(Christmas message to the men of 1914)
full uniformed etiquette, mournful sumptuary.
Remembered bugles rouse us living on
who half grudge, half kowtow to this blaze
of rank and gloom, high military trumpery
imposing closure on the dead and gone.
Present, the peace-
extended into age lives unsacrificed
to state or cause, reserving their consent
and therefore closser to our condition.
Autonomous by choice -
to bugle forth these dead as better spent.
High on Cademuir Ridge, where ancient raids
were stumbled on chevaux de fries
we focus far-
Uncumbered by a phone, we scan at ease;
striding on the Sware our sightlines skim
the upland edges, air vaults jetstream high
but face front to the blocky upthrust form
of Venlaw: packed spruce, bare trunks jagg'd on sky.
have access to an inner eye upon the place.
Descend by patch and hedge, levelling to crown steeple over there.
towers leap from boxed-
and from spongy greenery around, the Leckie spikes the air.
.. Casebound town: buttoned into hills
.. footworn cloister: yearning into weather
.. outlying houses : seeping into the green
.. serried roofs: cuddling into parallels
Behind the paintwork is the social wiring
of those who "are the town", either born here
or in first-
Second stream, men and women who'll have none of it
but chance to occupy the bright brown town
and let what shelter and what living come of it,
private as you like, the curtains stifle every sound
and upper windows flash their pale lost faces.
Vivacity of voices a third current bears
bustling to the bus stop and the next expanding sphere.
We see a fourth stream, strapped into a Mercedes
which parks to block the sixty-
upclip a leisured slouch to the Post Office here.
.. crusty bread : buttered into the grain
.. insect tractor : stitching into patchwork
.. needle steeple: gulls step into air
.. windy avenue : browning into embroidery
.. junction agora: phobic into panic
From the boggy hollows of the evening lands,
Tweedhopefoot, and the tribute of sheep's pee,
Old Man River gathers up the glens
swirls their trickle to the cold North Sea.
A hang of heads that glowers over water
by our dolphin-
a shape of flowing things, downstream to departure.
Bairns grow up and leave, their ways diverge -
an adverse current, pupils in our schools.
Teenagers spill out of lunch, then spill out for life.
Their walk is tribal but their faces are covert.
Peebles loses most of them, attachment cools
contingent side of twenty-
their contrarieties elsewhere, upstream and overt.
.. Chevaux de fries : stumbled into bronze
.. gulty hatchback : nipping in to post
.. filter footbridge : clattered into ink
.. double decker : swinging into fugue
.. double dolphin : contra nando incrementum
Scarlet compels glamour, ceremonies, uniforms.
To might and main
adhere, conform to flattery of arms.
Buttons and the sword baptise the line.
Accept the shocks
win ruins, trophies, distant graves, palms and storms.
Refusal is unthinkable. Unthought is the norm.
Grey suited mutualities, accommodations, settlements
persuade the trains
to run on time, to unwall towns from battlements,
to timetable, to regulate and circulate,
doors to open, powers to pump the drains.
The logic of the clocks
cogs wheels together, springs forth the escapements.
Clerks clock in at eight, but awols and elopements
hint in signs of art, and ironies and trickeries'
capillaries in the grain,
treat labour as a grovelling, war mere bickering,
speak the purple plural like a queen
We serve no definite article but the brain
We slip past blocks
grey edifices or beglamoured tribal flatteries,
with grammar, neuronal connectivity, and mockery.
Bus journeys unrecorded
unremarked and unassessed
assimilate into timetables
time and again
solved shelved and archived.
But today I tell you:
tugging to a skyline
tipping across a watershed
hills subside, plains lift into view
resolve, and down valley flanks
raddle a city.
pole arms brake-
but centripetals grip, doors implode to
spring a man-
into the quick.
Take a seat, top front, and let it roll.
A space of sun and shadow opens out below
and local shop signs slide by level with my knees.
The ribbon road, the rolling moorland spread
and small pink clouds that ride ahead
and sweeten even tainted carpark zones,
Ikea, Asda, outer dullsville, bungylands
and into people-
on my concession years to ride for free.
All day doors hiss and fold and part for me.
Grudged dark mornings, dingy afternoons, duties late.
Obscurely difficult, faintly dangerous, dully damaging
perspective struggles to compress that stretch
into one dense nugget where, always, still
the viewless workbus drags and drones.
More than just a pause at sixty-
a wheezing interegnum between salary and death,
no, get out early as you can as Larkin recommends,
freeride, flaneur, the promenade extends
gliding on hissing air to panoramic ends.
A boy and girl, six perhaps, and eight
suggest suburban troops, so trim and straight.
Their gaze is joined, and held to further off.
Dad is slim in shirt and corduroys
and as he turns you see it, huge and hump,
heroic sherpa rucksack, as of Himalayan boy
shouldering a whole shebang to canvas camp.
He perches mountainously on the luggage rails
blending to the bus, lets by surge and lurch,
eases the peaked bulk back where space avails
his front slung sling-
Hemmed in, he telegraphs an eye and mouths "Our stop".
They slip their seats, induction moves chop-
Why "upstairs or inside" when upstairs is inside?
Fretting at what the ambiguity implied
a small boy asked his granny when they took a ride.
She smiles, unravelling a memory
of Daddy holding her to touch the sky
from open decks of busses long gone by.
Boy grunts, he'd have these archaisms stopped
Soppy answers to straight questions cropped
Tiresome spelling rules, table manners, dropped.
A buspass face now has his sourpuss sneers
engraved, but when a double-
still asks his wife "inside then, or upstairs?"
On these fine wide lawns
to the bending shrubs and beds,
were we children now
what games would we play?
I asked. But boys, they say
with such an air, such
regretful gazing through the glass
Smartphones clamp their livelong day.
Just so. Another horseless carriage here to stay.
Moses might indulge a hissy-
Apollo, step down from a mandorla
in the deep sky
to teach the muses hide and seek
or basketball. Let them have their cake
and Sky tv if that's the dish preferred.
Let's not teach the kiddies how to live
having less than conjured that ourselves.
Let them rot within us, ancient games.
Playtime's over, but we play on, stay
posing,pausing, longing, lingering
so that children have a difference
and a distance of their own
to gaze through glass upon.
Full blown brown clock tower
with spiked crown blackening on sky
overlooks all town and busy artery
to the perched photographer upon the Mercat Cross
whose bright street will lose its gloss
when duly done into dull watercolour,
browning in the outline of the church and tower;
overlooks the shopper on a mission
(Gregg's for cakes, Scott's for tacks)
who spots the guitar-
and crosses by the first availing shelter
but gives an ear to natter-
a crack and catch-
overlooks the Audi Ostinato, blocked by tatty Austin,
whose driver sees all street life as obstruction
his power cramped to creeping pace, he slides
one finger gesture, permission for a dodge across,
so slips a filmy shape of one
behind a single swipe of windscreen wiper;
overlooks the lone stunt kid
on stumpy bike beside the ATM and bank.
The cash queue eyes him over, envious
of bouncing wheelies on the margin
of all health and safety riddling and wheedling,
truanting agility and nerve preserve his like;
overlooks the street become an operetta stage
where soloists enact their gutterblood harangue
high summer personages strut and stilt their stuff
according to tradition, as from eighteen ninety-
All jolly morn, and beery afternoon.
Brown stone tower fringed with steeple crown
up there, where crows step into air,
overlooks a street of urban eloquence
composed of phrasing, spacing, shading, trimming
that just happened out of history,
isolated in its frame by the ruin of the others.
The tower's shadow shrinks at noon
and barely touches my street door.
Here's the passage, dark, with bins,
known to milkman, meter-
Double doors open on a steep brown stair,
I climb into the light, and my clock there
chimes out of sync and thinner than the public boom
"things" in "rooms" they sing in counterpoint
booms ringed with tings at twelve o'clock
up beyond these rooms are rooms within
more rooms and things, and things
at home in rooms, at home, at home
With storm rains engorging the gutters
gushing and swelling the Gala,
Channel Street funnelling surges and splashes
till Bank Street floats, flooding galoshes.
Spade into great wet gouts of butter
into the mashes
of tattie and beans for our ballast.
Comfort, dry socks and sausage assuages
in Melrose, where we hang our mackintoshes.
Gala: river in Galashiels
Alagash: river in Maine USA
A flatbed lorry blocking off my view posits
its blunt back end, four car-
and freshly sanded boards recede from it
in perspectival staves, where flash tree shadows riff.
And if I flip a gear and stamp the pedal, fetch
a spurt of revs, a lift-
mount that level space, that woody dappled stretch,
damasked, inviting as the National Trust four-
I forbear to flop across -
oncoming monster rigs, shark fronts, beetling tops
swell across the sky, exhale monoxide blasts.
My flatbed's Titian, its bucolic shadows drop
between the grimy axle and the bonnet of my car.
Others ache to overtake, this I'll settle for.
Metamorphosis on the street
felt across the tendons of the neck
uneasy that it's easier to park today
easier still tomorrow
jampacked kerbs have dropped away
shops rattle down their shutters now for keeps
traffic ailing to a fitful sleep
and in this quiet, what? small streetwise dreads
a twinge, an apprehension of the short hairs
I take a nipped glance back around
and what I don't quite see are absences
like radio signals from the fading stations....
Who, avoiding all remark and ceremony
has gone? Some bunk off unseen
leaving rumour of unlikely destinations
Guatemala, Lichtenstein, or Gort.
Funerals, fond farewells make glib the older ends
conventional and honed as death or emigration, not
new endings, slinked evacuations betrayed
by the frayed edge of an abduction.
Again I am a boy
and young, class one day one
seeing for the first time
persons no taller than myself
and also boys.
They, like me, obey and Face the Front
I see their necks and heads and ears
their hair spring up and spiral round
and taper off cropped down into the skin.
Beginnings are Cartesian. Fog clears from
the iceberg calving coastline of the years.
First day sitting straight and listening to Miss
settles one point of certainty. She is.
Passings over solemnised by rite:
Commencements Prizes Presentations and Inductions,
survivors of the class of fifty-
to slouch and grin and look away
no more funerals, obsequies or requiems.
We come to dispersals after ceremonies
each to his own plateau, past purity and danger
an uncorked landscape inveigled into wine
as columned prolegomena of volumes
as orchestral settings out
not to conquer ends or liberate
but with all the sumptuosity of E flat horns
to settle central solid stable states.
The wiring and the current