Robin Robertson

1955 / Scone


Only a blue string tethers him to the present.
The small black goat; the stone enclosure;
the forked wooden altar washed in coconut
milk, hung with orange and yellow marigolds;
the heap of sodden sand.
With a single bleat
he folds himself into a shadow in the corner,
nosing a red hibiscus flower onto its back
and nibbling the petals.
The temple bells; the drum. It is nearly time.
A litre of Ganges holy water
up-ended over him. He's dragged
shivering to centre-stage and
slotted, white-eyed, into place. On the last
drumbeat, the blade separates
his head from his body. The blood
comes out of his neck
in little gulps.
The tongue and eyes are still
moving in the head
as the rest of him
is thrown down next to it.
Neither of his two parts can quite take this in.
The legs go on trembling,
pedalling at the dirt - slowly trying to drag
the body back to its loss: the head
on its side, dulling eyes fixed
on this black, familiar ghost;
its limbs flagging now,
the machinery running down.
There's some progress, but not enough, then
after a couple of minutes, none at all.
The last thing I notice is a red petal
still in his mouth, and another,
six inches away, in his throat.
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