New Poems – Gordon Dargie
More or less
I think I see and hear the care with all
the lines rehearsed but then I was a boy
and Mum was acting strangely at the sink
and telling me that I was very special
and so they picked me. What was happening
when what I asked was Where did I come from?
But I was meaning where did babies come from.
Not Glasgow. I did not want to know that
Dad’s not dad and you are not my real mum
and so the aunts and uncles aren’t real
and my cousins know I’m not their cousin
and I don’t know who I am from somewhere else
and she gave me away. No no I wanted
to know about birth and death and sex.
A show of hands
Dad holds my hand and pulls me to the edge
and nervous as a bridge I dig my heels
and when Mum takes my hand on the first day,
my new shoes squealing in the polished school,
still she will have to pull her hand away.
I can remember these things, unlike lessons
from all the years that follow the first day,
remembering the ink wells and the blots
and sudden fears and little that I write
and more and more the pleasantness of boredom.
They teach me well enough. An early profit
will be chalking bugger on our doorstep.
A careful hand’s revenge for those hard hands
brings no more retribution, like applause.
I take a good long look to see it all
and try to stretch my own one but it won’t
and then the other man he sees me looking
and he whispers something into the man’s ear
and the man just puts his thing under his raincoat
and he steps over and smiles down at me
and then the man says Are ye a poof, son?
and I don’t know and I say What’s a poof?
and he doesn’t say and he says to me
Where’s your mammy? She oot there waitin for ye?
and I’m going to say Yes and I say Aye
and the man says Just you go to your mammy
and the other man is looking all the time
and I go outside and say I managed fine.
Nothing happened on the way to school
Linda, Elizabeth, Henry and me
watched out for each other in Primary 3
on the bus into town and the walk to the school
by the road or the back way we took as a rule
away from the traffic away from the noise
away from the Old Town away from big boys
past the backs of the cinema and the dance hall
past the white painted pub on the corner where all
the houses were gone but the pavement remained
where death up your hole had been put in red paint
and Linda said that could mean any hole but
I didn’t think so but stopped saying that
and we raced the last bit of the road to the gate
where the girls turned left and the boys to the right.
On Tinto Hill
The skull and cross-bones marked the burning bing
that slowly burned forever underground.
Though paths led off from gaps forced in the railing
I kept to the rough road. Under the railway
the tunnel you must never use at night,
your loudest cry unheard when trains went by,
came out below a signal box where Dad worked
day or back shift and out into the light
I shouted and waved up when he was there,
and Dad grew up near Tinto not near here.
The last part of the road between two fences
the sense of being outside inside out
went past the bolt works with its orange scrapheap
its rusting puddles tasting like a cut.
The dancing lesson
Not unusual then that sullen boys
and girls would get the belt until the stroke
that brought the tears before the quiet class
and Eleanor the worst in every test
began to learn the hard way every week.
One day she tried to draw her hand away
and so he held her wrist to belt her more
and caught she jigged at every strike until
a whisper went from back to front, from top
to bottom of the class, That’s terrible.
Our one rebellion lost. And who wants more?
We faced the front so only he would see
the eyes down in the lonely shame of fear
that we could be alone like Eleanor.
Boys must wear short trousers
Ye wear short troosers jist tae let the farts oot.
Jist think o aa the farts in that tweed suit
that he wears every day. A thoosan farts!
An when he taks his troosers aff at night
it stinks the place. Aw naw, jist think, that’s right!
It’s so’s ye can lift up the leg tae pish
an never bother wi yir buttons. Jist
think the time ye save, thae times ye coulda pissed
yirsel. The Primary 1s aa weet an greetin!
Aye but the Primary 7s haud ye doon
an shove their haun up there tae show who’s won.
An when ye grow they let ye wear real troosers
or it wid hing for lassies aa tae see.
It widnae. Aye it wid an then they let ye.
We’d gone to Burns’ Cottage and to Prestwick.
We saw the planes supplying Germany.
And coming home across the Ayrshire hills
there was Lanarkshire spread out before us,
from green hill far away at Kirk o’ Shotts,
its TV bulletins invisible,
to Motherwell and Hamilton below,
black spires and lums where once all had been green.
I hoped that Jesus loved me in my corner
in valley of the shadow Lanarkshire
and when we sang on Sunday one hymn said
that everything that was green would be gone,
though not to die together, one by one.
And pray accepting this or pray to learn.
The uniforms all had to be worked out
like money into denominations
heavy coins that worked in mechanisms
and for everything there was a season
and a time for putting off school uniforms
and go, though men in khaki filled the trains,
to Scarborough boarding houses and hotels
in uniform white paint and light pastels
and the heavy coins that were slowly saved
were soon lost in the machines at the front.
Men died at the front in my grandpa’s day
and Dad’s time too but I was not to mind
not on these beaches and not in these days
and jet black jets flew past just in displays.
Uncle John had not been wounded in the war
when just the once I asked the reason why
and what it was they really weren’t sure
or if he said I didn’t hear it all.
Steady me. Steady me, boy. Steady me.
At times I could make out his distress call
as he shuffle-skipped his way to buy the bread.
You go with him and mind he doesn’t fall.
But that might happen and I couldn’t help it
and that was not the thing I had to dread
for we had to pass a convent that he hated
and I prayed each day we wouldn’t meet a nun
or she wouldn’t hear him were some meeting fated
and I never thought to pray for Uncle John.
I’m thinking of dead people that I know.
My cousin Davy marches into mind
from national service in the fifties
when I met him once on leave and he was kind,
with the time he had, to me, shy and slow
in a family with no time for softies.
Davy my big cousin paratrooper
did you really wear a uniform then?
The way that I remember? I don’t wonder
if you wanted men they wanted you in turn.
And later feelings hidden as was proper
when you had Granny down as next of kin
and some pieces of your story came together
when monoxide from the hose had done you in.
Two uniformed policemen filled our hall.
The blackness drained the colour from the walls
and they told Granny Davy killed himself
and all she said in one soft phrase was O.
I was a boy when Grandpa died and O
meant he was hard to like and he was dead
and later when they said on his death bed
he cried to get the guns up to the front
some forty-five years late then I said O.
And all the lovers I would take said O
and so did I. O never meant a promise,
its future to anticipate the past.
O? my mother used to say until the day
when no tried forming negatives of O.
A Tunnel of Love by Gordon Dargie (Kettillonia, £4.50) is available from www.kettillonia.co.uk, or from James Robertson, 24 South Street,Newtyle, Angus PH12 8UQ. Cheques should be made payable to ‘James Robertson’.