Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tanya's Secret Garden

Tanya’s secret garden,
where she’ll fill the years with hours,
hides in plain sight by the Mersey.
Asking names of plants & flowers

she hunkers captivated, squints
at faded labels, slowly reads
out Araucaria araucana
whispered, worshipful, and freed

from the hammered rapid language
life has taught her by degrees,
muted here by arboretum, pool
and rock and root simplicities.

A weary mile away is brick
and wall and views unseen
through windows smeared to grime
of choking weeds too dark a green.

Here, for now and always,
windows open day on day,
where Tanya, on her crumbling ledge,
watches them unfold away

to futures blooming distantly,
perenially, and bright.
And I can only stand,
watch and will her into flight.

Scotland's Makar

Now that Edwin Morgan's gone, who would wear the shining crown of Scotland's Makar? I've been away 12 years, & my memory's slightly rustier, but a few candidates & strong contenders spring to mind. Douglas Dunn, Kenneth White & Stewart Conn stand out for me from the 'older' set. Maybe a 'younger' face, such as Don Paterson, Kathleen Jamie, Matthew Fitt, James Robertson or Robert Alan Jamieson. A Gaelic poet would no doubt be controversial but perfectly apt, & maybe a better idea, in my opinion, someone like Aonghas MacNeacail, Crisdean MhicIlleBhain, Meg Bateman or Aonghas Phàdraig Caimbeul. A lot of it's down, of course, to face-fitting (an unusual but not unheard-of skill in some French hospitals), politics, media-savviness, personal promotion & actual location - some of the above don't live in Scotland, or even the UK. If Morgan's a good early example, then a high talent ought to be an obvious pre-requisite, & gender, sexuality & a remote location ought not to be barriers.

We'll all have our favourites, of course, & better poets won't come into consideration for this reason or that dressed up as something else. Me? I'd have Dunn. I rank some of his poetry among the finest written by a Scottish poet in the last half century. Oh, & he's a decent bloke too.


Day by nomadic day
Our anniversaries go by,
Dates anchored in an inner sky,
To utmost ground, interior clay.
It was September blue
When I walked with you first, my love,
In Roukenglen and Kelvingrove,
Inchinnan's beech-wood avenue.
That day will still exist
Long after I have joined you where
Rings radiate the dusty air
And bangles bind each powdered wrist.
Here comes that day again.
What shall I do? Instruct me, dear,
Longanimous encourager,
Sweet soul in the athletic rain
And wife now to the weather.

Saturday, February 06, 2010



The house is not a home that lies bereft
of care or love when love and care have left.
Best lock the door, but leave the key behind
for others less bereft of heart to find.

Bright echoes fade into the toneless drone
of self-perpetuation. No-one's home,
that's clear, though lights shine hopefully behind
dull windows curtained carelessly by time.

This house is empty, long unoccupied,
not cleaned nor taken care of, and inside
lie artifacts left crumbling and unclaimed
by blameless occupants long gone, yet named

devotedly in dust which carpets them
protectively, a love that need condemns.
How, then, to ascertain time's rightful dues
to what today may keep or daily lose?

Dull memory thuds hopelessly against
the ever-lessening chains of future tense
near frayed now. Daylight, real light, through a door,
come burst asunder this forever more,

spark flames of now, light fires of the soon,
set well ablaze the pyres built high, consume
the very life of death and leave a way
that leads not to the past but to today.

The house is not a home that lies bereft
of care or love when love and care have left.
Best lock the door, but leave the key behind
for others less bereft of heart to find.

Saturday, February 28, 2009



"...and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth."
(Emily Bronte, 'Wuthering Heights')

Night vibrates to the far-near saw & hum
of motorway & airport, now & then
gets gutted by high otherworldly screams
wrenched out of helpless animals
or those we dare not think about
for fear they might be out there.

Mostly, though, this place limps past
on crippling clocks, a creaking door,
low-volume late-night TV shows, a lonely
child's baby snores along the corridor,
the whispering nib occasional on forms
defining lives, routines, ourselves.

In daytimes, chaos kicks you from behind
or chucks a cup or sets off fire alarms
& runs away while telling you to go & fuck
yourself. At night, it sleeps the way that
children should, wrapped tight in cartoon
duvet covers, cotton wool & splayed
like spiders, limbs akimbo on soft beds
in rooms knee-deep in vital clutter.

Silence, here, is bought by tiredness
of every kind, not word or plastic panacea,
& through it, every night, I walk afraid
of waking them before the crashing
sound of one more day that really breaks.
A piece about working a waking night in a residential children's home, a job I did for almost 9 years until 2007.


North Manchester, a night sliced wide
By rain for poor folk, wet like oil,
Dark as soot. Behind the bins a fox
Is chattering horribly & madly at itself,
Alarms howl in & out, sirens
Dot the borders of my hearing, wearily.

Shaun prowls the corridors like something
From The Shining, Malcolm
Hugs a monitor, destroying zombies with
A blur of calloused, practiced fingertips,
Samantha's out there, somewhere, missing
But not lost to anyone except herself.

Stephanie's on the run on bail
That's endless, a puff of dust at 15 years,
Craig begs rhythmically in sleep
That's not been sleep since he was 8
& overhead, upstairs, a stereo
Tattoos dull bass beats for the lonely & the late.

Two staff lounge in the office, soaking up
An O.U. course on Basic French
While I check each floor, each girning door,
Arrange some files, write brief & meaningless
Reports on what the 'children' did
Or wouldn't do today, & any other day,
& won't tomorrow, as they'll no doubt say.

By fag nineteen, coffee number ten &
Another risk assessment clear as mud,
The umpteenth poor attempt at blocking out
Life histories which should only now begin,
I must admit defeat, that I won't
Make that difference, influence a life,
Inspire a writer, scientist, explorer,
Football star to escape & change the world,
Any world. Why despair, when they
Don't even want to change their underwear?

Shaun yawns me out the door at eight
With See you tonight you baldie cunt...
Before he gives in to the struggle, goes
To bed & sleeps another day away
In a life filled, up to now, with nights.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Crow


Just another sentimental tribute
to a dead movie star. A cigarette

winks out with these words as the earth shifts
minutely on its heartbreaking axis,

not in Los Angeles or Washington,
but the front steps of Renfield Street Odeon

now where living & our sense of being real
return, reluctantly & frail.

Time-filtered words, life’s not like in the movies,
old mascara running down the world’s wet face

for now, because it was, & too exact,
that perfect stunt of fiction turned to fact.

Such death requires no second takes,
no coming back, no rotoscoped effects.

Amazement, later, in a crowded city bar,
at death twice over, actor & character,

the make-up still in place, the camera lens
recording what can never be rehearsed.

You’re not really supposed to die up there
like in real life, bullet holes should disappear

& a sunset be walked into before
the end credits roll. At the Odeon door

we’d stood in silence & the pouring rain,
getting used to a very end, & ran

through a night tilted briefly the other way,
the stars projectionists, the world’s screen grey.