Spilt Milk

– What do you mean, you stupid old woman
by Christ I’m going to send you
to the place, just see if I don’t
where stupid old women are sent.
What else but spilt milk
is there to cry over? My whole life
look! oceans of spilt milk!
And you tell me there’s no use?

I watch you shuffling off through the doorway
the bent back, the frame, the relentless hatred;
oh yes, I’ve done it now – nothing good
she remembers, but she’ll remember this.
I’ll give you there’s no use, I’ll give you
what do you ever do for me, I’ll give you
this used to be a happy house, till you came!

No I won’t. I’ll be crying in the corner.
I’ll be saying, what happened to the nice old dame
who always cooked the comfort meat
all with the right balance of roots
who loaded us down with plant cuttings
who waited for us on the garden bench
and chided us for our lateness, in the dappled
sunshine under her flowering trees.

– That white bench out among the nettles, she says
should we bring it in where people can sit on it?
That one, I grunt (what’s wrong
with nettles?). It’s a green bench, I tell her.
Looks white to me, she says. The sunlight welling
through the studded hawthorn stems
turns her hair to black gloss, a fringe
of gold somewhere about – her complete
knowledge of dyeing, that’s what that is.

I’ve made mistakes in my life,
my dear, that you will never learn from.
I’ve seen whole horizons on fire
I was obliged to turn from;
I thought I would have a life:
children, wife, old people took it over.
They tell me this was my choice
people who look to live without
remorse, regret, who consider
(expressed in a clipped, clear voice)
empowerment’s the name of the game.

Soon the mayblossom will cover
these sharp ungainly sticks. Blossom
makes no demands, has no regret
does not dissent; it’s an apotheosis
of spilt milk frozen on some
ancient ineluctable frame.


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Magic Numbers

I suppose so-called Statistics have to be the kind of bread-and-butter material politicians trot out whenever they want to say something, simply because here’s nothing else to say that doesn’t get a bit other-worldly. You hear the policy being debated, and it all sounds quite sensible, and then – oh-oh, here come the statistics…. Statistics, numbers – this is a blatant use of Magic: these things are the blast of incomprehensible light that issues from the wizard’s wand. I don’t know much about politics, for all our door-to-door electioneering activities, but I know magic when I see it.

So, while I’m all for getting rid of Trident (and all nuclear weapons – though that’ll be a first for Humanity, actually going back on our tracks and undoing some “technological advance”), and while I’m aghast at some of the facile views I’ve heard expressed about The Deterrent this last week (how exactly is Trident going to foil a terrorist attack?), I also think it a bit facile to relate the cost of Trident to the cost, say, of some new schools and hospitals – why? because it ignores the magic properties of Money, which is after all just another set of numbers. The fact is, if the will is there to build the schools and hospitals, the money will (magically) be there; and conversely, not spending the £100 billion on Trident doesn’t mean that that particular chunk of money won’t evaporate overnight like the gold of the fairies. While doubtless you get people who live “in the world of money”, like fish living in water, that’s very different from saying that anyone actually understands the thing; no-one really understands the financial crash of 2008, despite everyone being such experts on it after it happened: the fact is it was money, once again, revealing its magic properties. We don’t like to admit to being ruled by Magic. (Oh, and fish are probably not very bright, politically speaking.)
None of which has anything to do with the following poem, except that the quest for a number comes into it a bit. And some of these issues also come a bit into the one after that, which came out of our little trip to London early this year.

Angry Bastard

They were burning his fingertips off
trying to get some number
(they were very keen on numbers)
and as they reached the sixth
the fourth on his left hand
he let out a roar, ear-shattering
but she, in the next room, heard only
her father and his ungoverned
temper, pissed herself there and
then, she just wanted it to stop.

Ataboy, let it out
they said, you’ll feel much better
there you go, it’s just like vomit (oh
by the way, what was that number?)
and he had clamped it down
so long to spare her – come on mate
you don’t want to do that it makes it
ever so much worse, do you know what
she did through there? oh dear, the shame!
you could have spared her all of it.

I wonder if anyone can compass
another’s pain. When those few
clustered round the rough timber
the dear-God-made-man was nailed to
what do you think they thought?
Just die, please just die
let us go home, we’ll make
a heroic epic out of it
we’ll edit out screams groans fluids, the
numbing hours – what else could they.

When the raping began, then it was
tell them the number, just tell them
what do you mean you don’t know it?
tell them any number for Christ’s sake
it’s only a fucking number
a number the same as any
just fucking tell them and tell that
angry bastard I’ve had it
up to here with his shit
and I won’t take any more.

Probably when it’s all
degenerated into drivel
when the floor swabbed with dettol’s
restored it to an ordinary kitchen
probably someone’ll advise on
probably there are people trained in
well. Light in the window. Personally
I’d recommend angels, angels
are the business. Angels encompass
all of creation, all pain, all joy.

Runaway Moon

Is everyone enjoying themselves? the juggler roars
as evening descends in Leicester Square
What? What are you? I didn’t hear you!
That’s better! You’re enjoying yourselves, aren’t you?
Everybody has to enjoy themselves, that’s why we’re here!
A mouse scuttles across the park gate, in the twilight.
Her ears must be calloused. I wonder if the London mice
enjoy themselves more than our neighbours
here in the country of Seven Cats.

I’d never understood this about the economy, though
I do now. Everyone has to smile, then things
will go all right. There are pretty girls with white teeth
on most of the hoardings demonstrating
how this is done. Pretty girls make everything right.
To speak of staring into the abyss is nothing
but folly, it’s the way a nation
sinks into perdition. If we don’t screw them over first
then they’ll screw us, see? That makes sense.

Here, in the country of Seven Cats, I watched
one of the rustic sisterhood scuttle out
from under the pile where she’d taken shelter
rear up on hind legs, offering to box.
That face, its lambent eyes, it must have looked
like the runaway moon, silently closing,
huge beyond reason in the end-of-time dusk.
Get out of it, you tiny clown, your heroics
are altogether unimpressive.

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Wee Ma

Some observations on last night’s Leaders Debate and the comments on it pouring in from every hand….

Annie, challenged by Maddy to stop shouting at the radio and to phone in instead, did so, and I think made a creditable showing for herself as a radio virgin (of course I’m prejudiced), her points being poignant ones on the matter of personalities versus policies and statistics versus the reality on the street. There were of course many statistics in the TV debate – oh, there goes another! – and all seven of the guys were so impressively well-versed I can only assume they had all had a chip implanted (perhaps even the same one, since the statistics, I thought, were seldom challenged). Even Natalie Bennet, yes, who incidentally got my thumbs-up despite her unwary excursion into the matter of the mass-extinctions of – what? plants and animals? – come on, Nat, let’s get real & deal with important matters….) I notice the many comments on how impressive the three women were compared with the men, and the assumption from this that they were impressive because they were women. I had to wonder though if it wasn’t rather that they were the ones who were not connected with the Westminster parliament – that institution forged in the wake of bloody wars between the great houses of England, brought into being by the new generation which sought to rival those great houses, and empowered as England was preparing to tear itself apart in a new kind of Civil War and thereafter to export bloody war to all corners of the globe…. I ask myself, as I’ve often asked myself before, why we have anything to do with this boys’ scrummage which is supposedly the heart of our political life in Britain?

That aside, I have another reservation about our concept of democracy. The way we understand democracy, certain people propose “policies” which are supposed to make “our” life better (“us” being us-in-Britain if your name’s Nigel Farage, and us-and-some-other-people-further-afield if you’re called something more decent). If we like the sound of those policies we vote for the person proposing them. If this person gets enough votes we reward him/her by putting him/her into “power”, that power being limited only by the occasional reminder that he/she is supposed to be the people’s representative. So if we equate power with reward, what sort of morality, I wonder, are we subscribing to? Is power good? Do we like the kind of person who “wants power”? Do we approve of them? As far as I’ve gathered in our local electioneering excursions not many people do approve of them. So what are we doing with them? Putting them up on a podium and then throwing coconuts at them? What is it we want to do, give some people responsibility so that we need to have none, or give people power so that – oh yes, that would be for the same reason…. I have to say, looking at those Leaders on TV last night, I saw seven guys who, with extensive training or without it, had screwed themselves up to get in front of an audience and say some stuff that, now or at some former time in their lives, they (had) believed in. Good on them, most of us wouldn’t like to do that, either out of genuine modesty or out of straightforward terror. I don’t know what the answer is here: I don’t think our version of democracy is It, though I’d like to think I’ll find it before I die – by Sod’s Law I suppose I’ll be too dottled by then for me or anyone else to give credence to my conclusion.

I do apologise for my runaway tongue, this wasn’t supposed to be a blog but a short introduction to a couple of poems. The first is me taking my customary slightly longer view of things, as well as making the closest approximation to a tribute to a politician that you’ll get out of me. In the second I suppose I’d better explain that Mr I and Mr Dowdy are my pet names for the two old Chinese classics, or ching, that still represent some of humanity’s best attempts at getting things right. Their “buddies” I hope speak for themselves.



Wee Ma

When kings were made out of the rocks
and bishops out of the trunks
of living trees, when there were
judges among the clouds and discrimination
and equality embodied in the waters
we were there, and we were there
as it was taken from us piece by piece and
sickness came stalking over the continents.
Wee Ma Scotland, where’s there’s almost
nowhere further for the Empire to reach
come, it’s time to start rolling
it back towards its source, a sickness
millennia from embryo to full disclosure
a thousand years can only be a start
if it’s to be undone, but a thousand
years has to start somewhere –
why not in the hands
of one small woman
her head barely visible
above the table-top
her wry smile, almost
secretive I would call it
most that I remember of her.



A Thought for all Spring Bridesmaids

Madame Ontop first kicked me
in the balls then slated me
for my poor performance, before
unzipping the whole gamut of degradations
foisted on women. Wept. I slunk out
with nothing but the tail between
my legs, Christ (thinking) if both
the spirit’s bearers and its nourishers fall
into such low repute, the bulwarks are all
but gone. Fine then! she spat after me.

Ah Mr I, Mr Dowdy, and all
your other buddies forged, hatched out
on the high spine of the world
did you believe the mothers who bore you
would finish up with lasting honour?
Huh, not so wise now, I think.
Ten thousand generations
this jewel was carried forward –
look at it now: not even glass
a chunk of scratched costumery.

Bodies that once had wings
to open and close the chest
windpipe, tongue and mouth
that gave a voice to the wind
voice to the wind….
Do you hear that? it’s coming this way
it has no dimensions, breadth
nor depth, no taste, no noise
it’s so gentle, lifts you so easily
nothing can hurt any more.

The tsunami of stupid won’t abate
till every worthwhile thing
of humanity is mulched
into scum floating
on the face of the deep
and don’t doubt that such detritus
will be composed of bodies
forged in the wombs of women
thereafter repudiated by nothing
but their own ineffable incompetence.

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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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