson. This beast is not ‘woken / from a cave painting’ but starkly modern, ‘genes mapped on a spreadsheet in / the farmhouse with meat and milk / yields.’
The Limousins wake with rooks. In ‘A Swallow Maybe’, however, whatever this bird might or might not be, it enters the poem as ‘a blue knot of lightning’ but a few lines later
[…] is flown into
the copse like war
its red throat silently
booming and aflame
In drawing the reader’s eye to the red throats of three maybe-swallows, Claire Jefferson’s illustration reinforces the questions of identity and identification raised in the poem.
However, of all the redness in this collection, the most beguiling belongs to the creature in ‘Fox’. The eponymous fox is caught in headlights ‘on the road through / the larch wood, just stepping / out to the chicken coop.’ It ‘executes a sorry jump / from pointed toes — a ginger / novice in the dancing class.’ Seeing itself observed, it then uses the tip of its tail to paint ‘itself / out into the dark:
A few strokes and it’s gone
into the chiaroscuro dusk.
The fox’s amber eyes stare boldly from the accompanying illustration. They seem to be asking questions. Have you never been caught doing something you shouldn’t be doing? Have you never blushed and wished — if not specifically for a tail — for some way of painting yourself out of where you shouldn’t have been?
Are you blushing already? Are you brave enough to answer?