The wolf cries under the leaves, the woodsman cuts through the trees
My father spoke of stories like whiskey
he could hold in a clear glass, drink down
and see for miles the meaning of a man.
But up there where he died,
on the edge of the Western Isles
it takes more than a single malt.
The crofts are like tombs
and the children kill cats in the crumbling barns,
buzzards strike out the sun
and the winters bring hunger
like lidless beggars to the stones.
I see him in his shapeless sweater,
searching the horizon, nothing doing
and a child burning brightly
in the shadow of his death.
None will attend him but the priest
and his mild hands anointing with oil.
After, they will bring flowers through the snow,
small bells will sound in the night
and wood will burn brightly.
All through the land the wolves will run on
casting his name to the trees.
Stephen Milne teaches English at a Catholic school in England. His previously published poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies such as A Passage of Time (Spotlight Poets 1999), Poetry Now South East, Outposts Poetry Quarterly,and The Alison House Poets. Some have been read out on Capital Radio in London. A Department for Education scholarship holder in 2002, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on children’s reading and the moral imagination and is an associate member of staff at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham. He is married with six children and lives in an old Victorian farmhouse in rural Lincolnshire.