He is a man for whom everyone’s a trespasser.
Co-existence? He doesn’t believe in it.
Give you the time of day? Not one minute.
He is happy to be a grinning contrarian.
Music, he claims, gives him indigestion.
He dismisses several generations
Including most members of his own.
He is a virtuoso concert pessimist
Who even disagrees with his own agreements.
He is the exact opposite of mellow.
You never see him sitting in the sun.
And as for ‘foreigners’ — oh-ho! —
He is the Keeper of terms like ’wog’ and ‘dago’.
Longevity has failed to teach him benevolence.
I notice his visible weak spot
Spilling from the back of his eternal cap —
And I think he deserves my parting shot:
And so I say to him, “Get your hair cut.”
“Butterflies rock no cradles, nor do they sing.”
Or so a mad poet writes down on his page.
“I’ve listened, looked; can’t hear or see a thing
Other than snails on their silky pilgrimage
Over the slippery slabs of a garden path.
I’ve heard ants’ martial marching songs,
Their tiny tambourines, trumpets, and gongs,
Too-whoos of the nocturnal polymath.
I’ve heard the patient moans of mushrooms growing
Where bees coax ding-dongs from a foxglove’s bells,
A spider crooning at its loom, sewing
Its webs of death and dinner, bat-squeaks
In moon-shadow, their flittermouse farewells.
Now, though, I’ll go and whisper lullabies
To the traceless powdered butterflies
And all the little creatures that die in secret
Beyond imagination, mind, and wit.”
The Blue Wave
‘Do it now, say it now, don’t be afraid.’
Your house with its lovely
light studio overlooking the sea
is sold, your work dispersed.
But in my head there’s a painting
done in your nineties
when just to lift your arm
was an effort: a single brave
upwards sweep with a wide
distemper brush so loaded
with paint the canvas filled
with the glistening blue wall
of a wave before it falls.
When my memory
was a film library
with a keen curator
who knew precisely
where to find clips
of every word
I wished unsaid,
or deed undone,
to play back to me
on sleepless nights,
I’d have welcomed her
muddling the reels.
But now the curator’s
retired, the ordered
shelves are in chaos.
I roam the racks
without a guide
searching for scenes
I’ve lost. Sometimes,
not able to remember
what I’m searching for,
I find Forgetfulness
kneeling on the floor –
an old woman, pale
and worried as a ghost,
rummaging in a tangle
of shiny black ribbons.
Timor mortis conturbat me
Will it give me six months warning
Or come when least expected?
Will I trip over it one morning
And find myself disconnected?
Will it come on the way to Corstorphine
Or when sitting on the loo?
Will I need a lot of morphine
Will a bottle of brandy do?
Will it happen in broad daylight
Or wait until it’s dark?
Will it come like a lover at midnight
On a necromancing lark?
Will I lose control of my bladder?
Will I lose control of myself?
Will the Lord send down a ladder
And shock the National Health?
Will it start as a minor chill,
Then turn to a nasty cough
Will it spread everywhere until
Someone has to switch me off?
Is it already growing inside me?
Does it have a date and a time?
Will I know when at last it’s untied me?
O what’s the use of rhyme?
Nothing so lovely as the hoot
of a distant train
running through your dream.
Is it childhood
you’re listening to, worlds going off the map,
Always you liked views that spoke of beyond –
those seascapes stretching out that didn’t stop at sky but went on…
What is it about the need for it? The why
of flight, mountaineering, gift of grace. How dire
if ours was the only galaxy!
How happily the word sits in the mouth, satisfying
as a communion wafer.
This is the sound of the distant train
running through your dream –
be-yond be-yond be-yond be-yond
Douglas Dunn, Vicki Feaver and Diana Hendry have written new poems that tackle the theme of ageing for Second Wind, a Saltire Society pamphlet published in October. The poets have been commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library as part of a collaboration with Luminate, the Saltire Society and Birlinn with funding from the Baring Foundation’s series of ‘Late Style’ artist commissions.