The Lan o Tea an Tigers: Poems fae the Muckle Furth
Author(s): Sheena Blackhall
Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall
This limited edition of poems is dedicated to Alexander Craib, born at the farm of Strathmore, Coull in 1850, died at Balnagowan, Aboyne, 1925. Interred at Coull churchyard, his working life was that of a tea plantation manager in Inverey, Dickoya, Ceylon... my maternal great uncle. His brother, James, a colonial surgeon (1855-1899) is buried in Ceylon. Alexander's gifts of brass and ivory outlived him, my childhood toys. The eastern trips brought all these toys alive.
Western Civilisation comes to the East
Wagner thundered over Vienna airwaves
Deep into Indian airspace.
As the plane descended onto the racing runway
A brown doll on a beach flashed on the in-flight screen
Its hair was matted with salt or spit or spray
(Perhaps all three)
Its bright skirt raised by the tide
A plump European hand
Exploratively ran the gamit of paedophilia
Fondled the small thigh
"Child Abuse is not a pecadillo. It's a crime"
The warning flashed in German, English, Hindi
After the passport queues
Whirring like hovercrafts above our heads
Remarkably, a red light at a junction said 'RELAX'
Rather than STOP.
Throw the Purdah o Calvin an Holyrood
Cardamom, popadom, jungle an vines
Henna an hinney an swack dauncin quines
Rubies an meensteens an aquamarine
Fite merble palaces fit fur a queen
Suttee an thuggee, stervation, disease
Beggars that crawl ben the dubs on their knee
Dysentery, cholera, these ye can fin
Wi malaria, doon far the broon watters rin
Turmeric, ginger, biryani an wheat
Poppy seed, aniseed, drummer's belled feet
Cinnamon, tamarind, jasmule an jute
Mustard an nutmeg: the snake chermer's flute
Shanty toon skeletons sleep bi the road
The monsoon fur sheets. Wint's a licht-cairriet load
Hunger an skaith in a cripple's teem bowl
A rickle o beens, aa the cage fur his sowl.
Silverweer, sandalwid, rosewid an spice
Basil an fennel, crushed mango on ice
Canewirk an leatherwirk, silks in fine haas
Jewellery an perfumes in open-air staas
Bollywood adverts hing braw ower the streets
Ower reefs o torn plastic that's hame fur sterved geets
India, India, aulder than time
Far the lotus growes pure fae its birthbed o slime
A tiger wi teeth, baith a purr an a roar,
Yer a lowe in the bluid that the mind canna smore.
The Colonel's Widow stating her opinion
Through the thronged bazaar the widow's voice is angry
'Girl, for shame! Your child should be in school,
Or safe at home. Not begging on the streets.'
In the plush hotel, the staff salaam and bow
First at the desk with her long complaint.
'No tea making facility
Standards are slipping.
I'll put all this in writing'.
Her purring taxi waits,
To ferry her past Delhi's gutter-shacks.
By the ghat, she wilts,
Adjusts her sunglasses,
Straightens her broad-brimmed hat.
If you can't afford to feed, you shouldn't breed.
A Harijan swivels on festered stumps of legs,
Bump-slide down to the pool on calloused knees.
Five foot four in Marks and Spencer's socks
She has come to view the mosque
She's read the appropriate warnings.
The horrid, nasty troubles you can catch
Barefoot indeed! To visit a heathen shrine!
The sacred and profane
Size each other up, through coloured eyes.
In the lounge the temperature rises
The Central heating's gone.
If this was British, we'd soon get it sorted!
The housemaid's been up since dawn
To climb the roof, seeking the Sun God's blessing
The Hindu Salutation to the sun
To the Amber Fort-Palace, Jaipur, up the steep Aravalli mountain range, built in 1592 by Sawai-Raja Maan Singh Ji, Commander in Chief of the Moghul Emperor Akbar
Then the mahout nudged the elephant over the flags
Wet and slippy with dung and trampled leaves
This animal carriage, painted with stars and moons
Flapped her enormous ears and curled her trunk
Up like her turbanned master's relentless grin
Dripping with rain, white knuckles gripped the howdah.
Behind the mahout's head with its crimson bandage
His white suit, almost clean,
From the sky's trap door the monsoon falls in sheets.
A frenzy of hawkers dog the elephant's sway
Puppets, madam, the cheapest in Jaipur!
My name is Tony, I take your photo: Click!
Bangles? Earrings? Fit for a Maharani!
Spooked by hustlers, hawkers snapping round like wolves
Leaping, waving trinkets of wood or leather
Tourists are tills, the hagglers smell our money
We count our notes,
Penned in the rank howdah
Foreign currency making a fraught exchange
At Gandhi's Shrine, Raj Ghat
In the middle of parkland sits a square black marble platform where Gandhi was cremated after his assassination in 1948. To the North lies Indira Gandhi's cremation site, after her assassination in 1984 and that of her son Rajiv Gandhi who was assassinated in 1991. Gandhi's memorial is flanked by two charity boxes, and is topped by a lamp with an eternal flame.
Efter the thrang derk alleys
The stooshie o the bazaars
The thunnerin larries
The goat that stauns an bleats
Efter the buying an bribin
The priggin, swickin venders
The stoor an the bumbazement
O rickshaws' dirdin seats
Efter the bamboo scaffoldin
The saris cairtin cement
The cricket, the polo,
The staas of baccy an treats
Efter the wechty bullocks
The cobras wyvin an dauncin
The glaur o the gutters
The fowk fa sleep on the streets
Here is Delhi's oasis.
Here, far the shade is sweet
The verra girse cries 'Gandhi'
The chiel fa cowpit an Empire
Walkin in wyes o peace on twa bare feet.
It reigns all glib jibes in.
This blend of marble, myth and jasmine-scented air
The sky, empties its moods into its pure face.
No-one thinks of its builders
Wlho'd sweated, cursed, gone home and kicked their wives
Who'd thrown their evening meal into the grate.
A British Princess wearing a crown of thorns
Pricked by a spindle courtiers overlooked
Wondered at love enshrined in stone
That any wife could earn such Royal tribute.
Two sisters took the Taj home in a camera
A batchelor shared his blood with a mosquito
I rediscovered awe.
Passing through snake charmers, peddlers,
Lip curled Asian dogs, to enter this cool oasis
Like a great gold plate a desert's yielded up.
Each hardened brick of cynicism cracked
A wall of Jerico brought tumbling down
At Lord Siva's Jungle Shrine: Bharaptur Bird Sanctuary
Here, far the jungle smores the sun
Here, at Lord Siva's temple door
The dance o destruction's daithless beat
Throbs in the air, ahin, afore
Auncient deities lichtly sleep
The cobra kills an the cobra saves
Yestreen's leaves fae the jungle's eaves
Shakk their fetters an jink their graves
Here, in the raxxin tangle-tree
The heron, the lang-legged crane, the stork
They nest in equanimity
Provin that tolerant wyes can wirk
no nice clean uniforms
50 pupils...there isn't a seat between them
they haven't a bean
no video, radio (occasional polio)
no computer or tv screen
hey mister are you SURE this is a school?
Fae Bombay tae Rangoon, fowk will say the Monsoon
Is a blessin that's mixed fur the peasant
Fur fin there's a drought, there's nae doot he's pit oot
An the hardship is unca unpleisant
Bit fin ye hae flown fae a cauld Scottish zone
Tae traivel an savour the East
To be drooked in the rain, like rat doon a drain
Is a dreidfu event, at the least.
Oh oor Aberdeen weet, may be dreich, bit its fleet
An it's shortsome, tho dowie an gray
But in Delhi the rain cams again an again
An can bide fur a month and a day!
Ricki- Ticki- Tavi, Jaipur
Brave heart Mongoose
Speckled grey coat,
Cruncher of scorpions,
Scourge of beetles and rats
Defying jungle Goliaths
You never have egg on your face
Tiger-blood in a weasel skin
Face pointed with hunches
Sniffing a quick munch
You shoot up trees like a monkey
Whose tail is on fire
But slicker, quicker.
Little lithe mongoose
Who can lay King Cobra low
Where is your armour,
Your wonderful silver lance?
Ye'd makk a bonnie hat rack, bit yer kyte it maun be leid,
Gin I drank yer puil in Delhi, I'd be merked as maggot-feed
Bit there ye stalin, in ecstacy wi watter roon yer rear
Like an alcoholic in a tub o beer, beer, beer.
Tell me Watterbuffalo foo is yer milk sae sweet
Fin ye glugger doon sic clorty dubs an girse is aa ye eat?
The Lan o Tea an Tigers
The lan o tea an tigers hauds oriental views
Far richt o wye tae traffic is gien ower tae coos
The sanbags at the airport hid armed guards, I ken
Bit karma's wheel birl better, fin helped bi cannie men.
There's nae a pick that's British. They serve ye wi a grin!
Oh gowd an scarlet saris fae shantytoons o tin
Like dragonflees that flichter, up fae a rikkin lan,
Far gangrels prig an barter, fit is't that keeps ye gaun?
Ye, wi yer thin-shanked bairns, fas beens powk throw their skin
I'm chappin at yer culture. Please, cud ye lat me in?
I'd like tae pye a veesit ..tae unnerstan, ye see
Foo baith at the same table, sit grace an poverty.
I would rather be cloistered than boudoired
I would rather be neutered than suitored.
I fly by autopilot
Dials flicker, signals flash
Touching base I navigate single-handed
Journeying less and less.
Good Morning Black and Yellow Bird
Good morning black and yellow bird! I do not know your name
And by the way you look at me you feel the very same.
You're wondering what I'm doing here, and so, I must confess
I'm pretending I'm a memsahib born to years of idleness
And tomorrow on an elephant I'll be a rajah's wife
Hunting tigers in my sari with a ruby-studded knife.
That's a different land entirely? Black and yellow bird I know
On my British monthly salary here's as far as I could go.
There is a small Burmese community living in the jungle around the Pa-la-u waterfall. The waterall is part of the La-u forest in Kang-Kra-Chan national park's compound. It covers 43,700 hectares
Tinkle tinkle Burmese coo, aa ye dae is ett an moo
Lugs as lang as cricket bats skelpin swarms o fit d'ye cats.
In a bield amang bamboo, swytin like a roastin soo
I spy Buddhist monks nip by, on their scooters, trig an spry
Muckle leaves waucht ben the breeze. Michty me! They're butterflees!
Bear in a Thai Zoo
Two stuffed bears inhabit a rusty cage
One's slumped in a foetid comer
The other, stoppers a water barrel
Comotose with heat.
Its paws hang down, like rigid backscrapers.
Not till a buzzing fly makes a bear eye wink
Do I realise they're real.
This is Bear Alcatraz
No toys. No joys. No vistas other than parched bamboo
A brick wall, blistering.
Dry scrub. The occasional pink but unobtainable prey
Which peers intently at its potential eaters.
Not as much as a scratch betrays
What thoughts incubate like maggots
Beneath their fur
No growl of complaint leaks from the thin line
Of their sealed mouths.
Room service is regular,
The bears are suitably rotund
Essence of bear,
That quintessential judder of the jungle
Isn't there. A cracked paw-pad hangs slack
A fire extinguished.
Flies circle their dry pelts like wheeling vultures.
A News wi a Parten
Foo mony birsslin British dowps, wee parten, on yer Cha-am beach
Hae birled like satay sticks o meat birssled tae reid fae fite an peach?
Tell me, ma armour-platit frien fit think ye o these fremmit fowk?
Rolex, Gucci, Chanel they buy...Aa fake.. bit names impress a gowk.
The warld's ill-pairtit. Nicht an day pyed guairds wi guns stappt in their belt
Maun stalk the waukwyes, jist fur fear the fowk fa vend takk back fit's selt.
Wang-Kher is the actual name of a very efficient Thai housemaid
An exclamation of approval in Thai is 'Khrap' pronounced 'crap '.
Honoured fly upon my pork
Why you bivouac on my fork?
Use my chop-stick as an anchor?
Honoured fly, I name thee Wang-Kher
Yalla dug aneth the staas foo d'ye aywis scrat yer baas
Like a waukin plague o scabies? Yalla dug, dae ye hae rabies?
In a butcher's, on a hook, yer ma is hingin. Takk a luik!
UP DOWN Up down UP DOWN
Press ups press ups press ups
Busy busy busy
Going for gold gold for gold going for gold
Salamander work out
Kam-Lai is a 65 year old elephant at Wat Neranchararam. Cha-am
Kam-lai can niver smile because her moo's set up an doon
Wi yon lang trunk atween her een she canna even froon
As sae ye niver really ken exactly fit she thinks
Bin fin ye feed her sugarcane she shuts her een an blinks.
This MICHT mean 'Foo idyllic' or 'Nae sugar-cane fur tea!'
Or, 'The breeks yon wummin' s weirin wad bring tears tae a gless ee.'
Gin ye'd like a game o bools wi yon fine set ahin her feet.
I widna. They're fit elephants drap sune efter they've hid meat.
An Elephant's Moo
Fae auld Siam across tae China, an elephant's moo's like a vagina
Stap in a tongue an ye hae got a meal machine that chaas the lot
Bananas, chocolate, in it goeses. Niver a thocht o brucellosis!
I'm feart I catch e-coli bugs. The elephant lauchs an skelps its lugs
Is salmonella in thon breid? The elephant lauchs an shakks its heid
An wolfs doon 23 bananas afore I'm intae ma pyjamas
She maun hae reinforced intimmers, fur this hett sun turns aa tae cinners
Sae, fin a hunner years she's seen, will telegram cam fae her Queen?
Tae Ganesh I gie thanks. Thon God his elephants keeps hale an snod
Fur elephants wi skitters wid blad Thailan's towrist trade fur guid.
The River Kwai
For the men of the Second Battalion the Gordon Highlander Regiment, buried in the POW cemetary at Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi's green an quate. The sun, sae hett it stouns
In birsslin drouth, in frozen youth, the deid men makk nae souns
A poppy here, a garlan there, rich scents each grave festoons
Peace ower the grun. .bit dearly won bi the Daith Railway loons.
Far fae the teuchit's dweeble wheep's the skreichin o baboons
An here the Thai, alang the Kwai tend weel the Gordon loons.
They didna dee far bullets flee. Their war brocht ither wouns
Far dysentry kept company wi rain as big's dubloons
Aside the Kwai the smilin Thai in bricht sarongs an gouns
Sell mango slice an tea wi ice, wi orchids at their crouns.
Thailan's the larder o the East. It wyles awa the pouns
There wis nae beer nor buffet here, fin coorseness kent nae bouns
An fin the jungle lowsed its rage, the peetiless monsoons
Cholera, typhoid thinned the ranks ben bitter nichts an noons
A different fecht, a different airt, fae Waterloo's dragoons
Maleria gied the Deid Thraa tae the Daith Railway loons.
The war's lang gaen. They bide alane. Nae wives aside them lie.
Bricht butterflees abeen them heeze, aa sufferin ower an by.
Culloden, Flodden, Bannockburn. .grim pipers play the tunes
The leaders o a nation screive tae mobilise platoons
Is liberty as gweed a cause tae dee fur as the lave?
Nane kens, dry banes haud nae discourse that full a sodjer's grave.
Kanchanaburi's green an quate. Noo, fyew are left tae greet,
Far thistles fell...Bit merk them weel.. The wins o peace are sweet
Taxi Driver's Buddha
Taxi driver's Buddha, fit div ye see?
Are yer een on traffic or some transcendental lea?
Buddha on the dashboord, fin yer maister drives
Are ye watchin ower him ensurin that he thrives?
Fare-pyin punters dinna sit sae snod as ye
Taxi-driver's Buddha yer a top-speed rareity!
Noodle-sellers. Fortune tellers.
Silks, sarongs. Rubies, Khlongs.
Temple cat. Spending baht.
Mango stall. Shopping mall.
Sugar cane. Monsoon rain.
Spirit house. Dragon blouse.
Lotus flower. Siam tower.
Tourist police. Conmen fleece.
Bitten dog. Floating log.
Speeding scooter. Guard with shooter.
Traffic jam. Low salaam.
Deep fried cricket. Snake in thicket.
Toilet squat. Buddhist watt.
Calomine lotion. Tuk-tuk motion.
Mozzies hum. Immodium.
St Eamed Rice
Under the betel-nut trees, Mangoes mango-ing, Tamarinds tango-ing
Man, I was David Attenburgh. Man, I was Michael Palin
Till spider fell on my shoulder, size of a small boulder
Man, I was outa there
So fast, you wouldn't believe...
Man, I was supersonic
Patpong I & II
Patpong I and II. Don't look under your shoe
You may find you've trod on sin
Safer to stick to gin.
Black hair pulled back in an elastic band
The Bangkok masseuse moulds my cushioned shoulder
Her boney finger takes my palm in hers
Kneads it like soggy dough.
She coughs discreetly (Too poor to be ill)
Under the sickly light
The air conditioned whiff of wheeling blades
I pay to be pampered. The hour is mine,
Is bought and paid for.
Trick or Treat
When Asian Elvis sings, fantasy rocks off on dragons' wings
Behind me the chorus kicks
No spots on these ladybirds
Bangkok lady-boys trained to trick or treat
Are they? Aren't they?
You can't see the joins
Nipped and tucked
If they were eggs you'd stamp them,
Puil in a Hotel Complex
The palm weirs stretch merks roon its belly
Leaves, hett an droothy ettle tae reach the puil
Tae lick it up like forkit lizards' tongues.
The watter sweels aroon like crème de menthe.
Last nicht a taed cam here, creashie's a Wall street banker
While the palms swyed in the breeze
Lord! Foo he likit tae craik. Fu o hissel. He fartit twice
Like a German in navy Speedo trunks
Nae speedin, twa towels doon.
(From a talk given by a Bangkok Tourist Guide)
We got Dunkin Donuts.We got cookies. We got MacDonalds.We got coke.
My kids don't eat no tapioca now. No siree! I got me CIVILISATION
Got me a car. Got me a traffic jam. Hell, lady, me even got pollution.
Yes Mam, I'm middle-class. Shame about the grass
Don't grow much with the fumes.But what d'you think of
Our sky train overpass?
He pykes his barfit wye alang the stran
Cannily steppin abeen
The anchor towes o boaties,
The smachrie o coral an shells.
Deid puffer fish sweels in wi the tide
Bumbazed tae hae puffed its hinmaist puff
A playthin o the sea coost ooto this melee
O froth an sweeshlin bree.
Aneth the cweel bit shade o his coolie hat
The broon flute seller fussles.
His shanks are shilpit
His breeks are torn an green
His semmit fu o holes
Flaps fae the lean
Coat-hinger o his frame.
He smiles wi twa mauve lips
Like coconut flesh, his teeth
Sae fite they daizzle ye
This Thai pied piper blaws
Ben bamboo tubes, Thon hollow reeds
Echo the lanely lappin o the sea
Bead sellers jostle ye
Silk venders hassle ye
Horse hawkers dog yer steps
The flute seller cocks his heid sidiewyse
His reedy notes waucht fae his bamboo pipe
The music furls like rikk alang the stran
His easy-osy joy in his wee tunes
His melodic wares
Eneuch tae wyle the siller fae yer pooch.
Farang is the Thai word for 'foreigner'
This is a foreign country.
Deep fried maggot, shocks.
Pianists tinkle raffishly in hotel foyers
Each home accommodates its ancestors
In spirit houses (all too solid gilt)
Sky trains cross the clouds on heavenly rails
Sunsets wear stepping stones of tower blocks.
This is a foreign country.
Trees wear bells,
Traffic police are muzzled against pollution
Guns suggest a whiff of revolution
This is a foreign country.
Toddles hang from scooter handlebars
Ducks and diamonds dangle side by side
Pigeons are tinned. Even the sky is different. ..
Under the plane's right wing, moon looks aghast as usual
Britain lies like a stitched-up throw.
If we fell from the sky like a stone
We wouldn't need a doctor or a nurse,
A neurologist, astrologer, psychologist
Our organs could be harvested at source.
The going rate's as follows in pounds sterling:
It's anyone's guess what a pancreas might cost
The runway as we left was icy
And coming back, the long term forecast's frost.
July in Arlington
A blood-red maple spills a pool of cool,
The sentry's polished boots pace twenty-one.
Green acres hold their buried treasure safe,
Gravestones, white as cotton, fill the fields.
The sentry's polished boots pace twenty-one.
The stars and stripes flap like an eagle's wing,
Gravestones, white as cotton fill the fields.
A leaping flame rekindles Sixties' fire.
The stars and stripes flap like an eagle's wing.
Four whisk-tailed horses pull a glory box.
A leaping flame rekindles Sixties' fire,
Tour buses visit the necropolis.
Four whisk-tailed horses pull a glory-box.
A blood-red maple spills a pool of cool,
Tour buses visit the necropolis,
Green acres hold their buried treasure safe.
The Lion and the Eagle
Sung to the tune Sleepytoon
Written and performed during 'Scotland at the Smithsonian' (2003)
The Lion Rampant is the symbol of Scots smeddum. The Eagle is the symbol of American power.
The rain, of course has its own agenda:
'I will go in the morning', said the king.
'You will wait for me,' said the wind (Gaelic Proverb)
Aa nicht forked lichtenin rent the sky, it sent a thunnerclap doonby
Noo Thor's weet dish-cloot's nearly dry in Washington in the morning
Aff plastic ponchos raindraps dreep, throw weety girse the broon dubs seep
Yet the Metro's stappit an the mobiles bleep in Washington in the morning.
Rikk rises up fae a cowboy's grill. Towrists trek tae the Capitol
A bird pykes mealies wi its bill in Washington in the morning
Schule pairties steer an mozzies heeze. Flags waucht on flagpoles in the breeze
Stane eagles glower atween the trees in Washington in the morning
The Lion rampant's cleuks are strang, wi the Eagle's fowk the wauks are thrang
See the Eagle's pouer, hear the Lion's sang in Washington in the mornin
The Mall sat at the hub of things. The Hirshhorn, with its fountain
Of naked water, a spiritual oasis.
Gold days under the needle tower
Were a lucky strike. A shifting tableaux,
Tents and trees and sun.
The shy smile of melons luscious as Judy Garland's lips,
Old Glory hanging from every second wall
The red shoes of squirrels tapdancing through the leaves
View from A Skyscraper
The Potomac slips by, a muddy snake,
Gay boats, like flashing scales upon its back.
Steel cockroach whiffs its helicopter wings,
Small sycamores, so hot their leaves hang slack.
Past man-cliffs sheathed in steel, cement and glass,
Mist rises. Spires and skyscrapers unveil.
The marble cages of old monuments
Hold fragments of a nation's Holy Grail.
Trailing clouds of ripples in their wake,
Jets part the skies with flimsy spider skeins.
A living organism, road and bridge
Carries the beetling traffic in its veins.
The Anacostan tribe has left no mark
The Potomacs, the Dogue, their furs and skins
Vanished. The city sidewalks seethe and teem
On glades once trod by leather moccasins
The Potomac tribe, the Dague, the Anacostan people once populated Washington. They largely died out after contact with early explorers, of diseases such as measles and the common cold.
Apocalyptic asses rear and plunge
At sets of traffic lights you never see
Thin mosquitoes whine.
Moths, big as plates land on the drilling plan
In guarded compounds, spiders lie in wait
Larger than crabs.
Everything's up for grabs.
Cripples whizz by on skateboards
Swamp rigs wade in rivers brown as treacle
No one petitions their councillors
Complaining on the infringement of civil rights
Palms are greased.
Oils are wheeled
A rash of mud huts spreading along the shore
Is raw with life
Like a corpse wriggling with maggots
Aids lopes like a lion through the bush
Feeding at every village
Three tribal scars slashed down a cheek
Oilman's scars are hidden
His tribe, dispersed through segregated suburbs
His heid's crooned bi a twig.
He slalems doon a leaf like ony Olympic skiier,
Syne tightrope wauks a trailin jungle creeper.
Anely a grenade could bomb him oot
Could heelstergowdie him.
Explorin his crackly kingdom
His shanks cut throwe the air like a tailor's shears,
Like a Roman Catholic bishop dispensin crosses.
His gollach- intimmers snod in his sheeny shell,
He sweys like a hammock,
Launches aff like rain sikkin a puddle.
It makks me wabbit watchin
His ceaseless rinnin.
His richts takk precedence ower mine,
Here, I'm the tourist, he's the acceptit local.
Syne, he takks flicht!
His wings whirr like a copter.
This gars me grue,
The sicht o sic an ugsome ferly tleein!
His hame's this Asian stearnie.
Unreason's cleuks claa cauldly at ma wyme.
Fit gin this horny gollach choose tae veesit me?
Explore ma frailties wi his fyaachie taes
I ken that I wad kill him gin I cwid.
Shorthand Notes on Tall Buildings
Shout it from the house tops!
Walls have ears!
This could bring the house down
House of Lords
House of Commons
Will eat you out of
House and Home
Here's the church
And here's the steeple
Open the doors
But where's the people?
Castles in the Air
Bird of passage crosses a cloudy castle
Sun streams down slipways of heavenly shutes
But what if the sky should fall
And not the bird?
What if the sea should rise and fly away?
What if the castle left its cloudy eyrie
Raining pearls and stones into the bay?
Then I would gather wonderful posies of larks
Angels would go swimming with the seals
The furrowed clouds would yield up crops of sand
The castle sail away to Samarcand
Pireep pireep Pireep. P-oi p-oi p-oi. Chirrup chirrup chirrup
peereep peereep p-poi p-oi
No Passport Needed
Skyscrapers breed, oil magnates jostle, where
Tide rushes forward, cold and coffin-grey
Seagulls and pigeons fight. No scraps to spare
Now, land of childhood, prince and silver pear
Like the Chimera's vanished in the spray
The book is closed on Minotaur and bear.
Though I could speed like any mountain hare
Turning the busy treadmill of each day
Each minute draws me closer to that lair
Whose chamber holds the learned and the fair
Mortality's the law all must obey
King Cross-Bones' Realm. The void behind the stare
As solemnly Death takes the regal chair
His horrid smiling skull will have its say
His legions conquer gaiety and care
The charmed, the charming, roses rich and rare
He tinctures with the blossoms of decay
He makes of Light and Dark a wedded pair
When Jacob's ladder beckons, that tall stair
Which souls ascend, bequeathing flesh to clay
Bones will lie easy in the moorland there
No passport needed. Nothing to declare.
The Phillipino Fisherman
I hope you will not be angry. I have followed you home from the beach and slipped this letter under your hotel room door. I see you shopping in the market and alone on the beach. Always alone.
(Like all foreign tourists, old woman, your wallet is fat. The things you buy cost a few pesos. To you, this is nothing. But this could keep me and my family in food for a week. Always, I see you are alone. I see no man with you, no child. I think maybe you are a widow. I think maybe you are like a cargo boat on the Pacific, heavy with goods. It is not good to carry around so much wealth and not to share it.)
My friends call me Phnong. I am a 20 year old education sophomore, fisherman, and breadwinner of four younger children.
(You foreigners look on a poor man like myself and click with your cameras, snapping like so many hungry gulls. You think how colourful I look in my nice brown skin, in my red ragged vest and my blue fishing trunks. But I have thoughts, too, lady. I have hopes and desires. The coral reef is pretty. lady, but its flowers are razors. Sharks shadow the pleasure cruisers, sharks that wait and watch.)
Owe to poverty I discontinued my college studies.
(I watch the foreign TV programmes in the shop windows of the city at night. I see American students leading lives like children. I see fast cars and parties. I see them having fun while their parents keep them. Why should not someone keep me? I am clever too, lady.)
I survive by catching and selling fish in the market. I belong to a poor family, lady. My mother died when I was 8. I never experience paternal love. My grandma became my guardian until her death.
(Every day I cast my net for fish that escape me. When the net is empty, I starve. Will you be like the fish, lady?)
I would like you please to be my future wife. I can make you happy, emotionally, not financially. I am a very romantic and faithful lover.)
Others, sell watches and cars. I have nothing to sell but my youth and my body. You are old, lady, When you are dead, I shall have a new life in a new country.)
You will find me down at the beach, lady. Any time. Any day. I am always there. Just ask for Phnong. I hope you like my photo. I am a clean, healthy boy.
(My cousin asks me, 'How could you make love to an old woman? I say to him he is a fool. A clever man will till poor soil for years for one fat harvest.)
I hope you reply,
I am oak. Son of oak. Of the tribe of oak. I am OK. It is OK. to be an oak. For a time, I wasn't so sure. I was far too close to Moss. Ivy was growing invasive. Three new varieties of fungi sprinted up my trunk. Wasps seemed to be colonising my acorns. A New Age Traveller hugged me. That was the last leaf. I was very upset, you can imagine.
Lately, I've been having regression therapy. It's coming along quite nicely, my regression. To begin with, stone was my therapist. He was so wise, so Freudian, just sat there. exuding wisdom, letting me exude wisdom, with his back to me as they do. A deeply evolved being, I could tell. In ten years he never moved an inch. Then I found out he was hung up on impermanence. Well I could tell he had troubles enough of his own. Weasel recommended another therapist, a hub cap. He's young, a Jungian photo-synthesiser. Ultimately he hopes to evolve into a Ford car. He was quite specific about the make. I think it's because he's a perfect mandala, the highest form of hubcap in the world.
We're coming on leaps and bounds he and I... or rather, shivers and shakes in my case. In my past lives, I've discovered I've been a telegraph pole in Auchtermuchty, a musical box in Boston, the mast of a whaling ship... you wouldn't believe the stories an albatross can tell... and a rolling pin for making scones and shortbread in Dhanakosa. It was incredibly grounding being a rolling pin, quite rhythmic. ..oceanic really, like driftwood being sucked by a sea-nipple. My rolling pin era ended when woodworm finished me off.... more holes in my sides than a centipede's underpants.
It was the hub-cap who told me to get back down to my roots. He's so insightful. It's grease does it for me,' he said. 'Gets you goin, grease.' Whatever hits the spot, as they say. So now I'm trying to return to my roots, loosen the soil, get right back down to rock bottom. the great imponderables. Just last week I'd a blip in my ancestral nurturing, though. A Druid crossed the road and stopped, right beside my stone. Well I know the stone isn't my therapist anymore, but I don't like the thought of anyone else sharing him. It's like having unprotected sex in human terms, for a tree to bare its soul to a stone therapist. What if the stone tells the Druid my deepest secrets? What if he blabs? Anyway, the Druid picked up the stone and threw him into the loch, no warning, nothing. Just like that. That's how I knew the stranger was a Druid.... he helped the stone break through to a different dimension. So I plucked up the gumption to
ask him a question that's troubled me quite a while.
Why does nobody worship me?' I asked. 'It's not much good being a sacred tree with symbolic credentials, if you don't have a priest and a ritual and a brotherhood.'
He was smoking a cigarette of some description. Smoke makes me nervous..it's a tree thing, but it seemed to improve his humour. Dragons like smoke too, but I haven't seen one of them in ages. 'For a start', the Druid told me, 'you're not an endangered species. Oaks aren't sexy. It's not as if anyone would want to clone you, there's more than enough oaks, common as muck. It's not as if you're a rain forest with a pop tune in the charts, or a whale, or a cross-toed gorgonzola. Nobody's going to bang drums and sign petitions because you're having an identity crisis. You're just an oak. Furniture potential. A coffin or two. Maybe a kitchen table. Wise up. Get a life. Have you ever considered a complete change of direction? A new career? You could be a pair of stilts... a clothes horse... a floor brush.'
I was shocked to the sap. Devastated, a Druid speaking like that to an oak like me. All my collective tribal history, spiritual and cultural significance, chopped up for kindling, metaphorically speaking, It wasn't as if I could unburden this to the hubcap, he was deep in session with a bag of crisps.... now there's a totally screwed up piece of packaging, let me tell you. After the Druid left, though, I reflected. We oaks are great reflectors. Sun helps, and it came out just then, propitiously, so to speak.
Humans, I reflected. Mm.. The age of the computer. They're all gadget-junkies nowadays, humans, with their mobile ears and their lap-taps, and their tinned sap. Maybe I don't need a priest. Maybe I don't need to be worshipped. Maybe I don't need the hubcap, even....
They're very clingy, humans, I've noticed that. They water each other occasionally. They call this crying. Sometimes they just water themselves. It goes on longer when they water themselves. Occasionally, they lie down under my boughs in twos.... once, in a threesome... and they rock back and fore. They call this loving. It's very strange behaviour. The hubcap says that's how humans procreate, he heard them talking about it when he was still a molten piece of metal. Humans are quite sadistic, too, cutting their names in my side. If I wanted a tattoo, I'd ask crow to scratch out a little something... runic, maybe the odd scrap of Ogham. I certainly wouldn't ask for "Zak loves Mary". Sometimes, a group of them squat with tins and cups around my roots, and stick triangular wedges into the hole in their head between their ears, eating, I think it is, and listen to music blaring out of a log, I think it's a log. A singing log, though I've never seen the birds that lives in these logs, nor would I particularly want to, the din they make. Humans call this 'Getting back to Nature.'
Want to know a secret? Nature doesn't want them back! They've tightened the green belt so much, all that's left of the countryside's some eyelet holes. Oh there's oaks all right... in public parks or lining the side of a motor way but not great tribes of us, like there used to be, thick as bison wandering historical plains. So, here I am, rediscovering my roots, pre Darwin, pre Druid, pre dinosaur. For some reason I'm very attracted to green. Mmmmm. And light. Mmmmmm. Yes, light comes into it, and well.. I seem to have this amazing affinity with water. Maybe I'll have to dig a little deeper.
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The Lan o Tea an Tigers: Poems fae the Muckle Furth. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 7 December 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=508.
"The Lan o Tea an Tigers: Poems fae the Muckle Furth." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. 7 December 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=508.
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