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Volume 10 – Issue 2 – Visiting Scotland – New Poems – Scottish Review of Books
by Alan Roddick

Volume 10 – Issue 2 – Visiting Scotland – New Poems

August 3, 2014 | by Alan Roddick

Doon the Watter, 1946

Overhead, wire baskets spill petunias.

Left and right, potted palms line the walls.

Far behind, our train’s gone back to Glasgow.

Somewhere ahead, the ferry must be late.

We’re on our Scottish family holiday.

My mother is already exhausted.

My sister Aileen nurses her new doll.

Its eyes click open, to catch me looking.

I am to be the man of the party.

My job is to manage the big suitcase,

my turn to carry baby Linda.

Over my head the talk is all of Glesca,

fitba’ teams, and doon the watter.

I know where we’re going, but where are we?

Among the palm fronds bathing beauties

rarely seen on Caledonian beaches

welcome us – where? ‘Say it “Weems Bay”,’

my mother tells us, ‘Welcome to Wemyss Bay’.

The family in front shuffles forward.

‘Wake up, Son!’ says the man behind us.

I shove the heavy suitcase its own length;

we all shuffle forward. Pick up your feet!

I shut my mouth on my father’s voice.

Where is he, I wonder? Our father

which art at the office, my mother says.

Perhaps he followed later – I don’t remember.

Now beach sand crunches underfoot,

and yes, we can smell the ozone!

A Picnic with Aunt Jean, 1947

One and two halves to Inverkip,

the station master there touched his hat

to Miss Jean Trotter, who ‘taught the piano’.

Our sandals followed her sensible shoes

to find from memory her perfect place

for picnics: dry grass, no cow-pats,

shade or shelter whatever the day.

We spread her tartan rug for the treats:

three rationed biscuits, one Spam sandwich,

an orange equally segmented –

‘You’re thirsty, there’s water in the burn!’

Hoping to catch its scales and arpeggios

Aunt Jean tapped her faulty hearing-aid,

but settled with her frowny smile

for practised Schubert and The People’s Friend.

One foot from our picnic, wildest Scotland

waited to be explored. I had an hour –

what would I find?

The Water-Wheel

Right where that boy

bored with picnics

would build a stone dam

to bomb it flat

the sill where a pool

powers the ripple

held a wonder:

a water-wheel

home-made from scraps

of salvaged offcuts

dowelling, balsa-wood

neatly assembled

a flicker of light

set running – abandoned

to windfall branches

or tomorrow’s fresh

but working then

pacing the current.

I let my stone drop

and it’s turning still.


At Arbroath

Around the marina a steel railing

ripples in waves into a crest, and falls

to mirror this morning’s flat silver calm.

At slack water of a spring tide low

in the harbour mouth a fishing boat

has gone aground. Suddenly idle

and waiting for his luck to turn,

her skipper tidies the deck, debates

his unexpected draught with locals

hanging out on the pier for excitement.

The other night the North Sea had flung

fistfuls of shingle at sleepless windows.

Time was, by ten o’clock next morning

the Master of the Signal Tower

who kept watch on the Bell Rock Light

would know by its mast-head signal if

their men had survived another storm.

No signal, and he launched a rescue.

Now the Tower is a museum,

open at ten, where Arbroath looks back,

and the Bell Rock looks back to its port.

No call for signals today; I think

that storm can have let nobody sleep.

But what if, tonight, with groaning rowlocks,

their clothing stiff with salt, dead tired, breathless,

the Keepers should come back to save Arbroath?

From this Issue

Amen to All That

by Harry Reid

Northern Lights

by Malachy Tallack

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