there is no sound when it snows – Ali Whitelock

there is no sound when it snows

like when you pull your tam o’shanter
down over your ears and i know this muffled
silence so well it is there always
in the forest at the end of our road
where conifer boughs layered with thick snow sway
like fat babies just fed their heads
lolling on the brink of nodding off and the train
to london whizzes past twice a day punctuating
the silence with two giant exclamation
marks triggering tremors causing snow
to loosen and waltz from boughs with a whispering swoosh
and there were times i was on that train
mum would drop me at the station in the village
then race back through the forest
to wave as my train sped past and as the forest
approached i’d wave through the window
though the train went so fast i could never
quite see her––but i knew that she was there.
the air is iced and sharp here and i breathe
it willingly stick my tongue in the air
catch snowflakes that flit i swallow
their flesh drink down their blood
till i am the snowflake the snowflake is me.
i lived here once. in this icy silence
the place i live now is hot and there are days
i could weep for the boughs of my forest
and the north wind that gusts and near blows
the toorie off my glengarry this hot place i live is australia
the land is dry and cracked here
much like the skin on the heels of my feet
that were never like that when i lived in scotland
i’ve got my father’s feet they say heels
that need softening in the bath for a fortnight 
before you could even begin to take the cheese
grater to them and only then will the thick skin
come away crumbly like the mature scottish
cheddar i’ve never enough money to buy in the supermarket
things have changed since i came to this hot
place i’ve forgotten a lot about scotland
sure that’s what i came here for in the first
place but i have my reminders all around
me now indeed as i lay here on my bed
on this hot january afternoon wilting
from the searing heat and not a breath
of air to be had my dog eared copy of antonia
fraser’s ‘mary queen of scots’ jams my sash
window open since the cord of the sash snapped
and sent the upper case hurtling to the sill
like the guillotines that have taken the french
heads off more people than i care to remember
and i have my postcard on the wall
the one of the highland cow my brother
sent me from his camping trip on skye –
‘come back ali’ it reads ‘before you forget
how good this air truly tastes.’ and i read
that card daily and it too is dog-eared
for i peel it from the wall each morning
and stick it back with the same lump of blu
tac i’ve been using for the last as many years
i can’t move in this heat
all i can do is lay here on my now damp cotton
sheets damp from the sweat i’ve been leaking
as hot winds torch and burnt dust swirls forcing
locals into bars with promises of half price
cocktails served in coconut shells at times
of day not made for drinking
i moved into this weatherboard cottage
with hardly a thing it was the first place
i’d lived in australia with a garden––i should
say yard––they call gardens yards down here
yards make me think of barbed wire fences
broken concrete slabs and gnashing
guard dogs on choke chains that near sever
their wind pipes rushing strangers that come too close
the day i moved in i sat in my new garden
overgrown with something green and curly
––chokoes the neighbour advised––whatever
the fuck chokoes are i looked them up ‘native
to mexico though particularly easy to grow
in the australian YARD’ and this house
came with a fish-pond baking in full sun
naked of algae and the loneliest most bored looking
goldfish i have ever seen he barely moves
does not dart nor scoot unlike the darting
scooting goldfish of my youth won at fairgrounds
knocking the heads off clowns with a coconut
i call this goldfish gordon for no other
reason than it starts with a g
sometimes i sit under my chokoe vine
and stare at him once in a while he swims
half heartedly from one end of his blistering
pond to the other humiliated by mosquitoes
landing on fairy feet pricking the surface
of his pond there was a time he must have eaten them––
i don’t see him so much as place his lips
to the surface now all he does is hang
with all the the weight of the depressed
man who care barely lift his head
off the pillow and i get to thinking
all this gold fish has probably ever
known is life in this simmering pond
but me i’ve known something different
i’ve seen my frosted breath hang in the stillest
of air and my lips have kissed the chill
of snow that brings a silence money
couldn’t buy you so i’ll lay here
on my damp sheets a wee while longer
and i’ll dream of scotland and mary queen of scots and two-man tents on skye
where toories are taken in gale force winds
and goldfish are not boiled alive in some scalding
sure this hot country is no place for a goldfish
this hot country is no place for me


Poet’s note:

The place that’s disappearing here is in Scotland, where I was born and grew up, before leaving in my 30’s to come to Australia. The place is in a tiny village called Cartland, in the countryside, lots of Scots pines, I remember mostly frost and snow and great expanses of land dotted with new born lambs. The Mouse River runs through it and from the forest of pines I could always see our home perched on top of the hill. In the distance, there was Tinto Hill, a blue mountain that looked a little like Mount Fuji in Japan, weirdly. A place of rolling hills, narrow roads, dry stane dykes. A fairly desolate, cold place, but strikingly beautiful. A place where your warm breath hangs in the cold air. Birdsong is rife, my heart is still there.