QuickFire, Slow Burning by Janette Ayachi

‘Things are shed when people listen to poetry.’

Ever since her Saltire-winning debut Hand Over Mouth Music was published in 2019, we’ve been eagerly looking forward to another full-length collection from Janette Ayachi. Well, now the wait is over, and QuickFire, Slow Burning is more than worth the wait. We’re delighted to share three poems from this vital new collection here at BooksfromScotland.


Extract taken from QuickFire, Slow Burning
By Janette Ayachi
Published by Pavilion Poetry


Quantum Leap 

New Year 2021
still reeling from the last full moon
damp fire pits reignite & champagne pops
Mars-like drones sail a light show
across the landscape
& ship horns bellow from the Leith harbour
neighbours & fireworks & blasting foghorns
belly laughs spluttering like a war has ended
then where to sit in the silence
they ask each other with their eyes
& break it with a giggle
as they all slip in the snow
turn to retreat back indoors
on a slow cuckoo-spring
as if something could still fall from the sky 

all stick & none stay & the curtains close
households returning a unified gaze
back to box sets as the gunpowder blew itself
                                            to an inevitable



This was the first scene of our Stockbridge reel,
where the sun tempered against our backs
eyes flicked for shop window displays, smiles
of strangers; our vagrant shadows taller than trees. 

The street was smudged
with expired parking meters
our circle became the shape of a drain puddle
absorbing through the grid, brimming clumsy
steps as I clutched the tiny hands of my daughters. 

We spot something living behind glass,
a trapped lobster tentatively piano playing its
tentacles feeling for the promise of rock pools
& sand                  ‘it’s drowning in there’
a homeless woman shouts up from the curb
marking her presence with exclamation marks. 

The young fisherman in a white plastic bodysuit
sees our interest as the girls’ caw with excitement
prod the glass with their clammy fingers
& he scoops up the meaty weight, its claws
bound shut with rubber bands, lifts it outside. 

People are pulled in like kites on a string
reared away from the endless sea,
the homeless hands & the lobsters’ knuckles
both twitch out begging under the new crowd. 


Translating The Transcendental Mountain 

Things are shed when people listen to poetry.
Things are shed when people
peregrinate the mountains.
I will be that woman;
a quiet pioneer equipped
with a middle parting;
side satchel, walking stick,
in tweed, not Gore-Tex,
nor climbing gear or gadgets,
who saves her smelt of tears not for pillows
but to embellish the earth that bellows
to swamp nests of idle birds
alongside    the    flood. 

I have been that woman;
walking circles from the cliff’s girth,
palm against a precipice of granite
given as a new gift from God.
Shrines in the summer rain, fertile
&   full   each   season
with mountaineers who claimed
to own the mountain by mounting it.
The men take to it like athletic swimmers
doing    laps    across
the blunt pyramidal landscape
up the boulder staircases
& never getting lost in the squall beyond the chase
by making it somehow measured;
its nebulous paths, pink feldspar,
a spell of proper pinnacles.
I have been the woman who listened
to the stream in surround sound,
stereoscopically dumbfounded,

until she no longer heard her own heart pulse
where squirrels traced the scaffold of trees
like circus acrobats,
like the practised mountaineer. 

What can we resuscitate, in love, in nature;
sprig of heather, needlepoint stars, crystals of ice,
facing that inaudible glare of life
sleeping on the hill & waking to find a blackbird
trapeze-walk your leg,

the mountain opening its curtains
to   a   stage   of   bodies
found on their hands & knees in the drift.
Its dangers must excite us,
to greet a mountain that knew
how to get away with murder –
& what a comfort, to see the world upside down,
like the time I was swimming once
in the waterfall at Glen Nevis,
sometimes I wanted to jump in
from the highest surface
above all the pedalboard structures
regulars hounded beneath
& once I wanted to push my lover in
hoping they would see the fun in it.
What if they might not surface back,
battle the deeper waters instead…
I would make sure no one saw
& tell everyone he jumped
in a terrain with only the stars as witnesses. 

I remember expeditions; gunmetal haar,
those same verdigris waters
that tingle the throat if you sip them,
how the mountains are sometimes monsters
from    a     distance
metamorphosed by the dark,
a frantic jutting dramatic head,
grotesque in a helmet of hot weather.
What was beyond the living mountain then;
a funnel into the body’s marrow,
a tunnel into tomorrow & back & back & back
a perfect mating ground for soul & soil,
practised for when we return
our borrowed bones to it. 

A mountain that mopped the cerebral
soaking up any residue of reality
into something utopian,
a slide into the fantasy of a world
surrendered   to   self
where your book lies holy now in bothies
passed around hillwalkers in communion.
Wallpaper   of   Aurora   Borealis,
mugwort branches, wartime blackouts
why didn’t you get bored out there –
because   it   was   exhilarating
to dump the dishes, docile domestic cities
&   all   domesticities
face mother nature in her true divine unravel
each starling-stamped sunrise
when boys made racecourses
competed with climbs & flags over it
we, women, open the mouth of it
& inspect the roots & molars
we peer inside its valleys, its belly
like an ultra-scan, sit up straight
with a stethoscope in hand
to   hear   its   countless   heartbeats.
Nan Shepherd lifted its life like a surgeon,
traced great cataracts created by old age & erosion
looking in as it looked back
with a summoning iris,
lenticular against sleet & blueberry mist. 

I also need to be alone more than with the tribe,
a talking companion
does quite disgust the mountain,
any overheard gossip & it did not speak.
What a view of the world
from the inside of a cloud
where men disappear except for their whistles
the mountain grows trap doors
&   swallows   them   whole
where     sunshine     vanishes
like a light-fitted switch that turns off in a room.
I have toppled at the supposed standing
waited to undress to bare my breasts as Atlantis
serenading the Sargasso seaweed,
lifted them out for it to suckle in the din,
in the muck & ichor & mountain dew meeting
in the calciferous cauldron of a cloud
as the ridge gorged its mouth on nipples
we   felt   full   as   it    fed.
It’s not that she was not afraid out there alone
the roar of stags & splash of forests are fearsome
not long after the quiver of midnight,
images & noises leap out of alternate worlds
like lit tulips with mouths agape
for the tale-telling moon.
A song for all the senses, the elementals,
each one tagged with terror;
monstrous rocks, ghostly fog,
the   flavours   of   the   berries
for which the tongue cannot repay. 

Something about the Scots, they enjoy
the toil & graft of a gruelling lunar landscape,
& welcome the annihilation
caused   by   wild   swimming
for that second after when life floods back
up the violent viaduct into the bone-cup body
from the bottle of infinity
hereunder a hark of bonsai pines
& duck-egg blue whaleback grooves
that breach the sky like an x-ray of my teeth today
roots & rhizomes running like ravines,
snow-capped molars & caves from canines.
Each tooth has three roots, these recesses;
talismanic,     limbic
often a sexy nervous simulacrum arises
from the spectacular panorama & chasms. 

Nan, arm in arm with the mountain,
not interested in the summit
but in the effect it has on her,
trysting with the beast,
helping her dig deeper into the mystery,
this pilgrimage of life’s peaks & plateaus;
joys    &   woes,
         Nan’s transcendental mountain
is   where   all   wild   women
when in nature must look to feel & flow. 

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