Monthly Archives: November 2014

Something for Shooting Season

This is a poem from a couple of months back, when I noticed shooting had begun amongst us for another year. It doesn’t particularly relate to the question of land ownership in Scotland, which was the focus of an interesting evening in Glenbuchat Hall a couple of nights back with Andy Wightman, who is a bit of a star in this field – passionate but with a solid foundation of fact: an irresistable combination. It took me a while to find the place in the dark and the mist and the windy roads with the inevitable speedy Alex’s up my tail all the way from Huntly , but others didn’t seem to have too much problem as it was surprisingly well attended and I should think the good offices of Deveron Arts are to be credited for this to a large degree.

 

 
Mirror Men

There’s a crackle of gunfire down in the woods.
It’s Thursday and the guys have gathered to wring a little
sport out of a legion of half-tame pheasants.
I suppose there’s someone in Syria or Kurdistan
who’d smile at the peaceable nature of the pursuit;
and the birds don’t think too much about it, I’m told

But I, who have lived my life in this northern
corner of the Empire, I have a lot of thoughts
and although I don’t imagine I’m in a war-zone
I don’t hear much nourishment spelled out
by this constant tattoo, need having at least
been a rationale down the bloody ages

And what I do hear is the devastation meted
out on the Land, only now it’s amplified
by the impotencies of my years – you don’t know of them
maybe, or think you don’t, but in fact they’re imps
that have gathered since you were twenty-five
and what began as a murmur swells

To a full-blooded ruckus in your ears, and long before
it’s become unbearable, you can make out meanings
laughter and words you confuse with laughter
fiddlesticks baloney and balderdash and bollocks
fathead and bampot and womble and wanker
(loser and daft old bugger form only the last chapter);

You see, they’re a chorus programmed to bring
your best hopes down, it’s a Darwin thing
for the purpose is to prepare you, so you’ll crawl
with some relief into the grave, you won’t waste time
hanging about in the way and using up
assets that the young and hopeful need –

Forgetfulness is the other thing, but don’t fool yourself
we don’t forget, we old cronies, we don’t forget
that the Land once belonged to itself, and when first
we came pushing in, we took up as little as we could
and pushed along if others came to join us
who was the daft old bugger that forgot this?

Someone with a loudmouthed shotgun, more likely
some bright spark with little education
who went crashing through the wood and bellowed words
but not so the trees could hear, some baloney
about who was fittest and who was God’s anointed
words that had no meaning, practised for years

in the hall of mirrors in some imperial hub
where the legion of their own kind reflected to
and fro stretched on infinitely until reflection
could not contain it and it burst into reality
a dark infection covering all the land
so that war in the woods would go on forever.

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As a species, or is it just as a culture, we’re pretty sold on novelty. Whether it’s a new diet, a new piece of technology or a new political leader, there’s something about that sense of something new, something novel, that gives us a little burst of hope, which is something we tend to believe in. Hence we like oracles too, because we have an irrational idea that if we can look a bit ahead of the present there’ll be a little more to hope for. To a Cassandra however, this kind of optimism is just another aspect of consumerism – a lie-back-and-lay-it-on-me approach to the world, which I guess she must despise, in her way. I say “in her way” because poor Cassandra doesn’t really have the right kind of analytical mind that will articulate defects in people’s attitude, say, or make a useful contribution to the Economy. In fact, she’s actually just a bit of a burden….

 

Optimists

I

People scowled, or laughed, as she rocked in the corner
– and get your hands out of there, you’re a grown woman –
and some said she was damaged, she couldn’t help it
though all agreed she couldn’t be allowed to go on
with her moaning, her lies, poisoning relationships
simply because she felt upset. The trouble was

What was meant by allowed, exactly.
Could she be controlled by drugs, or was a firm hand
and a proper ticking-off what was really required?
Everyone was quite inconvenienced to feel
they were walking on eggshells around her
and she could lash out without warning, but

Did it warrant physical restraints? – no-one
was too keen on that. And so she became
a kind of event horizon catching
everyone up in her vortex, the fat polyester
Cassandra snivelling in her private misery or
sweetening her mood with fizzy drinks.

And what was it with those predictions?
Why always doom and never anything good?
If it was all to be that bad then surely
there’d be some sign of it by now! That last one
about some wired thing whose very use would
steal people’s souls, it was a non-event

and life goes on. Look, it just goes on.
There was no outbreak of plague, no apocalypse
and statistics show violent crime decreasing, why
believe the next one? She would say nothing,
stare stupidly at the questioner. Stupidly
was all she could stare anyway.

It was only on her deathbed (and what
a relief that was!) she was heard to growl
among the pillows (pillows someone else
had laundered, she being so handless):
You’re all fools, it all came true, you were all too
pumped-up with hope to even notice.

We went off muttering, there’s nothing
wrong with a bit of optimism surely, how else
do you get by, you’d think she’d want to make her peace
when it all came to an end, when there was no more
horizon for her to squint over. It was her heart
predictably (prediction by normal standards) –

A blueblack-faced whale she lay there
still staring stupidly at nothing, hands thrust
resolutely between her thighs, you’d almost think
she’d meant to produce something from in there,
some told-you-so sweet baby, though of course
you could only expect it to turn out a monster.

II

Why has this child come to heaven? St Petra asked
she was never allowed to live, how can she die?
The souls that fall to earth always go tasked
they know it’s not some ninety-year holiday,
they know it’s not a sleek tourists-highway
trodden by pink ponies, girls laughing sky-high –

Send her back, I say, and elevate
her to somewhere where she can count, wield fear
over her senseless complacent sisterhood, sow hate
sow discord where it’ll hurt, seeds of disease
to poison oceans, not mere families
to empty out wombs, make the dull slouches give ear

when she pronounces, like when the thunder spoke
round the Gaya hills, when the old certainties broke.

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by | November 20, 2014 · 10:35 am

Post Hallowe’en

Have been a bit busy preparing a few stories for our Hallowe’en shindig at Badaguish, so a few new poems queuing waiting to be spruced up. Here’s the first in the line, which started life in a much shorter form in a birthday card for Annie back in September, a few days after the Referendum. The card was a rather spooky picture of a Provencal lavender field, which doesn’t come into the poem much except in the bit about the field being combed and braided. The bit about the oracle alludes to my favourite bit in The Matrix, or one of its successors (watch it, if you don’t know where I mean, watch them all, make a night of it).

 

An Organising Field 

A defeat, like any oracle
tells us what we need to hear.
We ask the question, get the answer
frequently incomprehensible
yet we assume it’s designed to help
us through our difficulties. Seldom
in our quest for convenience
do we notice what it’s really about:

A defeat, like any field,
or Alice’s mirror-garden
where you come back to the same
door each time you go
has different planes:
let’s call them plan
and elevation, map and pathway.
strategy and tactic.

Let’s walk its laid-out ways:
we see the bodies of unfortunate
young men who tried to kill
but had to die instead.
They lie very still, their faces pulled
in expressions we find unnatural
their bodies stretched in poses that recall
mime artists or dancers:

This is not somewhere where
we want to be. The oracle
is a fog we spin, composed
of our foolish hopes and false fears.
But if you glance up at
overhead the reconnaissance plane
and curse the coldhearted sods
to whom body is one thing only:

A thing to be bagged
bagged or counted but above all
an entity that no longer
takes direction from anyone,
will not follow the red line
with its shark-fin arrows
that curves across the chart from
briefing to objective, for all that

You would be doing it
a discourtesy: their cold eyes
are using that small black dot
receding over the horizon only
as a convenience, a filter
for their shortlived vision;
there is something else that pilots:
a mind it would not be wrong

to call truly objective, though
no mind you
could conceive of, walking through
the field of disaster,
one that exists in patterns
curves and arcs and the punctuations
of wave interference, maybe,
has set up an organising field

where our thoughts and hopes and fears
are looped among the hieroglyphs
of those forsaken bodies
and are not ours, any more
than they theirs; and when at length
they’re laid out straight
in lines along the ground
tagged and numbered

And somebody urges
let’s remember we’re professionals
it’s like a small salute
to the organising field
combing out and braiding
patterns made long since, where
we’re included too, by the oracle
we only invoked for our convenience.

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