When she wakes up,
she will want a poem.
One day, the music stopped.
Euterpe, muse of music, had had enough.
Ah, peace at last, she said, turned over
and went to sleep,
as on the restless earth below
MP3 players emptied
Andrea Boccelli opened his mouth
exhaling pure Rod Stewart.
Rod Stewart opened his mouth and shut it again,
while superstores squawked into silence,
dress shops were struck dumb
and malls made mute.
'Why?' cried all the people, bereft.
Euterpe opened an eye.
I gave you a gift, she said.
Aeons you used it sparingly.
Recognised its worth.
But now you smear it over your lives
like peanut butter.
Come back when you've seen sense.
We demand our music now!
the people cried.
Euterpe called up Thor.
Got a spare thunderbolt, big boy? she breathed
For you, sweet cheeks, anytime.
That's the thing with Gods
There's no arguing with them.
I saw the Forth Bridge yesterday,
unwrapped at last,
All cheer now, everyone -
and yet the old girl looked
quite naked sans the decent sheets
she's coyly hid behind for years.
Fragile, delicate, she took the air,
dancing bare over the grey waters
with more red arms and graceful fingers
than any Hindu goddess.
I passed an old man sitting on the High Street,
sitting close by the Tron
on the hard, cracked shell of the city.
A beggar, down-
grey cap on grey pavement in front of him,
he muttered to the passing feet,
'Enjoy your day,' and 'Thank you, thanks,'
though there seemed little to be thankful for.
And I have little time for beggars,
none at all for the young of that tribe,
for though we are all profligate with youthful grace,
some grasp with both hands the chance to waste
that ease I would have now.
He's still there, Tronman, as I hurry back
clutching my new bag in its NTS wrap
and for once, impulsive, I drop the pound
kept handy for the next supermarket trolley
into his cap, where it sits, smug beside ten p.
and a brown penny.
He looks up at me, head cocked, bird-
'Thank you,' he says
and as though he can see through my middle-
to the aching tooth and aching void within,
adds, not unkindly,
'Youse look knackered.'
What answer could I give, there on the cold stone?
Nothing. I turn away for the bus home.
I live in the ruins,
the cold leftovers of my former life,
like those poor souls
in some far-
seen scrabbling round for a dented pan
and a broken chair,
while the picture of happier times,
its glass smashed,
on a wall that has lost its fellows.
I have pans enough
and a chair for every day of the week,
two on Sundays,
where I can sit and leaf through
all the photos of happier times.
I carry my ruins with me
through the comfortable rooms and out into the town.
I pick my way across the rubble,
seeking the place from which to start anew
from which, and why, and when your eyes closed forever
and the earth shook.
I met a bear
on the road
on a dreich November day
I met a bear
close by Meikleour.
A big bear,
a friendly bear,
he grinned in the half-
and shook his russet fur, before
waving a parting paw he turned,
into the Beech Hedge..
I didn't want to let him go.
Will I see you again? I called.
His voice was faint.
I strained to hear.
This time of year, he said,
If you keep your good eye shut,
with the other two
you'll see me clear.
Only kindly people came
to the blank endpaper that is the crematorium.
Only kindly people came -
Staff from the Grange
performing the last duty of care,
helpers from the Friday Club
where Betty nearly knitted and crayoned large.
Dear Lord, receive the soul of this our sister Elizabeth Cowie -
but no sisters came. Were there any?
Nor brothers yet, nephews, nieces
shedding a tear for poor Aunt Betty,
sad old Betty with her gnarled hands, blind eyes
Her one talent, her party piece,
remembering birthdays -
especially her own.
And when Betty had been tidied away,
the kindly people filed out with small nods and whispers,
on their way to be kindly to others.
Minding my own business in my best crepe suit,
I see the door open and a deathshead shimmy through -
Am I bad-
An Egyptian mummy fresh unwrapped -
On my feet? At eight in the evening?
A slash of dried blood for mouth, for hair, shell-
And oh, the terrifying nose!
My brain backs against the wall,
Leaving my poor feet rooted.
I dare a second glance.
It smiles. Great God! It laughs!
Can Death be coy?
Papyrus skin racks over razor bone, the red wound cracks
as the nightmare tilts on its axis
in a parody of girlish charm.
And then as she moves on past, panic subsides
and I see the living, breathing woman,
gaunt with that old lie of Wallis Simpson's.
Seventy, she is – no, more.
Face lifted – as on cruel hooks,
nose trimmed – as in a slaughterhouse,
hair lacquered scared and dyed a coal
she fondly recalls as true.
I watch with pity as, before the mirror, in fresh gore, on stretched lip
Pleased, she surveys herself anew.
The cocktail dress hangs from her scrawny shoulders,
expensive, curveless, smart.
She is ready for her entrance,
ever the ingenue,
when Death's her part.
Shortly before we all die waiting,
spring, which has been pining under snivelling skies,
bursts forth as pink-
Above the house,
Pheasant's Eye dapples the meadow
and round each corner
flowering trees throw pink and white treasure to the wind,
like eager bridesmaids.
Light of step and heart
I springtime past Balnacraig, the special school,
some dead worthy's folly,
all turrets and transoms -
but friendly for all that.
A good place for troubled youth.
And here comes one now,
scowling for Scotland,
face pinched sharp under hair oil-
I try a small smile
On this sunniest, gladdest of days,
But dark cloud fogs her sun.
She stamps on by,
The eye of her own storm,
Born some other place than this sunny hillside -
And she's brought,
Above, the quick, bright birds,
greenfinch, chaffinch, great tit
and the fierce woodpecker
in his barman's tux and scarlet party pants
stabbing at caged peanuts
as if they might run and hide.
fat pigeons waddle,
feasting on spillage.
And hanging from the stand?
A robber squirrel,
a nonchalant grey fur gymnast
thumbing his alien nose
at the well-
of twenty kilo bags
of bird food.
Weeping wet holiday weather.
Puddles, pools and splashed ankles.
'What is to do dry?'
I ask Tourist Information.
'Anything with a roof.'
I add my sunniest smile.
Out in the rain-
only headlamps shine.
'There's the Wildlife Park,' he says
in bright reply.
Do the wild cats live in a condominium?
The monkeys in a mansion,
the polar bears in a stately home
with wolves in the west wing?
'Thank you,' I sigh and retreat
to the sopping street.
Once I knew a woman
who wouldn't have red
in the garden -
unnatural, vulgar, shouting 'Look at me!'
I'm not so strict.
According to my barmy neighbour,
half my plants are nicked
and why should I hold back at red?
Now in August
when the garden slumps, half-
I welcome crocosmia to the stage,
a splashing, spouting scarlet fountain
red as rage
tempting the butterfly eye
away from tired green and counting
how many spent spikes of foxglove
still need the chop.
Red, the sign for stop.
It roots me here in simple pleasure.
I knew a woman once with such good taste
she missed the point.
The jakies in the graveyard
sit faces to the sun.
The neighbours here don't trouble them,
being dead most every one.
And when you turn your toes up,
You no longer turn your nose up
at alcoholic fun.
Oh, the jakies in the graveyard dress
in comfortable grey and brown,
and sit with backs to the old stone wall,
backs to the busying town,
with its complex web of commitment,
its deadlines, duties, guilt.
They swig and laugh and swig again
as you skitter past, full tilt.
For the graveyard is a short cut
from vital here to there
and ears redden at a half-
or frank, appraising stare
as the jokes go round with the Buckfast
on breath you could cut with a knife
and it's almost as if a part of the wall
has maliciously come to life.
For the stubble sprouting on skinny chins
echoes the lichen-
and the crusted shoes and grey-
veil the living bones.
Bone to bone with the long-
they sit till the sun goes in,
then drift away like fag-
to other jakie kin
and I pass the vacant bench and drop
an empty in the bin.
He looked so lonely
there on the high sill.
The fields are singing
with the hum of distant traffic.
A corbel stone
worked loose like a bad tooth,
and pigeonholed 'Dust'.
My arm aches with pretence.
A carving of a face
no French hand fashioned
with skill consummate,
Rather, a brute thing, rough-
for whom that phrase
could have been coined.
s t r e t c h,
as I stumble down the path away,
Eyes mere gouging
from the stone curve of brow
and boxer nose.
A slit for a mouth.
did the peasant craftsman hack
from the unwilling stone
before he turned back
to his pease fields.
Mum pauses, admires the view,
She does it well.
The bag, heavy with sin,
drags at my shoulder.
In Portbury Church
deserted, short of love,
I'd gazed at him.
and the Dark Angel
put his soft hand on my shoulder.
At once, I saw appeal
in the gouge eyes.
'Save me,' they said.
'Take me to where I'll be loved and wanted (and dusted) -
Take me with you.'
And the Dark Angel saw
that I had the exact right person with me
for such an enterprise.
Not Gill, no. Nor Dad.
Not Husband, as yet unknown,
who would have killed with disapproving frown,
but Mum, who held the bag wide
as I manoeuvred the corbel down.
us close the door
and make off with my medieval prize.
Once home, I put him safe with satisfied sighs
and called him Fred.
How long did Fred
keep me company next my bed,
I don't remember.
but well before
I kicked the Dark Angel up the derriere,
took car – and Fred -
drove back to where
they still had not learned to lock the door,
put him on a shelf
and walked away through the singing fields.
Had they missed him?
I miss Mum and her mad streak.
Temptation's a dull dog
The greengrocer's wife has lost eight kilo -
three pounds of apples
and a sack of spuds.
'Well done,' I smile falsely.
Proud as a pineapple, she smiles back out of a chap-
'Persistence pays,' she nods wisely.
I reach for my paper bag of plums and mourn.
She was once, not beautiful,
but had a country prettiness.
Cheeks pink as nectarines,
mouth rosy as a raspberry,
hair that sprang strong as curly kale on a frosted morning
when all else shrivels with the cold,
a bosom round and full as a basket of her own blushing mangoes.
Size ten again, she grins, smug with her achievement,
plumping for a moment the prune her face has become.
I saw the geese again today
and my heart lifted.
I saw the geese again
as I stood in my so suburban garden,
warned of their passing by their cry,
multiplied, then multiplied again,
heard clear above the traffic fidgeting on the main road.
I searched the sky
and saw the skein, the wide V,
shifting, restless, constant.
I have not seen out the seasons yet,
alone in this house that you've never known.
In our old house, quiet on its hill,
we would stand in the breakbone garden,
watching skein after skein,
scratched black lines against the sky -
and I felt each time
that squeak of pleasure
at nature taking its course.
And now I find
them flying, still flying, here,
their cries not for me.
I am irrelevant,
I and the concrete city with me.
The traffic's irrelevant, business beside the mark,
schools, theatre and that great drama, parliament, pointless.
Yes, no, who cares,
when you are a goose
Red Over Grey
Extensive maintenance and restoration of the historic Forth Bridge meant that one part or another was shrouded in plastic sheeting for years. At last, in 2012 the work was finished.
Forget all that 'merry widow' nonsense. It's no fun losing your life partner…
To anyone who doesn't know it, the Meikleour Beech Hedge is a tourist attraction. Planted in 1745, it is one third of a mile long and 100ft high. In autumn, it turns a beautiful coppery brown. I spent some months volunteering at a textile conservation studio nearby and drove past it regularly.
The International Astronautical Congress is an annual event bringing people from all over the world together to discuss developments in the world of space exploration. As Head of Future Studies at the European Space Agency, my husband always attended and sometimes, as an 'accompanying person', I went too. During a reception, I trotted off to the ladies loo – and got the fright of my life. Note to anyone contemplating cosmetic surgery: don't.
The Jakies in the Graveyard
Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh and the story of wee dog Bobby is famous, but the Fair City of Perth also has a Greyfriars Burial Ground. It dates from 1580 and is very interesting. When I lived in Perth I used it often as a short cut into town.
This lapse in moral rectitude took place many years ago, as indicated by the bag used to carry off my prize. Does anyone else remember the '60's fashion for bucket bags? This one was plastic and in a fetching shade of ginger brown. I am now a reformed character.
Loretta was born 1940. Lived London, Bristol, the Netherlands and Perth. Married with 3 daughters, now plus 7 grandchildren. Widowed 2010. Moved to Edinburgh 2014. Studied graphic design at Harrow School of Art, but suffering she says, from a butterfly mentality, never made a 'proper' career. Has worked in advertising, as au-
Gods and Jakies