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Two Trees 


One morning, Don Miguel got out of bed 

with one idea rooted in his head:
to graft his orange to his lemon tree.
It took him the whole day to work them free,

 lay open their sides, and lash them tight. 

For twelve months, from the shame or from the fright 

they put forth nothing; but one day there appeared 

two lights in the dark leaves. Over the years
the limbs would get themselves so tangled up 

each bough looked like it gave a double crop, 

and not one kid in the village didn’t know 

the magic tree in Miguel’s patio. 


The man who bought the house had had no dream 

so who can say what dark malicious whim
led him to take his axe and split the bole
along its fused seam, then dig two holes. 

And no, they did not die from solitude;
nor did their branches bear a sterile fruit;
nor did their unhealed flanks weep every spring
for those four yards that lost them everything,
as each strained on its shackled root to face
the other’s empty, intricate embrace.
They were trees, and trees don’t weep or ache or shout. 

And trees are all this poem is about. 


        (from Rain)





I love all films that start with rain: 

rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face; 


one big thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score 

before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame 


to where the woman sits alone 

beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass 

or the girl walks off the overpass, 


and all things flow out from that source 

along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong, 


so when his native twang shows through 

or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play, 


I think to when we opened cold 

on a starlit gutter, running gold 

with the neon of a drugstore sign 

and I’d read into its blazing line: 


forget the ink, the milk, the blood –
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters 

and none of this, none of this matters. 


        (from Rain)




The Infinite 

after Leopardi 


When I was young, I loved this lonely hill
with its long windbreak that hides the last horizon. 

I’d lie back on the grass and stare away
up into that vast supernal blue
and knew a silence of no earthly kind.
My heart held no fear, and it told no hour.
And when the wind went sifting through the leaves 

like so much breathing in an empty room
I’d think on how the precincts of the dead
are haunted by the living, how the present
is veined with every life it ushers through . . .
The ocean never knew a sweeter shipwreck
than my own drowning in that endlessness. 


            (from The Arctic)

On Sounding Good 

i.m. Russell L. Paterson 

Sir, know this: that you were utter shite
in the Kirkintilloch Social Club that night
when at the bidding of your next of kin
you rushed the stage and counted yourself in, 

resolved to give it laldy, your best shot,
all you had and more that you did not,
on a number you’d pinpointed in advance
with a misplaced yet granitic confidence
and a mondegreen of two words which belonged 

to the chorus of a wholly different song;
and yet my father, on your one-two-three
took one breath to exhume your opening key 

then shadowed you as with Apollo’s harp 

through your ascent from E flat to K sharp. 


But you barely heard the man with the guitar 

who guided you towards the final bar
and off into the safety of the wing
like the Dalai Lama gently shepherding 

a drunken wasp towards an open window, 

nor, as you reached your bestial crescendo 

did you see just how his providence had lent

 the guise of logic to each chance event, 

a velvet tray of right made for the wrong

 that was the alien spanners of your song. 


He did all this because he had an ear
like the sea that raised him, open, true and clear; 

so on that night, as every night, he chose
to make you sound good, or good at least 

to those who loved you; and since he had love to spare, 

your knowing this was neither here nor there. 


                   (from The Arctic)




for Stevie 


I was a boy inside this skin 

this good suit I’ll be buried in 

as we were so we will be 

mark these words as they mark me 


                     (from The Arctic)





I miss when I could drop down on all fours
and flick the ground away from under me.
I miss the wire I ran into the earth.
I miss when I was the bloom on the sea
and we slept forever under the warm clouds
till something spoiled in us twitched with design 

and woke the clock. So we arose, and went. 

Last night I rowed out to the beeless glade 

and lay down on the grass and listened
to the water lapping at the edge of things.
My sister taught me to watch the stars this way 

lest I think that heaven was up, or heaven,
lest I forget the stars are also under us
where they sink and sail into the dark like cinders. 


                         (from 40 Sonnets)





Waking with Russell

Whatever the difference is, it all began

the day we woke up face-to-face like lovers

and his four-day-old smile dawned on him again, 

possessed him, till it would not fall or waver; 

and I pitched back not my old hard-pressed grin 

but his own smile, or one I’d rediscovered.

Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin

and the true path was as lost to me as ever

when you cut in front and lit it as you ran.

See how the true gift never leaves the giver: 

returned and redelivered, it rolled on

until the smile poured through us like a river. 

How fine, I thought, this waking amongst men!

I kissed your mouth and pledged myself forever.

                    (from Landing Light)


A Winter Apple 

for Nora Chassler

Here, I got you one of those you like:
those bewildered late bloomers, tough and small 

and sweeter than they’ve any right to be,
as green as Eden, the red an afterthought
as if there’d been an hour left in the season
to paint them all, and where the brush had swept 

the snow-white fruit below is stained with pink 

as if your teeth had bled from biting it.
It was hard enough to body itself forth
with so few leaves to hide it from the frost 

without it burning fuel on working out
where its skin stopped and its flesh began.
All that touched it shook its heart. It was that
or it was nothing. Take it in your pocket
on your long Sunday walk to eat by the loch 

with that lone jackdaw only you can talk to.
I make no great claims for this little thing
but I promise only good will come of it. 


                  (from The Arctic)



I must quit sleeping in the afternoon.
I do it for my heart, but all too soon
my heart has called it off. It does not love me.
If it downed tools, there’d soon be nothing of me. 

Its hammer-beat says you are, not I am.
It prints me off here like a telegram.
What do I say? How can the lonely word
know who has sent it out, or who has heard? 

Long years since I came round in her womb 

enough myself to know I was not home,
my dear sea up in arms at the wrong shore
and her loud heart like a landlord at the door. 

Where are we now? What misdemeanour sealed 

my transfer? Mother, why so far afield? 


                 (from 40 Sonnets)


The Thread

Jamie made his landing in the world

so hard he ploughed straight back into the earth. 

They caught him by the thread of his one breath 

and pulled him up. They don’t know how it held. 

And so today I thank what higher will

brought us to here, to you and me and Russ,

the great twin-engined swaying wingspan of us 

roaring down the back of Kirrie Hill

and your two-year-old lungs somehow out-revving 

every engine in the universe.

All that trouble just to turn up dead

was all I thought that long week. Now the thread

is holding all of us: look at our tiny house,

son, the white dot of your mother waving.


                        (from Landing Light)





Zen Sang at Dayligaun

As aw we ken o the sternless derk 

is the warld it fa’s amang

aw we hae o the burn and birk

is thir broon or siller sang


Each pair o een in lift or yird

micht hae them by anither

tho’ the birk chants t’ nae baist or bird 

nor burn tae human brither


For the lyart sang’s no’ staneyraw, 

thon gowden sang’s no’ stane

an’ there’s nae burn or birk at aw 

but jist the sang alane

                         (from Landing Light)




The Coming War 

O darling do you recollect
that bright blue summer’s day
you nursed your flat white on the deck 

of the riverside cafe 


and at each mild disharmony
I’d try my latest face
and tilt my head and close one eye 

and look off into space 


not knowing, as I took my stock 

of all the hidden stars
my sight would always auto-lock 

on Saturn or on Mars 


                            (from The Arctic)



The Wreck


But what lovers we were, what lovers, 

even when it was all over –


the deadweight, bull-black wines we swung

towards each other rang and rang


like bells of blood, our own great hearts. 

We slung the drunk boat out of port


and watched our unreal sober life 

unmoor, a continent of grief;


the candlelight strange on our faces 

like the tiny silent blazes


and coruscations of its wars.

We blew them out and took the stairs


into the night for the night’s work, 

stripped off in the timbered dark,


gently hooked each other on

like aqualungs, and thundered down


to mine our lovely secret wreck. 

We surfaced later, breathless, back


to back, then made our way alone 

up the mined beach of the dawn.


                       (from Landing Light)





Breath, you invisible poem – 

pure exchange, sister to silence, 

being and its counterbalance, 

rhythm wherein I become,


ocean I accumulate

by stealth, by the same slow wave;

thriftiest of seas . . . Thief

of the whole cosmos! What estates,


what vast spaces have already poured 

through my lungs? The four winds 

are like daughters to me.


So do you know me, air, that once sailed 

through me? You, that were once the leaf and rind 

of my every word?


                         (from Orpheus)

The Landing


Long months on the rising path

I found where I’d come in

and knew the word of heat, 

the breath of air move on my skin


and saw the complex upper light 

divide the middle tread

then to my left, the darker flight 

that fell back to the dead


So like the ass between two bales 

I stopped in the half-shade

too torn to say in which exile

the shame was better paid


And while I stood to dwell upon

my empty-handed quest

I watched the early morning sun 

send down its golden ghost


It paused just on the lowest step

as if upon a hinge

then slowly drew the dark back up 

like blood in a syringe


and suddenly I did not care

if I had lived or died

But then my hand fell on the lyre

that hung dead at my side


and with as plain a stroke I knew 

I let each gutstring sound

and listened to the notes I drew 

go echoing underground


then somewhere in the afternoon 

the thrush’s quick reply –

and in that instant knew I’d found 

my perfect alibi


No singer of the day or night

is lucky as I am

the dark my sounding-board, the light 

my auditorium


            (from Landing Light)



The Air 


What is this dark and silent caravan
that being nowhere, neither comes nor goes;
that being never, has no hour or span;
of which we can say only that it flows?
How was it that this empty datastream,
this cache of dead light could so lose its way
it wandered back to feed on its own dream?
How did that dream grow to the waking day?
What is the sound that fades up from the hiss,
like a glass some random downdraught had set ringing, 

now full of its only note, its lonely call,
drawing on its song to keep it singing?
When will the air stop breathing? Will it all
come to nothing, if nothing came to this? 


        (from 40 Sonnets)




For months I’d moved across the open water 

like a wheel under its skin, a frictionless
and by then almost wholly abstract matter 

with nothing in my head beyond the bliss 

of my own breaking, how the long foreshore 

would hear my full confession, and I’d drain 

into the shale till I was filtered pure.
There was no way to tell on that bare plain 

but I felt my power run down with the miles 

and by the time I saw the scattered sails 

the painted front and children on the pier 

I was nothing but a fold in her blue gown 

and knew I was already in the clear.
I hit the beach and swept away the town. 


        (from 40 Sonnets)



A Fraud 


I was twenty, and crossing
a field near Bridgefoot
when I saw something glossing 

the toe of my boot 


and bent down to spread 

he bracken and dock 

where a tiny wellhead 

had broken the rock 


It strained through the gap 

as a little clear tongue
that replenished its shape 

by the shape of its song 


Then it spoke. It said Son 

I’ve no business with you. 

Whatever I own
is the next fellow’s due. 


But if I’m his doom
or Castalian spring – 

your directive’s the same: 

keep walking. 


But before it could soak 

back into the stone
I dropped like a hawk 

and I made it my own 


and I bit its slim root 

until it confessed
then swallowed its shout 

in the cave of my breast 


Now two strangers shiver

under one roof
the one who delivers
the promise and proof 


and the one I deploy
for the poem or the kiss. 

It gives me no joy
to tell you this. 


        (from Landing Light)


The Eyes

When his beloved died

he decided to grow old

and shut himself inside

the empty house, alone

with his memories of her

and the big sunny mirror

where she’d fixed her hair. 

This great block of gold 

he hoarded like a miser, 

thinking here, at least, 

he’d lock away the past, 

keep one thing intact.


But around the first anniversary,

he began to wonder, to his horror,

about her eyes: Were they brown or black, 

or grey? Green? Christ! I can’t say . . .


One Spring morning, something gave in him; 

shouldering his twin grief like a cross,

he shut the front door, turned into the street

and had walked just ten yards, when, from a dark close, 

he caught a flash of eyes. He lowered his hat-brim

and walked on . . . yes, they were like that; like that . . .


                             (from The Eyes)



The Way We Were 

Having made the error of finally agreeing to lunch with L. – what had it been, twenty-three years? – 

let’s say the horror was mutual. That’s a lie. She was still beautiful. Her shock was ill-disguised, though. 

Thereafter I stayed home. God, what I’d give to be yesterday’s man again! 

I miss those long afternoons by the dead phone, with a Martini that never seemed to shrink. 

I told Jarvis that I should not be disturbed, retreated to my den, hooked the shutters 

and took up my station on what my wife used to call ‘the loser’s couch’, the one with the built-in surround, 

before she left with the dogs. I loaded up a bunch of psychogram loops, turned on the wallscreen 

and settled back. Initially, I confess, mostly with my pants round my knees, watching old drunken one-night stands

or those first dates when the two of you, still strangers, went further than you’d ever dare again.
Goddamn who was that handsome young buck? Though I 
worried about ageing even then. 


Mostly the loops ran in 16K, and some had enough 3D data to frontform VR so I could watch them with the headset. 

So much to see that I missed at the time: the couple fighting over money in the corner, 

the wood-pigeon on the branch outside the bedroom, the flailing elm in the window in the 8-ball. 

And I could wind back as far as I liked: I recall when I was imaged last year the mnemographer 

remarked on what must have been the generally rapt quality of my attention, 

as if I’d known the day would come when I’d be doing nothing else. 


Anyone using the phrase ‘making memories’ unironically should be shot in the head 

unless they only have a year to live, and their kids are very young. Still, I was glad I had. 

I blew the last cheque from the streaming revenue for Half- Lives on Jarvis’s severance, 

a year’s worth of IV nutro I could just piss back out, and three new modules for my Mnemosync 

that would allow me (a) to re-render the loops as first person (our memories are all of someone else) 

(b) to sub out my kainotype for my palaeotype and (c) to implant active AI into up to five simultaneous agents 

within any given scene. Armed with all this, I could insert my waking self directly back into those bright vignettes 

which I could not only play and replay forever, but live within, as in a lucid dream. 


I should probably mention at this point that I was always an early adopter. 

The guy too keen to download the beta, or camping on the sidewalk to be first in line 

for his half-working piece of shiny crap. I guess I love the future. It holds such promise! 

It just always turns up a bit too early, a bit too good to be true. A failure at the lab to calibrate the self-imaging algo 

meant that the star of my home movies kept flicking between then-me and now-me, 

leaving me in a narcoplegic lock until it self-corrected. Because I could now only see myself from the inside out, 

the effect was initially comic: me, stuck on the park slide, with the parents yelling Get that old wino off there 

or my liver-spotted hand up in the air, proudly answering a times table quiz for Mrs Garland. 

Others were just depressing. That day at the lido with Mum and Dad, thirty years older than them both, 

the two of them trying to locate a facial expression of tender revulsion, and failing, and failing; 

or that first kiss with L. – at the hedge behind her house, and her – sixteen, like apple blossom, 

her mouth pliant and cool with cheap white wine – springing back in horror at the whitebeard with the loose teeth 

and the tongue down her throat. Worse was looking down at our naked bodies, latched like some sick white crab 

praying she wouldn’t open her eyes before I could waken my hand on the escape key. 


Yet I am already looking back on these as the best of times, as for days now 

I’ve been locked in a two-second glitch-loop, where I am stuck with my mouth on the full breast 

of my young beautiful mother, who looks down at me and will not stop screaming and screaming. 


                              (from Zonal)





Scott Paterson, b. – d. Oct. ’65 




The Gellyburn is six feet under;

they sunk a pipe between its banks, 

tricked it in and turfed it over.

We heard it rush from stank to stank, 

Ardler Wood to the Caird Estate.


Scott said when you crossed the river 

you saw sparks; if you ran at it 

something snagged on the line of water.



It was Scott who found the one loose knot 

from the thousand dead eyes in the fence, 

and inside, the tiny silver lochan

with lilies, green rushes, and four swans.

A true artist, he set his pitch:


uncorking the little show for tuppence 

he’d count a minute on his watch 

while a boy set his eye to the light.



One week he was early, and turned up 

at the Foot Clinic in Kemback Street 

to see a little girl parade

before the Indian doctor, stripped 

down to just her underthings.


Now he dreams about her every night 

working through his stretches: The Mermaid; 

The Swan; The Tightrope-Walker; Wings.



They leave the party, arm in arm

to a smore so thick, her voice comes 

to him as if from a small room;

their footprints in the creaking snow 

the love-pact they affirm and reaffirm.


Open for smokes, the blazing kiosk 

crowns old Jock in asterisks.

He is a saint, and Scott tells him so.


        (from God’s Gift to Women)






An inch or so above the bed

the yellow blindspot hovers 

where the last incumbent’s greasy head 

has worn away the flowers. 


Every night I have to rest 

my head in his dead halo; 

I feel his heart tick in my wrist; 

then, below the pillow, 


his suffocated voice resumes

its dreary innuendo: 

there are other ways to leave the room 

than the door and the window 


        (from Nil Nil)

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