Finest: Claire Williamson – “My Brother and Mother as Horses”

Claire Williamson Finest

My Brother and Mother as Horses

They sit at a green plastic table
with me after all these years,
enjoying a pot of tea in May sun.

I stand up to pour,
ignoring that they are horses.
How else would they return?

My brother still wears the blue noose,
now loosened like a hippy necklace,
drawing attention to the deep-ridged cuts
under his chin, like a tree trunk sawn
by an amateur. I try not to stare.

I couldn’t grasp hold of the rope
with these hooves. Once I’d jumped it was too late.

He waves them about, knocking
his teacup out of its saucer.

I grab a napkin, mopping up,
No use crying over spilt milk.
A silence follows –
lit by the white flood of his skin
shining through close-cropped fur.

My mother, a blood-bay, is shy,
her forelock flopping over her forgive-me eyes.
I say, I’d love to see more of your face.

She thrusts her black muzzle
into the cleft of my torso and arm
and I feel her warmth for the first time
since she drank that poison.

Her trembling mouth
tugs the highwayman’s hitch in my ribs
which I’ve had since she left me
three months raw to the world,
chewing my thumb to its bone.

That knot which I’ve pulled tighter and tighter
lets go with a slip,
a fall.

They both reach out to catch me,
but I’m the only one with hands.

The tea set wobbles
as if a steeplechase is passing.

First published in Claire’s collection, Visiting the Minotaur (Seren, 2018).

“In 2015, Amy Wack, poetry editor at Seren Books, had encouraged me to submit some poems to her with the prospect of a collection. I had recently published a pamphlet with London-based, Eyewear, Split Ends, featuring my most successful poems, so I knew I had to produce more work of the same, or even better quality, to have a chance at a collection with Wales’ leading independent literary publisher. Over a couple of months, I drafted two poems every day, taking forward whichever ones had a spark. Between my academic job and family life, I wrote in every possible window of time.

“One morning I was sitting in a service station forecourt, waiting for the undignified exchange of children between cars that occurs when one is divorced, and I asked myself: ‘If I had one wish, what would it be?’ The answer was to see my mother and brother again, who had both taken their own lives, aged 35 and 34 respectively. Of course, like in night-dreams, one isn’t handed the ideal scenario on a plate, so what arrived in my writing was somewhere between longing and reality.

“Our family has long had an association with horses, my great-grandfather was a groom at Dalhousie Castle in Edinburgh, which I suspect is how my mother and brother returned (in the poem) as horses. This metaphor allowed me to include detail that would have been too graphic/grotesque if these characters had come back as themselves.

“There are aspects of the poem that represent the powerlessness of being bereaved by suicide and the burden; the glib – no use crying over spilt milk – is juxtaposed with the task of mopping up. There isn’t a day when I don’t feel I’m tidying up my internal world to manage these losses. And, as the poem depicts, there’s no one to catch me when I fall. The last couplet was perhaps inspired by my proximity to Chepstow Racecourse – The tea set wobbles/as if a steeplechase is passing. However, I wanted to leave the reader with a sense of earth-moving disorientation to mirror how unavoidable facts can thunder through ones thoughts.

“I was gratified that Michel Faber, author of Undying: A Love Story, chose this poem for second prize in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition. My only regret was that I was unable to travel to Scotland to collect the award, which would have completed some sort of rough circle, rather like a racecourse, badly churned up, but with hopeful white rails.”

Claire Williamson is a freelance writer, whole-person writing mentor and therapeutic writing practitioner. Her latest poetry collection is Visiting the Minotaur (Seren, 2016). Claire is a doctoral candidate at Cardiff University, exploring ‘Writing the 21st Century Bereavement Novel’. For ten years she was Director of Studies for Metanoia Institute’s MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, where she remains as a research advisor, researcher and tutor. Claire has written extensively for performance, including many collaborations with Welsh National Opera. She lives on the Welsh/English borders near Chepstow with her two daughters and Marty the borderline-border collie. You can contact Claire via her website:

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