Category Archives: Scottish

Luing

When the day comes, as the day surely must,
When it is asked of you and you refuse
to take that lover’s wound again, that cup
of emptiness that is our one completion,

I’d say go here, maybe, to our unsung
innermost isle: Kilda’s antithesis,
yet still with its own tiny stubborn anthem,
its yellow milkwort and its stunted kye.

Leaving the motherland by a two car raft,
the littlest of the fleet, you cross the minch
to find yourself, if anything, now deeper
in her arms than ever; sharing her breath.

Watching the red vans sliding silently
between her hills. In such intimate exile,
who’d believe the burn behind the house
the straitened ocean written on the map?

Here, beside the fordable Atlantic
reborn into a secret candidacy,
the fontanelles reopen one by one
in the palms, then the breastbone and the brow,

Aching at the shearwater’s wail, the rowan
that falls beyond all seasons. One morning
you hover on the threshold, knowing for certain
the first touch of the light will finish you.

Don Paterson
2003

The Unspoken

When the troopship was pitching round the Cape
in ’41, and there was a lull in the night uproar of
seas and winds, and a sudden full moon
swung huge out of the darkness like the world it is,
and we all crowded into the wet deck, leaning on
the rail, our arms on each other’s shoulders,
gazing at the savage outcrop of great Africa.
and Tommy Cosh started singing ‘Mandalay’ and
we joined in with our raucous chorus of the
unforgettable song,
and the dawn came up like thunder like that
moon drawing the water of our yearning
though we were going to war, and left us exalted,
that was happiness,
but it is not like that.

When the television newscaster said
the second sputnik was up, not empty,
but with a small dog on board,
a half-ton treasury of life orbiting a thousand
miles above the thin television masts and mists
of November,
in clear space, heard, observed,
the faint far heartbeat sending back its message
steady and delicate,
and I was stirred by a deep confusion of feelings,
got up, stood with my back to the wall and my
palms pressed hard against it, my arms held
wide
as if I could spring from the earth —
not loath myself to go out that very day where
Laika had shown man, felt
my cheeks burning with old Promethean warmth
rekindled — ready —
covered my face with my hands, seeing only an
animal
strapped in a doomed capsule, but the future
was still there, cool and whole like the moon,
waiting to be taken, smiling even
as the dog’s bones and the elaborate casket of
aluminium
glow white and fuse in the arc of re-entry
and I knew what I felt was history,
its thrilling brilliance came down,
came down,
comes down on us all, bringing pride and pity,
but it is not like that.

But Glasgow days and grey weathers, when the
rain
beat on the bus shelter and you leaned slightly
against me, and the back of your hand touched
my hand in the shadows, and nothing was
said
when your hair grazed mine accidentally as we
talked in a cafe, yet not quite accidentally,
when I stole a glance at your face as we stood in a
doorway and found I was afraid
of what might happen if I should never see it again,
when we met, and met, in spite of such differences
in our lives,
and did the common things that in our feeling
became extraordinary, so that our first kiss
was like the winter morning moon, and as you
shifted in my arms
it was the sea changing the shingle that changes
it
as if for ever (but we are bound by nothing, but
like smoke
to mist or light in water we move, and mix) —
O then it was a story as old as war or man
and although we have not said it we know it,
and although we have not claimed it we do it,
and although we have not vowed it we keep it,
without a name to the end.

Edwin Morgan
1968

Hamnavoe

My father passed with his penny letters
Through closes opening and shutting like legends
When barbarous with gulls
Hamnavoe’s morning broke

On the salt and tar steps. Herring boats,
Puffing red sails, the tillers
Of cold horizons, leaned
Down the gull-gaunt tide

And threw dark nets on sudden silver harvests.
A stallion at the sweet fountain
Dredged water, and touched
Fire from steel-kissed cobbles.

Hard on noon four bearded merchants
Past the pipe-spitting pier-head strolled,
Holy with greed, chanting
Their slow grave jargon.

A tinker keened like a tartan gull
At cuithe-hung doors. A crofter lass
Trudged through the lavish dung
In a dream of corn-stalks and milk.

In the Arctic Whaler three blue elbows fell,
Regular as waves, from beards spumy with porter,
Till the amber day ebbed out
To its black dregs.

The boats drove furrows homeward, like ploughmen
In blizzards of gulls. Gaelic fisher-girls
Flashed knife and dirge
Over drifts of herring.

And boys with penny wands lured gleams
From tangled veins of the flood. Houses went blind
Up one steep close, for a
Grief by the shrouded nets.

The kirk, in a gale of psalms, went heaving through
A tumult of roofs, freighted for heaven. And lovers
Unblessed by steeples lay under
The buttered bannock of the moon.

He quenched his lantern, leaving the last door.
Because of his gay poverty that kept
my seapink innocence
From the worm and black wind;

And because, under equality’s sun,
All things wear now to a common soiling,
In the fire of images
Gladly I put my hand
To save that day for him.

George Mackay Brown
1975?