Silver Branch series
Lynn Valentine is from Arbroath but now lives on the Black Isle in the Highlands of Scotland via a life in London and Glasgow. She started writing for herself a decade ago after taking redundancy from the BBC due to ill health. From not showing anyone her writing at first, she is now widely published.
Lynn has a Scots Language pamphlet out with Hedgehog Poetry Press in July of this year and will have a full poetry collection published by Cinnamon Press in 2022, after winning the Cinnamon Press Literature Award in 2020. Childlessness, mental health, nature and family all play a part in her writing; she sneaks a Labrador in there when she can.
Lynn can be found on Twitter @dizzylynn or intermittently on Instagram as twoblackdugs
There Must Be Other Words for Crow
a flap of shadow wing
My sister hooded
my father as raven
you in their grip
Beaks bearing weight
more than they can hold
You spitting feathers up
spreading claws to face west
A shrinking from human form
a black budding in your breast
I see you shining flying
bringing twig stone
seaweed to the nest
Exclusive to the Silver Branch series
She harvests planets, ticks them off
with her telescope, not for her
the subtlety of stamp-collecting,
the chink of coins from other lands.
Instead she prefers the golden sheen
of Venus, the red sister rose of Mars.
Some nights she leaves her observatory,
takes a stroll in the friendship of stars.
Remembers those that have also walked,
the Moon a silver locket, with secrets at its heart.
Published in Black Bough poetry's 2nd edition
Maeshowe Burial Chamber
Here we find the lap of our breath,
inhale the dim sap of ancestors, flat dark
polished by the cough of a torch.
History swirls in the gyre of the tomb,
time’s tilt calls from hollows where bones
were laid, from walls where Vikings scritched
and scratched, the shock of a woman’s mark
on old stones. Hlif was here, a host
of others - men, women, children - known and unknown.
A dragon crouches in the folds beside the door,
keeps watch, presses us
to pass to the light and the present of home.
Published in Black Bough, Deep Time volume 1
This is the place where sea and river meet, where
a giant’s mouth was ripped from the drop of cliffs.
Inside we are hit with the soft slap of north,
a guide’s broad accent, the small stir of the boat
A guddle of brown trout meet and greet us,
tickling and dipping at our outstretched hands.
We shelter from rain where others once sat,
stretch back to years we can’t count,
to ancient faces reflected in our own.
Published in Black Bough, Deep Time volume 2
Painted Ladies Rapture
Better than the butterfly house,
this rush of colour you’ve brought to the north,
porphyry of thistles resolved into a burning bush.
I worship at your altar, burned but not consumed,
offer a prayer for your laced fretwork, stay silent
as your flames scorch across the garden.
Forthcoming in Black Bough's 'Freedom/ Rapture' edition
She could say Saguaro before she was two,
waiting for the sandman at Mojave.
Her breath as pale as moon lily milk,
fat fingers drawing a hawk moth down.
The Train Song was her lullaby, catcalling
midnight missions, the crossing bells a comfort.
Jimsonweed blooms in her swollen belly,
an atomic flash burns the desert clean.
Published in Black Bough's 'Yolk' edition.
"Poetry has been a way for me to make sense of my world especially when things seem a bit overwhelming. It’s been a refuge against the black dog of mental illness howling at my door and a way of holding it at bay. Poetry is not just something I read and enjoy writing; for me it has been an absolute lifesaver. It has helped me deal with the death of my Mum, the gnawing ache of childlessness and, most recently, the months of lockdown and restrictions. If that all sounds grim then it has also been a way to witness the small miracles of my world, from the Red Kites that fly above the neighbouring fields to memories of a much-missed dog. I hope I convey some of that joy and despair to others when they read my work."
The nurse shows me the wardrobe, tells me to fold my clothes at the bottom of it - there is no rail to hang my clothes on, no rail in case I hang myself.
I volunteered for this - persuaded by a psychiatrist that I needed to come off all meds, have a stay at the hospital. This psychiatrist is new to me, this city is new to me, I moved here with my husband only three months ago. I later learn that there have been complaints against this psychiatrist, that he will do permanent damage to me, that he will be promoted upwards out of patient’s lives but I don’t know that so I say yes, yes and yes – anything to get me out of this drain of depression and anxiety.
The nurse who is assigned to me is kind, helpful but she goes on holiday and I’m left with a series of other stand-ins who have neither the time or will to deal with me properly.
The hospital itself, although not much more than a decade old, has not been thought through for patients. My room has a lot of glass – the Scottish summer of 2013 is hot - I melt under the glass like an insect slowly being tortured by a pinpoint of light from a magnifying glass. I am told that the rooms are freezing in the winter, I don’t want to find that out.
The wing I am in does not just deal with the fragility of mental health - alcoholics and drug users come here to dry out. Some of them are scary, one of them steals, we are not allowed a lock on our doors. My anxiety worsens.
In occupational therapy, I make a wooden beaded bracelet – we are not allowed to have the length of cord required for a necklace, they don’t need to explain why. It is something a five-year-old might make. I give it to my Mum when I am out of there – she caresses it like a charm.
I volunteer for the hospital garden, I weed like I’m auditioning for Gardener’s World, this almost feels normal. I might be in my own garden but for the lack of a view and the lack of cows on the other side of the fence. I am not prepared for my weeding to be interrupted by the remarks of another patient, remarks that shake me. My safe weeding spot is gone. I hide for most of the time in what’s called the quiet corner. I want to be small and still, invisible.
The rest of the wing is anything but invisible - televisions blare, patients shout. Mealtimes are the worst – we are forced to eat together – I push food around and leave the table as quickly as I can. I lose a lot of weight– all I can eat are Golden Delicious apples – they are not so delicious now, tainted by memory.
I learn to lie, to pretend that I am fine. I am allowed out for walks now, I am allowed to meet family and friends who travel hundreds of miles to see me for a short time – I will always be grateful to them. I lie and lie again to hospital staff - I am fine, can I go home?
I am out. I have never been so happy to be in my own home, with my husband and dogs. A few weeks later I am in a shop – I spot a woman who was in the hospital at the same time as me. Our gaze locks then we both look away. We will not acknowledge that time.
My love of shoes sprouted from that day like a mile-a-minute clematis, bushing out into years of Doc Marten boots, trainers just right for running, silver sandals, the once-worn red stiletto shoes on Diane’s wedding day.
I still remember the particular smell of Fairweather's, the ‘good’ shoe shop in the town.
It smelled a bit like Grandad’s aftershave, spicy leather with a hint of cough drops. The carpet was drab, nothing like Grandad. The saleswoman was neat and efficient, held my foot in the palm of her hand before putting it in the weird metal contraption that would measure length and width. She reeled off the measurement to Mum, Mum blushing, asking if she can go a half size larger to allow for growing room. The woman’s over-arched eyebrows.
Did she know what it was like to have four growing children and just the one wage coming in, all that implied in Mum’s red face. I didn’t think on this until much later. I longed for red shoes or white boots. I’m sure I must have grumbled when I saw the black flats with the dolly strap being fitted, but all that really sticks is the metal contraption, the way it could measure a person to size.
It was the blood that led me there. Pints and pints of it, death-red, the colour that Edgar Allan Poe liked to write about. The blood that kept on coming, painful, worrying. The room is full of unborn babies. Mums-to-be sit waiting to be seen, some fret, shield their swollen bellies with their hands as if the light can get in through layers of cotton and fat. Others sit sprawled, smiling, take a few taps of their tummy. Smug.
I am the oldest patient in the room, almost the only one not accompanied by a roster of worried partners, happy grandmothers-to-be, a sympathetic friend or two. No wonder the room is so crowded.
A fat fly buzzes at the window, lands on a chair, hovers back to the window again, perhaps it too is an anxious mum. Some of the women chat to each other, their tones gentle, ‘When’s it due?’ , ‘Is it your first?’ ‘Do you know what you’re having?’
I want to join in, tell them I’m expecting five puppies mid-November just to see their reactions. But no, my belly won’t hold even one small pup. I feel the sore swell, an awkward ache, quickly smooth out the shape where a baby might have incubated.
The women at the desk are friendly, efficient but there’s a hold up, the ongoing ‘running late’ saga of the NHS. We all sit stewing mildly in the August heat, too bright a light breaking in at the window. Even the fly gives up, sits stunned on someone’s oversized handbag.
I wish I was at the vets. There they do things in the right way. There is a small waiting room for cats only; the vet comes to the car if you have a reactive dog (I do); the rest of the polite dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits and budgies take their chance in the main waiting room. I’ve never seen a snake in all the vet visits I’ve been on, perhaps reptiles keep healthier than mammals.
I am, at last, called through by the nurse, please don’t make him be too sympathetic. The mums-to-be look up, clock my age, my wrinkles, wonder why I’m here, just for a second, before turning their attention back to themselves and their future children.