Patrick Errington

Two poems from Patrick Errington’s The Swailing

followed by a note on the author

Fieldwork in Secret

All day in the heat they would talk. Some sang
even, though no one could hear the others’
words through the grit and noise, the rusted
grind of machinery. But still they’d drive their
voices like fenceposts into the hard din of it,
not a fence for keeping in some untamed
thing, but rather just the plain act of keeping.
As a boy, I used to cross the fields to watch
them at it, the sweat, their mouths moving as
practiced as their hands, shaping the steel dust,
the air – into what, I could never quite say.
A craft of some sort, of sound, of stale light.
Whenever my father came home he’d leave
the keys dangling in the pickup, a scum of grey
around the bath and, every now and then, her
(my mother, I mean), driving with me away
for days, weeks even, but we always came and
were taken back. I guess he liked the act of it,
leaving. I still remember him mumbling along
to the radio, but at home he never sang, not
to anyone, barely spoke in more than those
sentences he set out on the table, cruel little
heirlooms. My mother who spoke enough
for all of us told me how she eventually had
to ask him to stop saying he loved her, and so
he did, though as he neared the end she’d hear
him at night muttering the words and her name
over and over as though they were a kind of
work he’d done all his life and now his breath,
like his hands, was set to it. I could always tell
as he and I drove back that we were almost home
when, though we kept no cattle, no horses,
the untended fields were scored with fences.



The Point

There’s a sense that what is left
is somehow more than what is left
off. That whatever remains must be
the point, like the point he carves
of each fencepost before driving them
into the frost-hardened dirt. Steam
streaming from his hands into the long
dawn light as he pulls off his gloves,
wipes the dust from his lips. That night,
face smeared across the bathroom
mirror, he’ll slowly undress, peeling
away the sweat-stiff shirt and jeans,
and with them the day, all its
gathered pain, each wince and hiss.
He’ll touch his body then, softly
testing it with the tips of his fingers,
pressing into the skin, the scars, as
though he were some not-yet-named
world. He’ll take off his wedding ring,
set it beside the sink. And then
the rest. All of it. Everything he can
be without – hair, tooth, hand, limb by
limb, scraping, scouring away, cutting
down, knowing he will find it, has
to find it, that pure thing that is left,
the sharp point of him, what he
is, just a little farther now, he thinks,
a little beneath, the water running
dark down the drain. In the morning
he’ll head back out before dawn,
a stack of new posts shuddering in
the truck. It’s just ahead, he can tell
and he stops, steps from the cab, here
where he left off. But there’s nothing.
No fence. No post. Nothing. Or not
quite nothing. A line of deep holes,
stretching off into the half-light, each
one perfectly round and full of water.



Fieldwork in Secret first appeared in Best New Poets 2019; The Point first appeared in The Rialto.

Poems by Patrick James Errington appear in magazines and anthologies worldwide, including Poetry Review, Best New Poets, Harvard Review, Boston Review, Oxford Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, and The Fiddlehead, as well as in two chapbooks, Glean (2018) and Field Studies (2019). His work has received numerous awards, including most recently The Poetry International Prize and the Callan Gordon Award from the Scottish Book Trust. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Patrick now lives in Scotland where he teaches at the University of Edinburgh.