Tag Archives: child

‘The Tay Moses’ by Kathleen Jamie

What can I fashion for you
but a woven creel of river-
rashes, a golden
oriole’s nest my gift
wrought from the Firth –

And choose my tide: either
the flow, when, watertight
you’ll drift to the uplands
my favourite hills, held safe
in eddies where salmon, wisdom
and guts withered in spawn,
rest between moves – that
slither of body as you were born –

or the ebb, when the water
will birl you to snag
on reeds, the river
pilot leaning over the side
Name o’ God!‘ and you’ll change hands:
tractor-man, grieve, farm-wife
who takes you into her
competent arms

even as I drive slamming
the car’s gears,
spitting gravel on tracks
down between berry-fields,
engine still racing, the door wide
as I run toward her, crying
LEAVE HIM! Please,
it’s okay, he’s mine.

This is a poem by Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie, which I listened to on The Poetry Archive today.
The poet says that she wrote The Tay Moses when she was expecting her first son, and was feeling apprehensive about the new arrival and addition to her household. I like this poem because it seems to me to be very brave in its emotional honesty; it is not acceptable in our society for women to express these sorts of feelings and I just think it was brave to publish this.

She begins the poem by imagining making a little Moses basket for her baby, from reeds from the Tay river (“wrought from the Firth”). In the poem, she puts the basket and baby in the river, choosing her “tide”, and nonetheless making sure that the basket is “water-tight”. I love the language here, with the “woven creel of river” and the “golden oriole’s nest”.

We follow the poet’s imagination as the basket with the baby drifts “to the uplands”, “held safe in eddies”… until it gets caught somewhere and is rescued by a “tractor man” and his “farm-wife”, who takes the baby in her “competent arms”. The image of this capable farmer’s wife taking the baby into her strong, motherly arms, is something that seemingly triggers the protective instinct in our mother-poet, for she is suddenly racing to get her baby back. I love the urgency of the language describing this, as she is “slamming/ the car’s gears” and “spitting gravel on tracks”. This is such efficient, evocative language and I think it’s really clever. You can hear the regret and the frantic desire to undo the situation her imagination has produced. The poem ends with the poet running to her child, crying “LEAVE HIM! Please,/ It’s ok, he’s mine.”

I love the nightmarish/dreamlike quality to this poem, and the way that letting that Moses basket float down the river is like the poet’s mind running off with her fears that she won’t be a good mother. At the end, I love how the way she races to salvage her child and her urgency to take him back from the “competent” farmer’s wife is like her mother’s instinct retrieving her fearful mind that was running away with a crazy notion. In the end, she salvages everything, undoes the nightmare she has dreamt up in a panic, and realises how much she already loves her child.

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh