Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy St Andrew's Day

And a sharp sunny morning it is, too. Good wishes to you all, and here is the Illustrated Spider if you haven't already seen it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Home Time

Looking at Mull in December

Night swallows a last
Silhouette, rigged with web
and running for home.
I sit in the rain:
my coat is two hundred miles away
but my mind's eye is rolling along the ocean
like a pinball,
lighting jackpot after jackpot after jackpot.

I should have been on my annual pilgrimage to Mull this weekend but circumstances have intervened. It’s a priority to make a visit there at least once a year so some thought will have to be given to a last minute breenge in December, against the elements. Mull is the spiritual home, you see, a place of power. Of course you have to ignore the fact that it’s full of folk from Kent, and that the main town Tobermory has airs and graces but there is such staggering beauty in the place, such scope for dreaming. We left my mother there, and there she still is, of course.

A Leaving

Branches cup their shreds of leaves,
there's a wall translated into moss
and two glens, one chipped into the stone
blue sky and sloping east to a dwam of light
like water, the other eery, unbroken
on the loch, though in the wind
the mountains shudder down to my shoes.

In such times it is difficult to see
the start and end of things, which is as well.
This morning I am leaving her on Mull,
as I have done before, only this time
she is scattering through the trees
and the soil and the somersaulting water,
so from now on, no matter the weather,
the island will speak in only one gentle voice.

It reeks of history, of course. The stone circles, the castles, Loch Scridain where the MacLeans anchored their war galleys.

But the main thing to me is the connections, and maybe because of them, strange things have happened to me here over the years. Landslides, love affairs, pitched battles….. and there are lost poems, of course.

Lost Poems

I have come back to Mull
for the poems that were lost here;
overboard from the Lochinvar,
buried in landslips,
left in telephone boxes,
torn to pieces and
somersaulting in the wind.
I am in sore need of them now,
for they were born of bright agonies
before they slipped away:
death, love, betrayal.
All these years
they have been dancing on the shore
perfect as little fawns.
I will set foot in Mull tonight
and they will be waiting for me
by the tree-line at twilight,
wearing the faces I had,
dark, fine and hard.

Near Fionnphort Mary of the Songs is buried. Mary MacDonald wrote "Leanabh an Aigh", the Christmas Hymn 'Child in a Manger', to an old Gaelic tune which she called 'Bunessan'. Poetry, then as now, brought no living so she made an income by making illicit whisky and smuggling it to Rathlin Island off the coast of Ireland.
We were going to the Keel Row in Fionnphort, maybe to do a surprise poetry reading, the type that worked so well last year at the Oban Inn, and failed to work well at the Mishnish,or maybe just to drink and listen to the sea.

Never mind, I'll get there. How could I not? It's like going home.

Going Home

I'm juddering through arteries of rock.
Going home is more than geography:
It's tracing the outline of a well loved face
with the fingers, again, of a child.

Water threads the scalp of hills
and soon we'll tip down to Oban
where the boats are set like buttons
on the belly of the bay
and every pavement used to lead to jam
or little fists of shingle where you could skim
a stone all the way, it seemed, to Kerrera

and where the Columba came
bringing back the half drowned
with their sodden duffle coats
and scarves like pennants home to the warm,
butting in that lst mile through the Sound
while clouds closed like eyelids over stars
and a piper faint as a gull in the roar of the night
played us home, over all the muscles of the sea.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mr Chips

As the rain slowly drips off the eaves and the wind slaps the windaes I find myself in reflective mood at midnight here in the village. Normally this would result in my reaching for the Bowmore but given my efficacious regime of 4 days off/3 days on and since this is only Tuesday, I make myself a camomile tea instead and sip it, pausing only now and again to think how minging it is.

There are many topics to think upon, of course, swine flu, Hibs splitting the Old Firm, Lydia's 5th Santa letter (this week) and so on, but the greatest of these of course, and the one that pushes to the surface at this silent time of night, is our place in the universe and, as Gerald Manley Hopkins would say, 'the doom that man was born for'.

Thinking about this kind of stuff with a clear mind unfettered by fine malt whisky brings no more clarity and satisfaction, actually, than thinking about it after a good session in the Tartan Bunnet. There are more questions than answers as that old Bodhisattva Johnny Nash used to say.

In the course of this self-indulgence, however, I suddenly realised that I had missed an important anniversary, for October 2009 marked my 30th year of service with Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council as District Pedagogue. Not continuous service (for I took a year off in the mid nineties to die) but 30 years nonetheless. I have a feeling this anniversary should be marked in some way, perhaps by public subscription or a small statue. But I suppose there is acknowledgement enough in the unerring and touching gratitude of all the young people who have undergone my tutelage.

This was brought home to me one day when I was standing in the Prancing Pensioner and noticed what I can only describe as a rough type standing at the other end of the bar. He was swarthy, scarred, and was, disconcertingly, carrying what appeared to be a dead chicken. The unwritten law is if you catch the eye of a nutjob or passing psycopath he will suck out your marrow, but while I was staring conscientiously at a beermat a fresh pint was pushed across by the barman, bought by this stranger and I was forced to raise my eyes. "Remember me?" he said, his face cracking into a louche kind of smile, "You taught me at Maxwelltown High School. You were a useless c... but we liked you."

Recollections like this, so reminiscent of that excellent film Goodbye Mr Chips starring Mr Robert Donat, almost bring a tear to my eye.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Field of Stones

By the river’s brown belch Jasmine
finds the whitest stone ever seen.
It’s opaque though veins and seams
glow with light and hidden streams
of colour. ‘It’s wet, that’s why it shines’.
I zip it up and later put all the day’s stones,
like ‘the snake’ and the ‘good writer’ on the cairns
at our backdoor. I try and remember the names,
but already many of the older piles,
each nugget a cipher for a field of time,
are lost, or as inscrutable as the lines
of Nazca. Who shall puzzle how they align,
the choice of shapes, how they incline
to the setting sun? Only I will, for a while.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Anorak Weather

Since the sad demise of the great Harry Chamber's Peterloo Poets, I have inherited the remaining stock of 'Aphrodite's Anorak'. Anyone wishing to get their mitts on one- not you, Rachel, you get a freebie- please press the button on the right. It includes poems like 'Surprise Attacks', which is the poem I read at Jane's dad's funeral last week.

Surprise Attacks

I hear the sound of a boy
waiting to be ambushed
by his father,
that carpet of smells and roars
like a bear, all hugs and stubble.
Each step breaks on the stairs like ice
and it precedes him, this excitement,
like a shadow mad and off its moorings.
Oh should we not weep
for the ghosts of undiluted joy
and the years I cannot wish for him
but he is eager, all fists for.

It is a long minute.
He is stopped, poised on one leg
like a crane.
Perhaps he will be a dancer
or a poet
it doesn't matter.
Whether he requires it for his art or not
he will be ambushed by his father,
from the tips of pencils
the precipitation of sleep
he will be ambushed by his father,
when he is old and threadbare
and sick of such surprises,
even then
he will be ambushed by his father.