‘The Babies’ by Bill Herbert

The Babies

I’m driving at night through the countryside
trying to decide what it is the countryside is
to the side of. Since we all already share
a perfectly good roadside – perhaps it’s beside
this. Certainly there is more to it than verge:
it also has an underneath of sexton beetle,
a canopy of bat and owl and, by the sea,
another side, although, for some reason,
I can’t remember which sea. In fact,
for the moment, I can’t remember which country.
It’s far too dark to confirm any of this
on this particular road, which is narrow,
mountainous, meandering between villages
without lights, banked by mounds of bushes
merged with eucalypti, beneath a milky ribbon
of stars. Then, caught in my headlights,
are two babies standing in their nappies, talking.
They are at once by the roadside and in
the countryside. One turns to watch me, thin-
lipped, drilling his eyes into my tail-lights,
the back of my darkened head, until
the car is out of sight. Then they return
to their sullen, unhurried symposium, as though
I’d never passed, as though I’d never been born.
Bill Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, teaches Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and is mostly published by Bloodaxe Books.