Monthly Archives: March 2015

Yellow and Black

SO, fresh (or not so fresh) back from the SNP’s Spring Conference 2015, which even for a confirmed cynic like myself was an interesting & enlivening experience – not least on account of the frail yet steely presence of Nicola Sturgeon, who must be fast becoming the very embodiment of Wee Ma Scotland – I delved into the files of recent poetry and there found the very thing: something black and yellow!

Master of irrelevance that I am, the black and yellow reference in the poem below is not to the colour-scheme so much in evidence in the SECC in Glasgow this past weekend, but to an image in the I Ching, a work I frequently mine for its images (being, as it is, the ultimate Poetic Grammar, as Robert Graves called his White Goddess, itself a remarkable work though nothing like as old or as elegant). I say irrelevance but who knows? in a work as mysterious and – well, downright odd as the Book of Changes, perhaps there was someone in the China of three thousand years ago who was already aware of our current political scene in Scotland and, maybe, was not fully convinced that there was no longer a worm in the foundations of the Scottish house. Who can say? That’s not my business: my business is only to set it out as it came to me sometime earlier in the year. (I think the nonsense reference may be to Dan Brown.)


Black and Yellow

Dragons fight in the meadow
their blood is black and yellow:
how will the warring end
the tattered leaves redden?
The cows peer on in silence.
I don’t think they can be at peace
not today, perhaps not ever

That sky is too large
this earth too intractable.
But straight, square, great
the building was to have grown
singing to have been heard
through each open door
dialogue at every window

Shame on the viper
who set them at odds
who came armed and ready
little else on the agenda
gnawed at the foundations
of a good house, so little
by little the soft dust gathered.

Long before the coming of
the Magdalen, she had been
rhymed into a nonsense
the chattering of legions of fools
drowned her out.

How could the rare bird nest
amidst all that commotion
the car parks full, the binoculars
the tattered plastic in the branches
it was always a doomed enterprise.

They say that Jesus
drove seven devils out of her;
he must have been a tired
lad by the end. But then to
stretch himself out, like a curtain
so that she could work in peace –

well, one swallow
doesn’t make a summer
and you can make
stories till the cows come home.

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We had to take our dottled old dog south with us for Anna and Dean’s wedding last weekend, as it didn’t seem fair on anyone to leave her behind. So she had a decent enough bed in the back of the car for the two nights we were away.  I can report I thought I was going to be stuck on Portobello beach forever and not be able to join the fun as she flatly refused to walk back east towards the car and determinedly continued west along the sand – and would be doing so still, I believe, if I hadn’t manhandled her blind, stone-deaf and altogether bewildered person back to safety. We never realised dogs could get Alzheimer’s & hope it isn’t too catching.


Last Dog

When the last dog, old friend, like you
is a dusty old rug on the floor
a rug to be sure less
two dimensional than rugs ought to be
with a thoroughly unruggish way
of starting up whenever I step over

When the last dog I say has lived
out its rug-days and gone for good
why then at last we’ll remember again
who first gave us the chance of speech
who taught us inhibition, loyalty
clowning around, who licked sense
into our babies, and good resistance

The scent of carrion will be gone from our lives
and if I’ve stepped in shit once it’s been
a hundred times, or twitching
legs stretched out and
the sudden snarl as I stumbled
yet it was never, you great galoot
look where you put your clumsy feet
but sorry master it was my fault sorry

When the last dog’s gone, old friend
our lives will be better, for we’ll establish
true democracies, there’ll be no more
master and servants and all the days
of fugitives will be forgotten
we’ll splash upstream for the sheer
joy of it, when we listen out

On a clear moonlit night
it’ll be for the big wild wolves and not
the frantic baying of bloodhounds;
there will be no more chains, or steel gates.
Oh my dear, when you stagger to your feet
shake yourself and fall over again
I can only think please die, die soon.

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The Meanings of Things

I suppose it’s a bit superfluous to say that poems are very often asking about the meanings of things. On the other hand, people will still stop and ask you what they mean. The answer? Mostly an embarrassed shrug.



Up in the Hochland

Last week I spoke with my cousin from the Neanderthal:
he said there had been not much progress. He said all was well
with the spells I had given him to practise. He had a helmet
of bone, which he gave me, another made out of grass plaited
into ridges, almost as resistant, but twice as light. Decide, he smiled
challengingly. I said, it depends what influences you want to hold
off, dew or flints. I’ll take the one you’ve offered.

Outrageous! he laughed – I don’t know how you do it. It seemed
the politics of that people took place on a scale well
below what we understand here in the Hochland, where we go at it
hammer and tongs for a night and finish up thoroughly
convinced: a proper sore-heads and raw-knuckles deal that
we stick to even when unswayed by the rationale.
That was not their way: they didn’t thrash out agreements
man-like, they seemed to step back from issues, the way women
often go silent, or to sleep, leaving us men raging, impotent bears
thrashing through the night. Yet their credentials for survival were tenfold                                                                                                                           ours.

One way or another, it seemed it was not the choice
I’d made, the choice one over the other, that so impressed him
the choice I thought I’d made: this is better, this is worse. It seemed
that by uniting water and stone in a single breath
I had transformed a whole village of them from warriors into snakes:
it was as if I had accomplished a palace coup
and they were in some awe of me. – I don’t know how I do it
either, I laughed. But he didn’t think that funny.
Stiffly he said, I will practice your spells
until they’re good, but that is all. And if ever we meet as enemies
look to your heels, not your brain-pans.

I record this today, having just seen Hitler’s columns
heading eastwards, amidst open talk
of imposing gender-balance on all the subjugated peoples
and once and for all exploding the myth
that moon and sun are the same size (which demonstrably
they were not) for some reason, or some adaptive purpose.




The Terriers (oh, and the little cross-eyed bear)

The comedians and clowns
are snapping at my heels again
what’s that? what does that mean?
it makes no sense, they go,
it’s just a string of random words stuck together.

What do I say, here’s my answer
bla bla bla bla bla, and then
they can speak back and say to me
bla bla bla bla bla bla bla
wuff wuff

Last night I went out
in dream, I went out
through our kitchen, that never got finished
through the doorway that never got fitted
to roar into the darkness. All the rage and despair.
My voice was paralysed , what came out
was a squeak, one of those dream-squeaks
that wake you up. Blee blee blee blee blee.

It woke you too. Nothing, I said
it was nothing. So today
I have to face the grand jury
of comedians and clowns again

and they say my words have no
me me me me me me. I put my head down
meh-meh I say, or ba-ba, whichever
I am sheep or goat, I’ll box you
look, like this, with my hornless head.
The comedians and clowns
like this, they laugh, but it doesn’t mean
I’ll be acquitted

Look how the lamb, how Jesus
bowed his head, when they put that timber on him
and said now carry it on your bare shoulder.
He didn’t raise the head and roar
I’m innocent; no, he just went
wee wee wee wee, all the way home.

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Superstructures – two poems

Morgana the Fair

She was a very small girl
when one of them first approached her
and none of the dark glamour of the Abyss
hung on him, that she could remember,
she could not call him a visitant
and he did no tricks, no jugglery.

She was on the toilet, and he was there
gazing at her steadfastly, before
jumping up behind her to whisper in her ear
you see, princess, in such a lovely dress
but under it the same as the rest and do
what peasants do, or pigs.

It was an intriguing thought, and made
everything possible. So she went on dressing, and they
building, ever higher walls, ever more magnificent
and laws and statutes, aspirations and dreams,
a heavenly superstructure, all of it. And always
at the foundation the worm gnawed.

And so when Camelot foundered and the Dark Age
came roaring back in, she would often sit
musingly, an old lady tracing her fingers
along the old erogenous trails, and say
at least I never got up myself, at least no-one
can say of me I set impossible targets.

She had had many lovers in her later years
young men she loved to see reduced
to pitiful whining for respite, while her own
appetite roared on unabated. I’ll show them
she’d chuckle, how much mileage there’s really in
their polished helmets and those little plumes.




Some Gallery

Annie’s giving some talks today
on the Seven Sacraments
she’s in some gallery, with a shoal of students
– none of which I see, except with my mind’s eye

I affect a chirpy,  lovable
ignorance. When she says Poussin
I say, like in Puss-en-Boots? and when I say
I don’t know what a sacrament is

She says, well Marriage is one
– so the picture that represents it
is Mary and Joseph, in gorgeous colours
getting themselves hitched

God, that’s a tall order, I say
living up to such an icon
could the world afford so many
Jesuses all at once?

And Ordination? that sounds like part
of what I lack when I can’t
keep things together, hence
my occasional rage or rant.

She smiles (she’s very patient)
but says, enough of the rhymes
you’re never serious when you rhyme
whereas what’s here, this thing, this sacrament

It meant something to someone once,
still does, something serious.
So why, I ask, this punctilious
concentration on texture, brushstroke, colour

Things that any dunce
can accomplish, or appreciate for that matter?
I watch them dancing about the polished
floors, as the sacraments unravel

Watch it in my mind’s eye. I’m proud
of her knowledge, her clarity
her irreverent style. I’ll be waiting
when this mind’s eye unravels, for her smile.

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