Poem of the week: Maggie Rabatski – ‘Sacrifice/Ìobairt’

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Each year the Scottish Poetry Library assembles its Best Scottish Poems online anthology, an annual reminder of the strength of Scotland’s verse that mixes seasoned voices with emerging talent.

Best Scottish Poems 2012 was chosen by novelists Louise Welsh and Zoe Strachan, their choices finding room for Liz Lochhead, Kathleen Jamie, and Robin Robertson, as well as younger poets who will be stars of the future. Maggie Rabatski’s ‘Sacrifice/Ìobairt’ originally appeared in her collection Holding (New Voices Press) and harks back to her childhood; Rabatski grew up in a rural community of Harris, and recalls the injustice of separating a mother from her new-born calf in order to preserve her milk..

And this was known as the milk room,

the coldest room in the cool house.

There, on a paint-stained table,

jugs and bowls and basins of milk

in all the stages of turning—

cream, butter, crowdie.

An absence of sun on the green lino,

the narrow north window

with a view of hill-slope

where the giver of this bounty

sometimes grazed.

Year after year

they took her calf away

after the first suckling;

she bellowed the loss for days,

through the wall his thin crying,

the birth-right of his soft, warm mouth

curdling in this cold room.

You can borrow Holding from the Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Edinburgh EH8 8DT. Tel: 0131-557 2876, e-mail reception@spl.org.uk or see www.spl.org.uk for details.