Come Through!

(Christmas message to the men of 1914)

War-dead, you had the solemn pause,

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-dead in full fruition

extended into age lives unsacrificed

to state or cause, reserving their consent

and therefore closser to our condition.

Autonomous by choice - that sufficed

to bugle forth these dead as better spent.

The wiring and the current

High on Cademuir Ridge, where ancient raids

were stumbled on chevaux de fries

we focus far-off flash of turbine blades.

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.

No click-on pictures these, but with legs and muscle memory

have access to an inner eye upon the place.

Descend by patch and hedge, levelling to crown steeple over there.

The scrape-place feel of river haugh eludes a camera,

towers leap from boxed-in slots amid the tumbling greys

and from spongy greenery around, the Leckie spikes the air.

..     Casebound town: buttoned into hills

..     sea-seeking river:lapping into arches

..    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-stream congregations, stations of aspiring.                                      

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-two when it appears,

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-clustered lamps, they see emerge

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-five, finding man or wife,

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

Non serviam: Owen Wingrave lives

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 Quartet

Route 62

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.

Slalom-juddering right pole left

pole arms brake-braced

(slip-sliding bottle down there)

but centripetals grip, doors implode to

spring a man-dart

into the quick.

Riding the bus pass

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-spotted streets, a spree

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-five

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.

The modern paterfamilias

A boy and girl, six perhaps, and eight

on side-facing tip-up seats, their ironed cuffs

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-child sleeping in its arc.

Hemmed in, he telegraphs an eye and mouths "Our stop".

They slip their seats, induction moves chop-chop.

Upstairs of inside?

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-decker number one appears

still asks his wife "inside then, or upstairs?"

The old games


On these fine wide lawns

plate-flat to the horizon

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

-play no games on street or grass.

Smartphones clamp their livelong day.

Just so. Another horseless carriage here to stay.

Moses might indulge a hissy-fit,

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.

Peebles High Street

Full blown brown clock tower

with spiked crown blackening on sky

overlooks all town and busy artery

car-flashing people-spotted length of it,

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-toting importuning busker

and crosses by the first availing shelter

but gives an ear to natter-chatter for an hour

a crack and catch-up with Alison and Howard;

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-nine

with well-drilled cheery chorus, full-festive folk

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-reader and the post.

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

Wet in Galashiels


With storm rains engorging the gutters


all Allagashes

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

Driver’s Dream

(Dreaming between Berwick and Alnwick)

A flatbed lorry blocking off my view posits

its blunt back end, four car-lengths off,

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-off bluster,

mount that level space, that woody dappled stretch,

damasked, inviting as the National Trust four-poster

I forbear to flop across - then grinding over crests

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.

New endings

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.

New Beginnings

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-four convene

to slouch and grin and look away

dissolve to

New beginnings

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.


Come Through!

The Wiring and the Current

Non serviam: Owen Wingrave lives

Bus Quartet

Route 62

Riding the bus pass

The modern paterfamilias

Upstairs of inside?

The old games

Peebles High Street

Wet in Galashiels

Dreaming between Berwick and Alnwick

New endings

New Beginnings

Philip Hutton

The wiring and the current