Document 1497

The Heavenly Cow of Thebes

Author(s): Sheena Blackhall

Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall

This document contains strong or offensive language



I am deeply indebted to Les Wheeler for publishing this book and for designing the cover. Thanks are also due to Gordon Booth for editing the poems, and to Thistle Reprographics for producing this poetry pamphlet with their customary professionalism and speed. For more information on some earlier publications, visit

Some of these poems have appeared in: ‘The Thing that Mattered Most: Scottish Poems for Children’ (Black & White Publishing and The Scots Poetry Library 2006); The Herald , ‘Dinna Tine the Doric’ (pub. Buchan Heritage Society) and in the Anchor Books Anthology, ‘A Bedtime Poem for Every Day of the Year’. Others have been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘Thirsty Lunch’ event (2006), The Aberdeen Arts Carnival (2006) and Aberdeen’s ‘Tartan Day’

Sheena Blackhall, 2006


This book is dedicated to Catriona Low for her continued support and encouragement


The Book of the Heavenly Cow

Part of the Book of the Heavenly Cow was found on the outermost of the four shrines of Tutankhamun discovered in his tomb. Versions of the book appear in the tombs of Seti I, Ramesses II, III & VI . In every case the book is displayed in a room adjoining the burial chamber. The Book of the Heavenly Cow is not a handbook of religious instruction, but is mythological. It narrates mankind's rebellion against the sun god, Ra, and the subsequent punishment visited upon the world by the goddess Hathor.

After the rebellion, Ra sent Hathor to earth and for three nights she slaughtered, until Ra took pity on those humans still alive. Then he tricked Hathor into becoming drunk on red beer, which she mistook for blood. Later, Ra rose up to the heavens on the back of the Heavenly Cow (the Goddess Nut transformed). The cow was supported by gods and also the Pharaoh. From then on, the Pharoah too could rise to the heavens upon his death on the back of the heavenly cow, as Death had been invented.

Hathor was worshipped from at least 2700 BC. Women who worshipped her wore the menat, a turquoise musical necklace. She was shown as a cow bearing the sun disk between her horns, or as a woman in queenly dress wearing the sun disk and horns on her head. Depictions of her as a woman with a cow's head do not appear until later periods. Occasionally she is shown as a golden cow, covered with stars. Over time, Isis and Hathor were assimilated, both goddesses having male and female priests. The cow remained a powerful figure in Egyptian symbolism.


Scots and English Poems by Sheena Blackhall


The Local Situation
On the Nile
Luxor Museum
At the Temple of Karnak
Ozymandias Revisited Sleeping Beauty
Queen Hatshepsut
Flashback The Crocodile God
Market i
Market ii
Aga Khan High Dam
Hymn to Hathor
At Philae
Felucca Ride
At the Nubian Village
Touchin Doon
The Time Traiveller’s Convention The Swimmer
The Dig
North East Toun Lost Property
The Rug The March Past
Bus Journey
6 Owersetts frae Neruda
Train, passing Montrose Queen Wasp The Loveliness of Trees
Fresh Fish Cakes In Making a List The Person from Porlock
This Night shall thy Soul be requiredof Thee The Pulley
School Journey
A Letter to Julius Caesar from the Provinces 4 Shots & a Chaser
Brueghel & Ham Tempus Fugit i
Tempus Fugit ii Rain Mandala
Temporary Warmth The Yellow Time
Tanka i Tanka ii Thomas Blake Glover
Chez Nous An Average Day Stitch Up
Illegal Native Pinto
The House Martins
May Journey to the Broch
Ellen Knight

Other recent books (including limited editions) by Sheena Blackhall:

2006 The Sea Quine (Poems)
2006 Past Masters (Poems)
2006 The Owl Hour (Poems)
2006 The Tiger o Trincomalee (Bairn Poems)
2005 Ferlies(Poems)
2005 Sergeant Buchan’s Jacket (Poems)
2005 Death of a Pope (Poems)
2005 The Win an the Rain (Poems)
2004 Serendipity (Poems & story)
2004 Hairst o Thorns (Poems)
2004 Gallery Prints (poems)
2004 Indian Peter (Short stories for Bairns)
2004 Pandora’s box (Poems)
2004 Pie in the Sky (Short Stories for Adult))
2004 Preparing to Meet the Minotaur (Poems)
2004 The Wizard o the North (Scots Poems for Halflins)
2004 Katy the Crocodile (Scots Poems for Bairns)
2004 The Toad on the Rock's Opinion (Poems)
2004 The Lan o Tea an Tigers (Poems)
2004 The Tower o Babel (Scots Owersettins)
2004 The Boddomers' Monkey (Poems)
2004 The Humpty Dumpty Man (Poems)
2004 Diminishing Lines (Poems)
2004 Minnie (Scots Novella)
2004 The Dule Tree (Poems)
2003 Queerie-orrals (Poems)
2003 Boorich o Fowk (Poems)
2003 Winnlestrae (Poems)
2003 Loon (Scots Novella)
2002 Boorich o Breets (Poems)
2002 The Fower Quarters (Short Stories)
2000 The Singing Bird (Poems)
1998 The Bonsai Grower (Short Stories)
1996 Wittgenstein's Web (Short stories)
1996 Lament for the Raj (Poems)
1995 Stagwyse (Selected Poems)

Copyright S. Blackhall 2006

The Local Situation

There is an Egyptologist on the cruise.
Each cabin has air conditioning, TV, mini bar,
The basic standard necessities,
Outside facing picture window.

Entertainment on board includes a belly dance,
A Nubian show, an Oriental party.
There is a TV room, a choice of games and amusements,
A swimming pool, a sundeck with numerous loungers.

Please don’t embarrass the waiters by carrying your own drinks
Alcohol is on sale, although Egypt’s a Muslim country

For your own safety, walk through the bazaars in groups:
We take the care of our tourists very seriously.

You will note the presence of armed guards on each boat;
You will note an armed sentry on watch all night.
On the boat, amongst your countrymen, please feel free
To wear bikinis, walk unveiled, show your charms.
It may draw unwelcome attention whilst ashore;
You will note our woman are modest, their flesh is hidden.
This is a rural area, not the city.

Old ways die slowly. These are religious people.
You will note some wear a bruise upon their brows –
This is from zealously praying in the mosque.

We do not expect our guests to adopt our ways.
Respect that they are different from your own.

On the Nile

The cruise ship shows a kaleidoscope of life
Men spear fish in shallows
Sand dunes rise endless near half-built emerging cities

Waves are a thousand flash bulbs going off
A dhow with 15 tears in its filthy sails
(More holes than cloth) flaps like a goose
Trailing a broken wing.

Urchins paddle with tin trays,
Baling water out of a home made boat.
There are smiles between palm trees and mud huts
People wave from the bank.

Cotton caftans dry in the baking sun
Brown boys splash in the shallows
Ignorant or immune to fluke worms, amoebic dysentery
Round a broken pump, children gather water in pots and tins.

On 13 miles each side the land is fertile
Green grasses, gashed by waters of the Nile;
Beyond, the desert’s thighs are golden dust.

A black handbag floats past
A swirl of effluent follows,
A hiccup in the green and jewelled water.
Every Egyptian we meet is a comedian.
God willing, sheep chew under Pepsi adverts
Taxis career on land like flying coffins

A horse, un-tethered whisks his tail by a shop.
A donkey loaded with baggage, stoically
Stumbles along a road of lorries.

A goat looks right and left and crosses the tarred road;
Prayers to Allah arise from Sunni Muslims

There are splashes of red hibiscus flowers,
Silks, shawls. A farmer lifts his shirt
To our passing boat in ultimate disrespect.
The black grapes of his hair
Hang glistening. To him, we pose a threat.

The heat, like a furnace, melts the flesh from your bones.
Herons and horses’ legs are wafer thin
Armed check points guard a honeycomb of houses.

The cobra of lower Egypt is eating its own tail
A vulture flaps in a tree, fanning the dead air.
On board, by the marble pool, by the sun-flecked water
Bikini girls are done to a slow turn.

The retired or retiring are slumped on bamboo chairs
Under the canvas awning, smoking and drinking.
Hawkers row alongside, haggle like codlings round a leviathan
Their legs are thin as desiccated mummies.

A shepherd is driving his flock across a bridge
Asses crop ditches. Fishermen beat the water,
Herding fish into their hidden nets.

And all the while, balloons float, high and surreal,
Over the roofless huts, the bananas, the egrets,
The mosques, the village geese,
The boats like long dark leaves, breaking from shore,
The locust fishermen plying their thin blue oars,
The oxen up to their haunches in churned water,
The donkeys grey and enduring,
The old men drinking tea, beneath tall palms,
Black silhouettes on gold

Luxor Museum

Luxor is the modern city which stands on the ancient ruins of Thebes. During the 18th Dynasty Theban temples were the most important and wealthiest in the land, stretching between the two major temples of Karnak and Luxor along the avenue of sphinxes that connected them.

Horus & Hathor, Nut, Bastet & Neth;
Sobek & Nephrys, Neferteri, Amun;
Atum, Thoth, Khapri, Mut, Khepri and Seth,
Isis, Osiris, Anubis & Khnum.

Howked frae the past, staun the gods on their plinths
Each ane a castaway, unner the lichts
Rugged frae their meanin, their warld an their time
Nae preservation can show us the sichts
They saw, afore Moses wis fand in the Nile
Fit mysteries, ecstasies, lie yont each smile?

At the Temple of Karnak.

Chapels, pillars, pylons, obelisks,
The lion goddess Sekhmet’s muzzle smiles;
Amun, the Ram’s head god,
Sits strange and silent.

Daily, it seems, the sand is breeding wonders
A charnel house of multiplying temples.
Hedging their bets, young tourists from Japan
Are wearing protective masks across their airways –
Culture it seems, may carry dire infections.


On the West bank of the Nile, at the Necropolis of Thebes, lies the ruin of a 1,000 tonne colossus, once 60 feet high, now scattered in the sand. It is of Ramses II, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs. Ramesses II was born in 1302 BC and it is said that he took the throne in his early twenties and ruled Egypt for sixty-six years. He is traditionally believed to have been the Pharaoh of the Exodus. His name in Greek was Ozymandias. Diodorus Siculus, in his Library of History (trans. C. H. Oldfather, Loeb Classical Library) records the inscription on the pedestal of his statue (at the Ramesseum, on the other bank of the Nile from Luxor): "King of Kings am I, Osymandias. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works."

[In Google 'Ozymandias' scores over two million hits.That’s half a million more than have clicked on Shelley!]

Ozymandias Revisited

There aince wis a poem aboot fame
Writ by Percy….noo fit wis his name?
Tourists heeze by the score
Ramses’ works tae adore
Denigration’s a sliddery game.

Sleeping Beauty

The prophet Muhammad announced that the best grave was one you could wipe away with your hand . . . a winding sheet and a hole in the desert.

Tutankhamun ruled Egypt from 1333BC to 1323 BC, from the age of nine. The 1922 discovery of his tomb by Howard Carter brought immense international interest. He was married to Ankhesenamun, probably his sister. Their mummified children, two stillborn girls – were discovered in his tomb.

You found me, then.
Am I a disappointment?
I would hate to short-change my public.

Nonentity, nobody, groupie –
Are you hoping that my celebrity
Will somehow rub off on you?

I am a single corridor away
Only a few steps down from the blazing light
Not too taxing, I hope?
I am the ultimate peep-show
The great un-dead
A cheap thrill.

Observe my south wall.
Here you see me, followed by Anubis,
Welcomed to the underworld by Hathor.

The ritual of opening my mouth
Prepared my soul for speech:
Pagh! The stench of your sweat
The fungus of your breath
Lies heavy on me.

They will tell you my skull has been breached,
To remove my brains or perhaps in the act of murder.
Consider, can any mortal kill what is unkillable?

I am wearing my golden mask
But where is my black resin scarab?
My gold hands holding painted crook and flail?
My golden ba-bird? Serpent amulet?
My falcon collar?

Where is my dagger? My beadwork?
My finger rings? My bracelet with the rich cornelian swallow?
Where are my woven sandals? My linen headdress?

Before my door was forced
My dreams were fragrant. Carriages I had
And the love of queens.

Now they have peeled and cracked my fragile world
Like rotten fruit.

Once slaves bowed down like wheat.
Men rose and fell like dust, at my command.
I am the sleeping beauty in the sand.

Queen Hatshepsut

The writer Immanuel Velikovsky was one of several who linked Queen Hatshepsut of Egypt with King Solomon of Israel. He made a case for identifying the famous expedition to the land of Punt in the reign of Hatshepsut with the visit of the queen of Sheba to the court of King Solomon. He also compared the information in the Punt reliefs of Deir el Bahari with the biblical account in I Kings and II Chronicles, adding some information from Josephus’s 'Jewish Antiquities' and the Ethiopic 'Kebra Negast'. Hatshepsut was a powerful Pharoah queen for many years.

On November 17th 1997, 58 foreigners and 10 Egyptians were killed on the steps of her temple. Militant Islamic factions were responsible.

Flashback (based on an eyewitness report)

Aince fountains filled this avenue, an myrrh,
(Ten gunmen cam tae a temple nearby Luxor
I think oor guides kent straicht aff there wis tribble)
Importit frankincense, Queen Hatshepsut’s delicht.
(Twa guairds war killt, their bluid byled on the san)
Cut in the Theban hills, sic pouer, sic grace!
(Ae group drew near the heezin temple steps)
Thon auncient Queen, could she be o the race
O Sheba, best-lued quine o Solomon?
(We fled inno the temple. We war trapped.
A secunt group o gunmen turned an fired)
Foo straicht an wide the steps, foo cweel the tomb!
(Some polis ran an stertit firin back.
There wis a rowth o gunfire…rowth o soun)
Foo fine, tae breath the styew o history!
(Though they war frichtit they were sent wi pistols
Inno the knowes tae snuff the gunmen oot)
This is the aff-peak sizzen, hett bit quate
It maun be pandemonium at its wirst.

The Crocodile God: Sobek

The ultimate in doonricht dehydration,
Crocodile mummy in the sanny wame o the derk
Flash bulbs pit flame in yer een

I hauf expeck ye tae slidder inno the Nile
By sugar cane an corn
Like a lit touch-paper

Fishermen worshipped ye,
Killer o their kind.
Made friens wi the enemy.
Lued him, even.
Daith, wi the green back,
The glentin teeth.

Market i: Pior to visit

Minaret, mosque, muezzin,
Bedouin, Berber, djinn
Crocodile, cobra, lotus,
Ebony Nubian

Sufi and whirling dervish;
Scorpion, scarab and souque;
Dates and spices and camels;
Wadi and mandrake fruit;

Amulet, ankh, felucca,
Baksheesh, canopic jar;
Sphinxes and golden pharoahs;
Donkeys…the peasants’ car.

This Luxor of modern Egypt
Was Thebes in the pharoahs’ youth
When the jackal god Anubis
Weighed hearts with the quill of truth

Market ii: After visit

We are berthed overnight at Aswan –
A walk through the Aswan souque is recommended.
The entry is enticing, and bizarre
As pig iron would be to a devout Arab.

There are dried hibiscus flowers;
There is henna powder,
Sudanese peanuts, cumin, coriander,
Black pepper, chilli, Nubian baskets, skullcaps,
Scarves and damask tablecloths, papyri
And copperware, with charms and magic spells

From an alley, English go home –
A cry that is laced with venom –
Adds spice and a sudden frisson to the visit

Chickens turn on a spit
Lambs’ testicles simmer in stews
Cows’ feet brew in soup.

Papyrus gods on bookmarks look away,
An old man sucks a hubble-bubble pipe –
His face a crumpled tissue of burnt sienna.

On a café’s torn plastic tablecloth,
Hibiscus tea, sweet cakes,
The plaint of the stringed rababa.

Men playing dominoes at a roadside shop
Look up derisively.
We stumble along the ruts and gaping potholes
Running the gauntlet of stares or exhortations
Buy Basket, lady! Take a goddess home!
She-cat? You British like your animals.
I honest boy; Ahmid will not cheat you!

They dog your steps, will not be shaken off
Those barefoot, hustling beggars
Waving their sun-scorched cotton from the Nile,
Juggling their alabaster bowls,
Jiggling their coral jewels, their beaded skull caps

Parodies of Cockney vendors’ slang
Parroted everywhere:
Get your spices here! Asda prices! Buy one, get one free!
Come and have a butcher’s, Madam. Chilli, cheap as chips
Oh lady, lovely bum. You know I see your belly.
Feed my baby, Madam…soft, from behind the veil

The headless cat in the ditch pays little heed
It converses only with flies.
A baby sleeps in a filthy plastic fruit box
Her brothers snore in the gutter, slumped beside her.

A flung stone strikes a tourist’s shoulder blade,
English go home flashed from a furtive eye
The garish trinkets tarnish, could spell trouble.

We hurry back to the gangplank,
Twenty feet of metal dropped on the dock side,
Past the straw-roofed shop, shelved with imported tins,
Past the black-veiled women, stiff as Russian dolls,
Bearing their weighty shopping on their heads,
Past the rib-caged horse, its turbaned carriage-master.

The armed guard shoulders his heavy weapon lightly,
The cruise ship’s less than six feet from the bank.
A world away, we peer from our thin walls
Out from the purdah of Messrs Blair and Bush
Through British eyes, surprised some do not like us.

Aga Khan (Aga Khan III 1877-1957)

The Aga Khan Mausoleum lies by the Nile between the eastern desert and the Sahara at the gateway to Nubia and Africa. It is the tomb of the 48th Imam of the Ismaili sect of Shi’ite Muslims, who wintered here every year when he was alive. His widow, the Begum, built the mausoleum in his honour. Inside a marble shrine is the Aga Khan’s sarcophagus, inscribed with texts from the Queen. Until she died in 2000, the Begum lived in the villa for part of each year, visiting the mausoleum daily to place a single red rose on the sarcophagus.

The desert sans are hett’s a lowe
The desert sun’s a flame
An naethin steers bit poodered yird
An bits o birssled bane

Yet in this lan far naethin growes
There wis an unca thing
A single rose that ilkie day
Flooered on a beeriet king

At gloamin time, the rosebud dwined
At dawn, twis fair an fresh
As wis the love that wattered it
Sae constant untae Daith.

High Dam

The British house in Aswan has a sloping roof
To keep out the two whole minutes of rain
That may visit the desert each year
It is self-absorbed and lonely
The local inhabitants lie and look at the stars
That reassert their ancient rights as landlords,
With the Moon keeping its tally.

There’s been death on the Nile
Behind the awful power of the High Dam.
Lake Nasser, that could swallow the Netherlands,
Keeps twenty-five mammoth crocodiles caged;
Here UNESCO fished monuments from the deep
In the jaws of giant cranes.

The Nile no longer bathes the land with silt –
When man makes changes,
Nature washes its hands


Hathor was the patron of the sky, the sun, music, dance and the arts. She was the goddess of joy, the great Muse. In later times, Isis assimilated Hathor, and both are often shown wearing cows’ horns, or with the head of a cow on a woman’s body.

Hymn to Hathor, giver of love, embodiment of passion
(owersett in Scots from a translation by John L. Foster in Hymns, Prayers & Songs, Society of Biblical Lit. 1995)

Let me worship the gowden ane
Let me reese oot the queen of Heiven
Let me gie praise tae Hathor
An sing in blytheness tae her celeestial sel.

I prig her tae lippen tae ma plea
That she sen me ma mistress noo
An she hersel come tae see me.

Sic ferlies fin last thon happent!
I wis jocose, I wis blessed, I wis vauntie
Frae the meenit fowk quo, ‘Tak tent o her!
See, here she comes, garrin the young lads boo
Throwe their muckle passion fur her!’

Let me offer ma braith tae the goddess
That she gie me ma love as a giftie.

It is fower days noo I hae prayed in her name
Let her be wi me the day.

At Philae: The Pearl of Egypt

The Temple of Philae was saved from Lake Nassar and relocated to its present position. It has been a temple since the 4th century B.C. As it was a cult centre for the worship of Isis, people came to Philae from all over Egypt and from far beyond to worship her. According to legend this was the place where Isis found the heart of her husband Osiris. After having collected his shattered body she buried him on the Island of Bigeh. Philae was still used in the worship of Isis till AD 550.

Isis was the goddess of love and magic. Temples to Isis were built in the British isles, and she was still worshipped in Christian Europe in the 6th Century.

At Philae in the lichtsome breeze
Acacia, eucalyptus, date
Scarce gee ava the simmer heat
Far tourist guides warssle tae sate
The swytin hordes that trail ahin
Them reivin skirps o Isis lear
They canna get eneuch it seems,
O Egypt’s loves an Egypt’s dreams

Queen Isis, on yer temple’s sides
Godfrey Levinge, R. Langton, Mure
Hae hackit oot their nochtie names
On column, plaque and sacred flair

Foo wad some peely-wally nyaff
(Frae Acton, London, says the rock)
Connach a shrine, a sanctuary…?
Wis his life sic a bore, puir stock?

A war memorial fur Sudan
By order o the British State
Is here, in biggins vrocht fur love
Names that nae pharoah cud translate

Bit Fred, or Bert, or Mike or Phil
Are aywis wytin in the wings
Tae scrat their wirthless monikers
Upon the gowden robes o kings

Cleopatra (69-30BC)

High priestess of Isis-Hathor, Cleopatra was also the last queen of the Macedonian dynasty of the Ptolemies. An educated Greek, she was fluent in nine languages. She first met Julius Caesar in 48BC, when she was a nubile twenty-one and he was fifty-two – tall, lean, bald, married but powerful. Plutarch tells us her servant Apollodoros carried her through a secret passageway into the palace rolled up in a carpet, as a gift for Caesar. Next year he placed her on the throne, in preference to her brother, and she bore him a son, Caesarian. In 46BC she followed Caesar to Rome, but fled the capital after his assassination in 44BC. Three years later, she was summoned by Mark Antony to a meeting. Plutarch describes her arrival:

‘…she came sailing up the river Cydnus, in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like sea nymphs and graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. The perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight. The market-place was quite emptied, and Antony at last was left alone sitting upon the tribunal; while the word went through all the multitude that Venus was come to feast with Bacchus, for the common good of Asia … the whole thing was a spectacle that has seldom been equalled for beauty.’

At this time, the queen was 28, Mark Antony was 42, described as a second Hercules. They wintered at Alexandria in her palace, and in 40BC she bore him twins. That year he married Octavia, wife of Augustus. After a separation of three years, Cleopatra was reunited with him in 37BC, and their third child was born. At the battle of Actium, their combined forces were defeated by Rome. Antony, being told she was dead, fell on his sword. On August 12th in 30BC, Cleopatra killed herself with an asp, the serpent reputed to protect the pharaoh in the afterlife.

Her capital of Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. Recently, underwater discoveries have been made in the eastern harbour. In the south east part of the harbour archaeologists have found the Royal quarters of the Ptolemies…granite columns and beautiful statues including one of Isis and a Sphinx head thought to be that of Cleopatra’s father…the great queen’s secrets, hidden beneath the waves.


Priestess o Isis, seed o kings
Born tae a croun, by servants fanned
Frailty, her strength. She could makk aa
Boo tae the Queen o Love’s command

Rowed in a cairpet as a gift, she
Conquered the Caesar in her lan
Made the great Roman General
Boo tae the Queen o Love’s command

Romans despised her. Fan her lord
Dee’d, as the happed assassins planned,
Beauty wis eeseless. Nane wad noo
Boo tae the Queen o Love’s command

See her in barge wi gowden stern
Purple sails by her broon quines, manned,
Perfumed – noo wad Mark Antony
Boo tae the Queen o Love’s command

Wakken the asp an milk its fang
Hither, Anubis, pairt the san
Open the yetts nae mortal sees
Boo tae the Queen o Love’s command

Felucca Ride

We sit in the hold like fish,
Squinting up through the sun
As the white sails creak and flap.

This is slow-motion sailing,
Snail-trailing over the tilting, drunken waves.

A donkey drinks from the Nile
So close you count the whiskers on its muzzle.

The Nile is play, food, drink
Peasants and beasts drink free.

A black dog sits on the bank
Like a sphinx, too hot to blink,
Nailed in its own shadow.

The crew is a father and son
The father issues soft or wordless orders
The boy is smoking, his curls like a young Pan.

A girl is gesturing on the shore,
Hand to mouth, hand to mouth
Mute mime of poverty
A man in a cotton shift,
Spits in the road beside her.

A hawk flies over an island
A reed cutter loads his boat
Waves froth like small volcanoes
The noiseless collapse of bubbles
Small boats sprout begging arms
Like winter trees.

In the blue vault of the sky
An egret pecks the air
His white fez all a-jiggle.

A great Gomorrah of tourism floats on past
A gleaming cruiser, trailing its own wake
A minaret dwarfs the palms
That splay like fans over a village lane.

My life has passed like this white Nile felucca
Slipping between time’s banks
Trying to steer a course for the calmest passage.

At the Nubian Village

Goats are the first to meet us:
Bleating, grey, brown, pied,
Cropping the thorn bushes beside the river.

A one- humped dromedary
Slumped on its folded legs
Like a very occasional table
Looks down its snooty nose;
Rises, swings its arse and strides away
Long legged as a cat-walk model.

A dhow draws in and anchors.
A waterbuffalo tramples through the reeds.
Senor amigo, the urchins cry
Firing out smatterings of French and Dutch
Lovely jubbly you buy my calendars?
Aiming for the right linguistic bullseye.

We are led into the shade of a village hut
And are served with hibiscus, mint tea,
Small, sweet cakes.

A plump, veiled, chewing girl
Enters with henna, offers to paint our legs
For the usual fee
Husbands shrug, smile indulgently,
Reach for their wallets;
Outside, a kingfisher flashes its brilliant wings
A free display of flight and native dance.

Touchin Doon

Touchin doon, the langed-fur Nor East cweel
Wis absent. We’d flown frae the fryin pan
Inno the fire. The hettest simmer in a hunner years

While we’d bin in Luxor, citizens anon,
Israel hid made war on Lebanon

Onythin tae declare? the customs speired
Sabah al ishtar…mornin o cream tae ye
I thocht, bit kept ma tongue atween ma teeth

The Time Travellers’ Convention

Bring a pairtner tae the Ceilidh
Dress informal, the invite stated
At the time traivellers’ convention.

Mary Queen o Scots arrived hersel
Signed up fur speed-datin.
Said she wis a romantic,
Cud lose her heid ower the richt chiel.

The sheik in the tartan troosers
Turned oot tae be Rabbie Burns
Wi a bevy o beauties he’d gaithered
On his traivels.

John Knox tuik charge o the raffle
The kirk being eesed tae collectin
Naebody socht him fur a lady’s choice.

Lord Byron niver missed a single dance
In the Gay Gordons. He wis last tae leave.

The Loch Ness Monster, playin watter music,
Last seen wis reelin roon bi Ailsa Crag
Wi thirteen kelpies and a Shetlan silkie.

Feedback suggests they’ll aa be back neist year

The Swimmer: For Larry Butler

Like a grass hopper
Arching his limbs in sunshine
Rhythmic into air
Renga master Larry is
Yoked to Loch Voile’s bright furrow.

Bamboo flute sounds sweet
Under the moon’s dark rising
Thumbing reedy chords
Letting dropping notes
Enter the mind’s cool evening
Right as an owl’s flight.

Excavation of the East Kirk of St Nicholas, Aberdeen’s ‘Mither Kirk’, began in January 2006, scheduled to last 9 months. An estimated 600 skeletons will have been exhumed by then. Only the very powerful and wealthy with their families were interred within the kirk. After examination by forensic scientists, all will be reburied at a service of re-dedication.

The Dig

The rich or pouerfu are beeriet inby this kirk.
The dig is a lanscape o lanterns
A catacomb of timmer planks an pits. The stoor is grey.
Sticky wi swyte, archeologists dunt centuries inno trays
Barin brittle banes frae their cloots o clay.

Grave robbers maun weir masks.
Disturbin the deid hauds dangers
Spores, lang sleepin, steered bi the win micht blaa
Cholera, leprosy, rickets, consumption, ague
Whetted the scythe that swypt hale streets awa.

A teenage Covenanter, deid o the pox,
A surgeon, deid o the plague,
A medieval pilgrim, weirin a pilgrim’s badge
Oor Lady o Peety…fa didnae intercede
Tae challenge the smit that ett her disciple’s limbs;
A cheil o fifty, a siller hairt in his ribs,
A wumman’s brooch…his mistress? dother? wife?
Naebody kens. It his ootlived his passion an his love.
A bairn in a kist, its heid on a stane pillow,
Laired here afore the first kirk iver rose.

Skeletons mortally woundit in duel or battle
A magistrate, fas wirds nae langer prattle
A rake. His pride is noo a poodered pestle.
Lairds an dignitaries surface, lees o a past Zeitgeist
Skirps o lace on their baney wrists an shanks
Clay pipes haudin tobaccay. Bane buttons, a fine silk hat,
A loon’s marble…a pair of yirdy dice.
Fishbanes, frae midden or feast.

The rich or powerful war beeriet inbye this kirk
They hae gane the wye o its auncient, sonorous bells –
St Nicholas, St Mary an Auld Lowrie –
Crashin inno the nicht, wi aisse an flames.

Five hunner years thon bells rang ower oor toun
Foo mony citizens noo myne their names?

North East Toun

Stars skinkle ower a parkin lot
Hubcaps an bonnets shine wi frost
Like mowdies, weariet shoppers skail
Oot frae the mall, bood doon bi copst
O stappin stammachs, heatin hames.
Twa bats gae flichterin fae the trees
Raggety cloots o hungered wames.

Ice surfs the waves. Black spires luik doon
Icicle kirks in this cauld toon
An hoasts hack deeper in the briest
O fowk fa thole the cauld the least
Slipt somehou frae the shelterin goun
O him fa wore the thorny croun?

Lost Property

The following objects were all lodged at London Transport’s Lost Property Office, Baker Street, 2005, having been found on tubes, buses and taxis

One 14ft. inflatable boat,
Marooned in a cab, washed up near Nelson’s Column

One coffin in purgatory
Stuck between the Angel & Burnt Oak

False legs left on the bus to the London Eye

One lawnmower, its neck in a plastic bow,
No fixed abode, on the tube by Covent Garden

Breast implants, like cod steaks, sliced,
Getting under the skin of a driver near Maida Vale

One jar of bull’s sperm, destined for mooning cows
Going up and down on a bus by Petticoat Lane

Three dead bats, awkward as young umbrellas
Left by the tube at Knightsbridge

Dozens of mobile phones, their small mouths stopped
Doomed to be deaf and dumb on Speaker’s Corner

The Rug

I am swypin the rug I bocht last wikk in toun.
It is indestructible. It is the colour o reid clay.
It will spen oors here, possibly years
Watchin my skin dwine tae the colour o perchment.
I could growe tae resent it, this ferlie, this nae-body
Secure in its ain boundaries,
Impervious tae rot.
The March Past

Yestreen, buits merched up the street
Stoppit the pulse o the toun
Battalions paraded,
Cogs in the war machine
An they were oors,
Receivin the toun’s freedom.

Doos cooed an flichtered. The provost spakk.
A loon saluted wi a bairn’s solemnity
Tae naebody in particular, tint in his ain fecht
As if a sheathed sword lay on a bed o roses
Tae be feted, aa petals an perfume
Nae bluid an thorns tae stain the civic meenit.

Bus Journey

It’s pencil-scrawled, the bus’s destination
As if the actual journey might be arbitrary,
Uncertain, an Odyssean travail.

The driver is both Chaplinesque and sinister.
Above his square moustache, the eyes behind the glasses
Grim as the F.B.I., the hound of the Baskervilles.
He grips the steering wheel with whitening knuckles.
He is festooned in bling, a Stirling Xmas tree
In flaming June.

A woman with silver toenails, flowing silver hair
Entwined with pink like Barbie seaweed,
Rests her feet on a chair, a drying mermaid.

I pay and sit. Stare at an empty nail hole
The ghost of a long-gone ashtray. The trip begins.
The bus is casting the runes, juddering my old bones
In their skin bag. Aisle whiffs of pee and petrol.

And then a school decants itself. Mayhem beyond belief.
The bus floods with a many-headed hydra.
Coxcomb charmers hurl oaths like stones
Beano Bedlamites…Luddites of law and order
Hotspur hooligans. I am breathing icebergs
A cloud thunderous with perturbation
Hangs over us. Puberty hands me a shocked wreath.

Straps hang from the roof, two rows of idling nooses
I can imagine heads there, swaying like coconuts at a country fair.

Three seats are wearing jagged gangland scars
Across their faces. Veterans of vandal wars
To shouts of ‘Fuck it! Fuck it!
The bus stops. The door’s kicked open
The pupils whooping pour outside
Like an un-slopped bucket.

Somebody opens a window in the roof
Air, straight from the mountain rushes in, a calm orison
A feast of balm. A brightening on the horizon

The trip resumes, past sheep, domestic thistle.
The bus reclaims it silence, clean as a new tin whistle.

Six Owersetts frae Cien sonetos de amor (100 love sonnets) by Pablo Neruda, 1986, University of Texas Press


Ye’ll myne thon lowpin burn
Far sweet yoams raise an trimmlit
An whyles a birdie, weirin watter
An slowness…its yuletide feathers.

Ye’ll myne thon gifts frae the yird
Scents foraye gowd glaur,
Weeds in the sheugh an reets agley,
Eildritch thorns like swords.

Ye’ll myne thon posie ye wiled
Shadda an watter’s seelence
Posie like a foam-happit stane.

Yon time wis like niver an like foraye
Sae we gyang there, far naethin’s wytin
We fin aathin wytin yonner


Tint in the wids, I brukk aff a derk twig
An hystit its fusper tae ma droothy mou
Mebbe it wis the soun o rain, greetin
A brukken bell, or a riven hairt.

A hyne-aff ferlie it seemed
Deep an secret tae me, hapt bi the the yird
A skreich smored bi muckle autumns
Bi the sappy derkness o hauf-opened leaves

Waukenin frae the dwaumin widlans yonner, the hazel-sprig
Sang aneth ma tongue....its wauchtit sweetness
Climmed up ben ma harns.

As if o a suddenty, the reets I’d left ahin
Cried oot tae me, the lan I’d tint wi ma bairntime
An I devauled, scoored bi the traivellin scent.


Luv, luv, the clouds gaed up the touer o the lift
Like bigsy washerweemin – an it aa
Glimmered in blue like the ae starnie
The sea, the boatie, the day aa exiled thegither.

Come, teet at the geans o the watter in the weather
The roon key tae the Aa that is sae quick:
Come, touch the lowe o this teet-bo blue
Afore its petals dwine.

There’s naethin here bit licht, pucklies, boorichs
Space caad ajee bi the graces o the win
Till it gies upo the hinmaist secret o the faem.

Amang sae mony blues…blues o Heiven, drooned blues
Oor een are a thochtie raivelled: they can scarce makk oot
The pouers o the air, the keys tae the seas in the secrets.


Ye came frae poverty, frae the hooses o the sooth
Frae the roch landscapes o cauld an o yird’s mishanter
That gied us – efter thon gods hid tummelt
Tae their daiths – the lear o life, vrocht in glaur.

Ye are a wee sheltie o black glaur, a kiss
O derk dubs, ma dearie, a poppy o glaur
Doo o the gloamin that flew alang the roads
Piggy-bank o tears frae oor puir bairntime.

Wee body, ye’ve keepit the hairt o poverty in ye
Yer feet eased tae sherp rocks
Yer moo that didna aye hae breid or sweeties.

Ye cam frae the puir Sooth, far ma soul wis seedit
In thon heich lift yer mither’s ay washin claes
Wi ma mither. Thon’s foo I chose ye, best lued.


Yer hoose souns like the train at noon.
Bees bizz, pots sing,
The linn tells fit the saft rain did.
Yer lauch reels oot its trill like a palm tree

Comes like a kintra loon wi a singin telegram
The blue licht o the waa claiks wi the rocks, an yonner –
Climmin the knowe, atween twa fig trees wi the green voice –
Comes Homer in his quaet sheen.

Anely here the toun has nae voice, nae moo, naethin sae
Forcey, nae sonatas, skirls or car toots: here,
Insteid, a quaet foregaitherin o linns an lions

An ye – fa rises, sings, rins, wauks, boos
Plants, shews, cooks, haimmers, screives – comes back –
Or hae ye left? (Syne I’d ken the Winter hid stertit.)


Three birds o the sea, three sun-glisks, three shears
Crossed the cauld lift fur Antofagasta:
Yon’s foo the air wis left trimmlin
Foo aathin trimmlet like a hurtit flag.

Alaneness, gie me the sign o yer eynless birth-stangs
The path – scarce even thon – o the coorse birds
The hairt-flichter that aywis comes
Afore hinney, music, the sea, a birth

(Alaneness held gaun bi the ae physog-
Like a quet, slaw flooer aywis ootraxxed-
Till it wins tae the sma heezin boorichs o the lift)

Cauld wings o the sea, o the archipelago, gaed
Fleein aff tae the sans o nor-east Chile.
The nicht yarked tee its heivenly snib.

Train, passing Montrose

The sea’s gunmetal grey. The town’s catarrhal
A skinhead crop of waves is slapping the beach down

Clouds clam up with cold. The bay is damp white linen
Unpeopled sand is holding a fishy discourse with the sky

The train has unzipped Scotland
Peeling apart grey sky, green mounds of hills.

Queen Wasp

The open window swallowed too much summer
Queen wasp had crossed the line,
Established her paper palace in my room.

Insect species make unsettling neighbour
Especially royal ones with a growing entourage
I raised a Gulliver book to crush her crown
Her yellow sceptre, her swivelling antennae.

An Indian visitor heard my plea for help;
Offered his bare hand for Her Majesty to descend

Delicately; her thin legs crossed his palm
She paused as if they engaged in badinage
‘She does not wish to leave,’ he interceded
I told him I’d be damned if I’d share with her.

With delicate flair,
He led her out into the realm of air

The Bonnieness o Trees

I hae discovert the bonnieness o trees
Foo they meeve like watter ben the tides o air
The birk like a faist jaad shakkin doon her hair
The larick that showds, auld man in a creakin cheer

Trees growe far they faa, their weird has decreed it sae
A bield alike fur nightingale an craa.

Fresh Fish Cakes

Green fresh fish cakes baked here by Tritons
Barbequed barracudas a speciality

Triton training courses available now
All trainees to provide own tridents

Octopuses for daily hire to practise knot-tying
Sea horses available for the ultimate Primavera wedding.

On making a List

Like a knife
A list slices time
Leaves no stray crumbs

Two Poems, with Apologies to Stevie Smith

The Person from Porlock

The person from Porlock
Phoned three times on Saturday
E-mailed twice on Sunday
Desperately knocked on Monday
I am never at home to persons from Porlock who call.
Look! He’s bypassed the burglar alarm!
He’s clearing his throat. He’s wanting to bend my ear,
To twist my arm.

I’ll wager it’s double glazing or changing to British Gas
Or the Church of Latter Day Saints…or he’s wanting to cut the grass
Tarmac the loo or collect for dysfunctional dogs
Or he’s bearing a huge petition to save Britain’s wetlands and bogs.

Rats! He’s done it! He’s conned himself on to my page
That drowner of dreams in a bucket, de-railer of poems unpenned
There’s always a person from Porlock who’ll get you in the end.

This Night Shall Thy Soul be Required of Thee

Mine smashed in a thousand pieces years ago
One part’s a gecko climbing a temple wall
One part’s a drop of rain in a farm bucket
One part’s off exploring the Hebrides
Another has turned itself into a loaf of bread
Hoping others will turn up to eat it.

A pride of souls, whirling along like wheel spokes
Shaking their golden manes like bursts of sun.

The Pulley

In a high corner of the roof,
Arachne’s web was a midden of carcases
A flimsy continent of husks no duster reached.

Under the kitchen grill, a pool of frozen lard
Waited to kindle the fire. A headless gander
Sat in the broth pot, sprouting goose flesh.

I sat at the open door, Pocahontas of the porch,
Wearing my trophy feathers. My mother
Was hanging the washing over the pulley.

The rope snapped with a twang, the wooden spar
Cracked on her skull like a bat.

She lay in her washday pinnie, Woolworth’s best,
Cheap and flowery cotton, one slipper off,
Her eyes sealed tight together like a dead bird’s beak.

A grey wet sock slumped over the berry pan
That still boiled on, oblivious to this raw domestic disaster
Time froze, or I froze it. Ma’s perm
Was corrugated iron wearing a red rose
Who’d pot the jam if she didn’t rise like Lazarus off the lino?

The eyes sprang open, she pulled herself erect.
We faced each other like china dogs on a press
Her face chalk-white matching my snow head-dress.

School Journey

I’m a mouse, a mouse
Nervously leaving the cavernous hall of the house
Five steps down from the door
School bag straps half-mast
Blazer sleeves touching my knuckles
I am all buttons and buckles.

A cobbled road to cross and then the church –
Episcopalian – they’re pagans, like the Pope, my mother says.

I mustn’t drag my feet
I mustn’t tell a lie
I must do well
I mustn’t speak to strangers
I mustn’t walk on the cracks
Or I’ll go straight to Hell.

Coming back
I balance on wall-tops,
I am Blondin on the Niagara
Walking the wire.

I go leaping down the hill
Higher and higher
Lighter and lighter
I’m a bird, a bird
I’m Daedalus, Hermes, a swan
I fold my wings when I reach the top of my street
Flying’s my secret. It wouldn’t do to tell
I must put my earth-self on.

Five steps up into the cavernous hallway of the house
Now I’m a mouse, a mouse.

A Letter tae Julius Caesar frae the Provinces

Ye hae yer warships, Caesar, breistin the faem wi their prows
Reid wi bluid as the flames o Vulcan’s bellows.

Stang o a kittlit viper, we hae oor coracles, bobbin burn tae burn
They cairry Daith frae clan tae clan as weel as ony galley.

I’m telt yer senators shroud thirsels in togas
Gie the hee-haw tae oor hame-spun worsit, oor skins o wolf an deer.

Craw on – yer claith cuts nae ice ower here
Nae toga haps the hide agin cranreuch cauld.

Yer weemin? Feech! A puckle peintit hoors
Ower prood tae skivvy fur their weddit men.
Oor wives can brew oor ale an bake bere breid
Can stap the cradle fu o warriors
Smeddum an sweirity’s in their breist milk
They cry the coronach abeen oor deid.

Mithras? We wish him weel. We hae Cernunnos
He’s hauf cheil, hauf stag, greater nur ony Pan.

Yestreen aneth the meen in the starn-cercle
The Druids saw yer Empire caad tae smush
Yer Senate hummlit in the hurlygush
Yer statue cowped like ony rotten log
Banned frae the Crack o Doom frae Tir-nan-Og
Whilst we survive, bairns o the mist, the bog.

Four Shots and a Chaser

An organic chrysanthemum
Ankle-deep in clover
Extols the merit of free-range flora.

Mr Song Thrush, you’re breaking
The thread of my threnody
And by the way that spider web’s a corker.

I met a cow in Delhi, a bobby-dazzler
Big as a London bus
Its horns so strong they’d puncture Superman;

Saw a mermaid watching the World Cup
In a bar to the left of Barnsley
I was surprised. Mermaids prefer the cricket.

Knapdorlacks o dung
Hing fresh frae the bung o bulls’ boddoms
Weel hung like a nice pendulum.

Breughel & Ham

Could you pass the salt?
You don’t like salt!
It’s good to try new things. By the way, I’m communicating.
I know, dear. I’ve passed the salt.
No, REALLY communicating. Words are ephemera..
I can paint ideologies…naked thought!
It’s nettle soup with French baguettes to munch
Wait till it cools or else you’ll burn your mouth.
Bugger the soup. This is a vital discovery. Image is paramount
Words are only the scum at the foot of the barrel, the scrapings of the pot.
The water’s Highland Spring.. No additives involved. Lovely for tea or brunch…
Do you agree that pictures are as breathtaking as a punch?
I’ll pay the bill then, shall I ? Breughel and ham for lunch!

Tempus Fugit (i)

He was a clock watcher. It wound folk up. He knew it.
‘You’ll be first for your own funeral,’ they told my father.
So it came to pass.

Six days before he died, ‘I’ll soon be out of it,’ he said
Like a guest in a house who’d overstayed his welcome.

That’s how I read it, after. He looked like a pilgrim
Destined to embark on a great adventure –
Or four miles up the road, under the spidery grass.

Tempus Fugit(ii)

Foxglove hings its dwinin heid
Blossoms wauchtin aff the tree
Nettles fiery in the sheugh
Aathin fair or foul maun dee.

Here’s a ram in Simmer’s warmth
Jaw an backbeen cad ajee
Een are teem o starnie-licht
Aathin fair or foul maun dee.

Jade bluebottle, drappit gem
Bonnie tho her colours be
Flicht will fail an wing will fauld
Aathin fair or foul maun dee.

Mavis wheeplin in the birk
Mistress o sweet minstrelsie
Even sic a sang will eyn
Aathin fair or foul maun dee

See the chunnerin kirkyaird wirm
Crawlin ben the blackie’s ee
Dwinin as the sizzens birl
Aathin fair or foul maun dee.


I hae left a lan o haar tae enter a lan o mist.
Ahin, the ghaistly masts o fremmit boats
Moored bi the herbour waa, showdin like anchored isles.

The spires o my cauld toon climm inno their airy lair
Tae disappear like spindrift in faddomless cloud.

Mist is eildritch, a state o possibilities
Here bide the three weird sisters in their airt
The rain’s an incantation, the licht’s bit
Schmoodrachs o watter, glentin aff drookit leaves.

Haar haps oor kennin o the fowk aroon.
Relationships, like roads ye wauk on bye
Nae seein the wids fur the trees
Or seein them, daurna explore fur fear o cliffs
That micht or michtna lead us tae oor doom
Wer’re aa o’s blin men tappin sichtless forrit.

Temporary Warmth

Temporary Warmth
From the meditation shawl
I wear this morning.

The Yellow Time

The yellow time…Narcissus on the turn,
Its glorious chances blown.
After a week’s conspiracy of whispers,
They sent me into the country to convalesce.
‘Don’t go near the dam if you want to walk’ –
Though in all my twenty years I never had.
My uncle shuffled his feet and looked away
As if his sister had sent him a Trojan horse.
My aunt opened the window over the cornfield
I was to sleep in the room they kept for strangers.

She brought my breakfast, awkward, on a tray.
No knife…the toast pre-spread, the egg beheaded.
The yolk was a jaundiced eye. Her smile was brittle:
‘A change of scene. You’ll soon be right as rain.’
In the mushroom woods, small worms
Poked in and out. Sap froze like spittle
Last year’s spotted oak leaves, sick with the pest,
Finally gave up the ghost, the death rattle
A cold spring, the buds in the trees bound tight
In their own small pain like the feet of Chinese girls.

It wasn’t until I entered the sun-chinked byre
A bolt clicked open in my iron mask
There in their stalls the separate cattle stood
Like months in order, spars in the farm’s cartwheel,
Hope began to rise like their milky breath.

Tanka (i)

Pipe’s leaked on the mat.
Out in the garden
Lark wings shake off dew.

Guttering rusts in the sun
The old cat’s walking stiffly,

Birds fly from a meow
Over the hush-a-by loch
That fills the valley.

How kind the greeting of waves
Folding their black shawls round me.

Tanka (ii)

Ice, like weak green tea
Is putting the lid on the reeds
The fish’s scales are leaden

Earth is a nest of frost eggs
A slow melting, a late spring.

Lamb time in the field
Rough-tongued and tender mothers,
Ewes nudge birth-bags off

The farmer’s bride is washing,
The day steals warmth from the sheets.

Thomas Blake Glover: The Scottish Samurai

Glover left North East Scotland to live in Nagasaki where he founded Mitsubishi and Japan’s Modern Navy. In Japan he is hailed as a hero.

Scottish Samurai,
Heich pine amang the Bonsai
Swappit scones fur sushi
Japan’s adopted hero,
Ben mushroom clouds an efter.

Chez Nous

I didnae cheenge the front. Same cooncil door
The gairden’s minimal … girse, ivy, trees
Deliberately a soss, sae nae tae tease
The burglar inno sikkin tae explore.

Ten years syne it luikit ower the river.
Reid tods slipped like sodjers aff the leash;
Noo, supermerket chynes hae found their niche
Health Club’s arrived, a bigsie biggit neebour.

The traffic thunners forrit, thunners back
My bairns left, for traivel, wirk or lover
The hoose sank inno cauld an disregard.
Noo ane’s returned, his life in ane rucksack
Tae soothe wioot the lullaby is hard.

An Average Day

Bomb kills another twenty in Iraq
Cricketing weather tomorrow … it’s official
Hoses are put on hold for fear of drought
Mrs Blair’s ruled by the Almanac
Reiki, we are told, is beneficial
Prisoners riot over stolen snout.

Farmer drowns four kittens in a sack
Tagging’s the cheapest option – it’s judicial
Holyrood roof collapses, raising doubt
That parliaments, like paintings by Georges Braque,
Are worth the cost, both moral and financial
Plane’s forced to land by one sick lager lout.


Excuse me Madam…
Or Miss?

Where are your needles, threads, your cooking pots?
Where are your woman’s weeds?

Illegal Native

‘Good afternoon. You are the occupier?
We’ve received disturbing reports
We believe you may be an illegal native.

Your clocks, it’s said, run widdershins
Three crouched monkeys sit on your mantelpiece.

We are told you worship your ancestors
In the cold light of your poems … a word-necropolis
Making love to the past is necrophilia.

Also, we believe you’ve adopted an elephant
It has been seen to sit on your settee
Complaining the sea air disagrees with it
Making subversive remarks about Loch Ness.

This is cultural heresy. We may rescind your right
To tins of shortbread, copies of the Sunday Post.


Next to a field of cabbages they camped –
Grandfather let them. The fee was always a horse.

Farm boys turned and sweated in their sleep
Dreamed of hitched skirts, the fork of gypsy legs
Foreign flesh in the fever of high summer.

Structural damage was done to unsound marriages
Herd girls were born wearing Egyptian eyes
Mothers tightened their curfews, locked their coops.

Village and campsite. The distance between the two
Was small, the barriers vast.

When the travellers left, assisted or unassisted
The Masons’ goat ate quietly through its tether
Blame follows nomads like wet dirt on a boot.

Pinto remained, half mule, half circus horse,
Aunt Sally or honest bargain fairly met.
He ate the stars in the meadow, moon carrot, pig nut
A hornless unicorn, incarnate obstinacy,
A fearful perverse symmetry on hooves.
He’d kick both man and cart, an equine upstart,
Fit for dogs’ meat unless he’d mend his ways.

My father vowed he’d make him take the bit
The weather forecast, thunderbolt and lightening
Such eyes of smoky quartz, such smouldering flame
Some things are hard to tame.

Then the gloved hand, the kiss, the harness of silver,
Pinto becalmed, an island softly neighing
Under his belly, my father lit a fire.
Singed, the creature moved to a master’s will
A wing-clipped Pegasus
Learning that stubborn acts may carry consequences.

My father was head of the house, kind to a fault
Nobody challenged him, or sat above his salt.

The House Martins

I am trying to second-guess the mainspring of house martins.
Approach flights are often diverted,
Landings delayed, like a slow foreplay.

Their tails splay out, Flash Harry’s doing the palais glide
Skiers on the piste of wind and breeze
At break neck speed one entered a closed window
A shocking exit-line.

A dark Sybil stays within
Every dead and living thing.
Listen! Hear her speak.

May Journey tae the Broch

A coo stauns in a puil o its ain shadda
The sea’s an ice rink sliddery wi shine
A corbie beats the back o tides o air.

A Saltire’s flyin in this bare domain
Dykes an fences steek a quaker’s quilt
A sheugh o saffron saris, breem’s a riot.

Tarmac veins are ticht wi whizzin wheels
Byres an barns hae internet connections
Yowes humph their taiglit fleece atween fower shanks.

A tattie-bogle weirs a Texan Stetson.
Mintlaa’s a merriematanzie cars birl roon.
A reaper roosts, doonpitten in a neuk.
Dung smuchters unner aipple blossom spray
Strichen’s a kirk that isn’t yet a pub
Young mas wauk by, wringin their ringless hauns.
A lifebelt’s propped aside a navy door
The air grows satty near the Nor Sea’s faddoms
An syne the Broch, its anchor still the herbour.

Ellen Knight

Ellen Knight from Tunbridge Wells
Thought she’d try her hand at spells
Found inside a witch’s book
By a foggy soggy brook.

First she turned her sister’s braces
Into caterpillar’s laces
Next, to vex her brother Eddy
Her magic powers shrank his teddy
Which fell down in the toilet bowl
One flush and it was swallowed whole.

Her ma said, ‘Ellen, eat your greens’.
She changed them into fairy queens
Which flew ten times around the telly
Frightening to fits her Aunty Nelly.

When Pa grew cross and tried to shout
Her magic whisked his dentures out
They jumped across the room and flew
Into her granny’s Irish stew.
And there they sank beneath the gravy
Like two old dinghies from the navy.

Grown bold, she changed her cousin’s cat
Into a tiger large and fat
Which went with her to the the-atre
And at the curtain’s fall it ate her!

So little girls who’d like to be
A witch of power and mystery,
Make dog or mouse or fish go splat –
But never ever change a cat!

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APA Style:

The Heavenly Cow of Thebes. 2024. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 25 July 2024, from

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"The Heavenly Cow of Thebes." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2024. Web. 25 July 2024.

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The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Information about Document 1497

The Heavenly Cow of Thebes


Text audience

General public
Audience size 1000+

Text details

Method of composition Handwritten
Year of composition 2006
Word count 9752
General description Collection of poems

Text medium


Text publication details

Publisher Lochlands
Publication year 2006
Place of publication Maud, Aberdeen

Text type



Author details

Author id 112
Forenames Sheena
Surname Blackhall
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment University
Age left school 16
Upbringing/religious beliefs Brought up Protestant, now Buddhist
Occupation Writer and supply teacher
Place of birth Aberdeen
Region of birth Aberdeen
Birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Aberdeen
Region of residence Aberdeen
Residence CSD dialect area Abd
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Manager of Deeside Omnibus Service
Father's place of birth Aboyne
Father's region of birth Aberdeen
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Private Secretary
Mother's place of birth Aberdeen
Mother's region of birth Aberdeen
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Abd
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes
Gaelic; Scottish Gaelic Yes Yes Yes Yes Elementary. Gaelic choir. Poetry.
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes