Nothing stays the same for ever, sometimes it doesnt stay the same at all. It seems we have a new format. What I shall have for you by this night’s end, reader, we will see. We start and finish with grandmothers, one in the first poem and quite a number of them in the final poem. Eva Tihanyi and Bruce Hunter are both Canadian poets, whom we welcome.
Meanwhile A. C. Clarke brings us an imagined monster, Jenny Robertson a longish, brave and very topical poem of displacement, and Sheena Blackhall a spot of quiet philosophy, all of which will be quite enough till I have sorted out what has become of our regular format. Bear with us and stay with us!
For Sheena’s Scots poem, once again, you are referred to the dsl.ac.uk, in which you will find Sheena’s writings are often used as examples.
It’s been a hard week, but all these previously published poems stand up to it and are well worth a second outing. Please share, tweet or phone a friend.
My Grandmother’s Gloves
Even her gloves revealed her: soft leather,
not a common black or ordinary brown
but a deep flamboyant orange,
the rust of late autumn, warm and supple.
They are the last things I have kept,
the final detritus after all the givings-away,
the ritual removals:
buttons in plastic pill containers,
assorted remnants of cloth,
zippers, needles, thread;
her clothes all gone,
her furniture distributed.
Left: these exuberant gloves
I cannot bear to part with.
For when I slip my hands into them,
I am held, perfectly.
First published in Restoring the Wickedness (Thistledown Press, 2000) and included in Flying Underwater: Poems New and Selected (Inanna Publications, 2012).
A C Clarke
What if the small black dot in the heart of the glop
which even on tadpole terms seems unlikely to prosper
left out high and all but dry on the hillside
like a troubling child were to bud in all directions:
the bulbous head blossoming two ears
lavish as palmheads, the tail springing a tassel,
the folds at the edge of the mouth thrusting out tushes
the snout uncurling a trunk thick as liana
and as the bulk of the thing heaved to its feet
stepping out of discarded frills of jelly
it let loose out of that pinktipped, pliant bassoon
triumphant blasts as its great feet quivered the grass.
Suppose it twice the size of anything seen
in our diminished days, as if the bones
of a mastodon uncovered on a beach
by the wash of tides were to take new flesh, its hide
as butter, green and glistening as olives …
What if this newspawned wonder, scattering sheep,
thudded down to the small white tourist town
turning all heads from teatowels printed with doggerel,
tartan teapots, pottery seals
the nemesis that all had been vaguely expecting
there in the carpark stuffing shrubs into its maw
before it waddled off to give the loch
its newest monster its wash capsizing small boats
tethered alongside the pier. Cameras clicking:
noone knowing in the slightest what else to do.
first published in Poetry News and short-listed for the Howard Canham prize and is in my collection Messages of Change (Oversteps Books 2006).
Home by another road
Our way lay through ancient woodland.
Mist swirled about our tracks; snowflakes fretted
the wintry air with threats of dearth.
It seemed that death and not rebirth
beckoned beyond known boundaries,
for hosts of the half-dead hovered at our sides,
making it much harder to hang back,
though we dreaded the wide shores ahead,
the wastes and wolves, long winter nights.
So we went on, not speaking much. Language
like illusion died when invaders
destroyed the things we delighted in.
Yet we dared to dream of home, debate
our exodus, stamp visas, passports.
Even currencies were checked. No angel
blessed our departing feet,
no herald raced ahead, no prophet
pronounced encouragement, though some among us
knelt, prayed, broke bread, spoke peace,
touched charms, told stars.
Parents hushed babies. Children lifted luggage high
on sturdy shoulders. We recalled naked children queued to die.
So started our slow return.
We hadn’t reckoned on those ghosts who rushed
about like snowflakes, brushed our eyes and ears,
whispered a thousand fears, waylaid us worse than storm or mist.
Nor had we guessed that in the end the sea
would not become a pulsing wall and part behind
our fleeing feet, nor that we’d find the promised place a no-man’s land of rusted wire.
We would have turned away, but some with covered heads sang rest for our unburied dead.
Their grief became our sign and in their song
another road, a different dream, now leads us on.
First published as Beyond the Border in the book of that name, Chapman 1989. Jenny has “revamped it a little and given it its new title” but it is the same poem.
The Singing Bird
A birdie flichters oot an in
the open doorway o its cage.
Its flicht is short, its sang is wee,
Smaa is the circuit o its stage.
The mappamound it disnae ken
It’s thirled tae a rodden tree;
tethered tae a kenspeckle glen,
‘Twad brek its hert tae set it free.
Freedom is fine fur erne fierce
that reenges wide wi bluidy cleuk,
fur falcon heich wi een o steel
far jeels the marra wi ae luik.
Gin aa the anchors raisse an brakk,
gin salmon flew an sun grew black;
gin banes gied birth tae mysteries,
Mankind micht prize kent boundaries.
First published in Poetry Scotland in 1999 and included in The Space Between, New and Collected Poems, 2014.
The Scottish Grandmothers
And the long ago love of them,
stomping from the bus stop
with their Hudson’s Bay shopping bags
of cinnamon buns. Their little houses
smelling of broth and camphor.
Their calfskin Bibles
and fishing tackle
in the top of the hall closet,
the only opulence in their dour lives,
root beer fermenting from things
gathered on the prairie – an old world recipe
that exploded once or twice, glass in everyone’s
shoes, among the pious names of the prophets
passed from Bible to children, the psalms
and epiphanies slightly scented
of root beer.
Those small defiant women
whose generosity came from austerity,
one of them rolling her smokes,
“Hell, cheap? We were poor.
And your Aunt Maggie wrote:
Cold here – don’t come.
I did anyway.”
And whatever gifts given them at Christmas
always returned to the sender at birthdays
or other Christmases.
Not a white glove among them,
their chin hairs and eyebrows
never tweezed until the undertaker got them.
Their stories come back in mine
– all the long lines of the Scottish grandmothers
bearing teaboxes of shortbread
over legendary hills of gorse and heather,
the wind scented always
of cinnamon and root beer.
Originally published in Coming Home From Home (Thistledown Press, 2000) and in Two O’clock Creek – Poems New and Selected (Oolichan Books, 2010) by Bruce Hunter (www.brucehunter.ca)