Edited by Beth McDonough
With poems from Seth Crook ,Jane Burn, Ann Graal, Maggie Mackay, Finola Scott, Marie-Therese Taylor, Mandy Macdonald and Angi Holden.
The sure sign:
toeing off your shoes
on the riverbank,
in the orchid hatching grass.
My job is to be the silly one,
the outsize child.
We didn’t make that rule,
But when shoeless,
slipping free, you join me.
I’ll hide yours
before you hide mine.
He walks ten yards ahead, my little boy, orbiting
at a safe distance. This cut leads down to the beach,
incline scuffed with traipsed sand. It decants us
next to spine of a salt-blackened waste pipe, brackish
with weed. Away he goes, scoring driftwood lines
in the sand – as he runs, yards of buff skein beneath
his skimming soles. We dabble the ridges quilting
the shore, piped with an filling of oval stones, smooth
as cannellini beans; varnished by the sea. We spread
socks and shoes out to dry on the man-hewn rocks,
put there to brace against the tide. I watch him
scramble up, nimble amongst the mawing cracks
that snap at his little ankles. I beg him to come down
but he smiles, reaches the top, frightened instead
by a dozy, hovering wasp. I slap at the sand gritting
his feet, then turn to gather up our debris from the day,
scoop up a cairn of gathered shells. The wind tries
its teeth on my cheeks, tats up the manes of the ponies
who live on the patches above, foraging the scrub.
Nimble and piebald, their feathered feet measure cracks
in the concrete, head down, muzzling for shoots.
The slow dereliction of buildings, the rawness
of the coast, the hugeness of its landscape settles
into sunset. We watch the closing of a last crack
of light between sleepy waves and falling night sky.
Okay for you lot, my mum always said;
telling it again; another story from war’s
hungry aftermath, about the farm; the track
we’d bounce up in the Austin Eight, always
it seems now, on a summer Sunday afternoon,
and how the kids we were back then might
range the barns and meadows while my dad and mum,
the captives of their adult years were ‘Proper
……………invited to come through – drawn in
by need, compounded by a farm wife’s ache
for company – gentility of tea, a thin brew sipped,
from thinner china, not used every day, her crisp
doilies, their stale scraps of conversation fed into
the maw of that expectant ticking room. How they’d hear
her out and shift about on her hard oak settle,
watching all the while, Mum says, a golden afternoon
inch over the scoured flags, and gradually fade
out the open door,
……………………………….and wait and wait,
to heave herself up, lean over, hiss into my mother’s ear,
as if to hint at some excessive and forbidden appetite –
You’ll be wanting some Soft Centres, Missus then.
And now all business, packs a dozen of them,
brown and still warm from the coop; like contraband,
into the shopping bag my mother’s brought…
and when the kids are rounded up, dishevelled, damp
and fragrant from the byre, all gilded with the dust
of buttercups, their dazed eyes full of sun…
Okay for you lot, my young mother says again.
Dad was a maker of magic
He rose above our wee catastrophes,
mined for shiny coins to treat us
to Knickerbocker Glories at Nardini’s.
Their rainbow layers made us smile,
the ruler length spoon,
the wafer arched like a Spanish fan,
the tall glass waiting for a rose.
On wet afternoons we queue at the Dominion,
Smartie tubes squashed in our pockets.
The curtains swished back – wheesht –
as Pearl and Dean sang out. I slid into velvet.
Lawrence of Arabia, The Lion in Winter,
The Big Screen. My Dad.
There be dragons
Dad takes charge, berths swollen cases.
I scowl at my bottom berth as my brother
leaps down from his, playing pirate.
At the rails we watch cormorant wings
paint night down the length of the Clyde.
Mercury water gulps cranes, islands, legends.
The lower deck is filled with bandsmen.
White gloved, red-faced they rev up riotous
keen to reconquer their glorious twelfth.
Tucked snug this feathered child of Lir
dreams of bowler-hatted oranges walking
the plank to the punch of a lambeg drum.
My Dad – Mapman
Winter is his time
It all begins here.
I catch his almost imperceptible gasp
as he makes his choice
from the sacred shelf,
unfolds with reverence
his papyrus of ancient lore,
traces his finger along drove roads
and ley lines,
recorded for our guidance.
He explores the mystery
of new lands on our old oak table.
He says, ‘Without maps,
we’re just going round in circles.’
Come the day of departure
with everything ready,
the journey and arrival
will be nothing
to this moment
of limitless possibility.
For Nancy Graal
You found it hard to break the habit I suppose;
later the plump driver of a comfy little car, you’d
spot the boards put out by growers in a summer glut
inviting Pick Your Own, find yourself back
in all that faff of scrimp and forage.
You’d take your grandson’s – Eat All You Want –
trail, eyes down, along the raw earth furrows, gorge
on a scarlet surfeit of lush cultivated fruit,
and more for tea back home, sugared, pooled
in cream. The good times, Mum…
But not like darkly-gleaming clusters,
miraculous – with all the world out on the forage –
almost unreachable atop a sprawling hedge;
to be eked out with the odd windfall, and sour
in the mouth; sugar being precious…
Not like early mushrooms, pale baby fists
thrust up where we’d looked in vain the day before,
their clean air/damp earth odour, your own small band,
unbreakfasted, out there on the hungry edge
of this most ancient human endeavour.
‘Caller herrin’, Lismore, August 1950
I am dressed in a blue gathered skirt
white blouse with the sleeves rolled
madras checked tablecloth for a shawl.
I am six.
I am alone up here, except for my mum
whose idea this was, and who doesn’t like being called mum.
She is at the piano, across the stage, halfway
across the known world.
This is her holiday: three weeks
away from home (where there are beaches, and friends)
in a flood-prone Gondwanan valley
named for a Scottish island,
at the Eisteddfod.
I am barefoot, and carrying a big basket.
I am supposed to sing.
‘Wha’ll buy ma caller herrin,
new drawn frae the Forth?’
I am also supposed to win.
What is ‘caller’? Where is the ‘Forth’?
Outside, the sun beats its drum,
the footpath scalds your feet, rosellas gossip,
the currawong sings his beautiful deadly song.
As instructed, i sing.
The piano is out of tune, i think, or at least
not as sweet as our upright.
Out there in the half-dark, people
clap noisily at the last note.
The tide of sound frightens me, then lifts me up,
tosses me in a blanket of excitement.
Mum, i ask, forgetting, when can we do this again?
You never knew
why I disappeared
among emeralds, lapis, and sweet paprika
kid soft handbags
and assumed I would follow
while you browsed
……………But my curiosity was aroused
……………by high piled sandbags
…………..an escaping songbird
…………..sing of new possibilities
You blamed the crowd
for your child misplaced
or my small years
for your disgrace
I’ve often wondered how long
……………it took you
……………………………………the me-shaped space?
since you demanded contrition
and to make reparation
but if I’m honest
that’s not true
I ran off
– I chose to
‘cause that day
I’d had enough
Heavy-lidded, half-awake, I remember the wooden yacht
dune-beached above the sheltered spot where mother
spread her tartan rug across the burning sand. Turn back!
I beg my father, unaware I’ve slept for miles, am nearly home.
It’s just a boat, we’ll buy another. But I weep for my Aurora,
her blue and scarlet keel, her hull the depth of my cupped hand.
Thirty years, another coastal town, and I recall this shape of loss.
My tiny daughter, fingers clutched around her empty cone,
the vanilla globe already melting on the tarmac. I offer mine.
She turns away and points. I want that one, she keens. That’s mine.