Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Here, he went under:
the canal swallowing him in one gulp;

wrapped in reeds, the pike nudging him on.

Scots warrior.

...and in Valhalla
the stag Eikthyrnr stands proudly on the hillside waiting;
whilst Valkyries bear flagons of ale  -

never such a home from home!

poet’s funeral
the piper blows a lament
snowdrops’ heads hang

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Tucked into the Tuscan hills:
cradle of the Augustinian movement;
now an enclosed community of nuns.

through the leaves
the sisters'

They greet us with such joyous smiles,
enhancing the encompassing silence, making every movement an insinuation of God’s presence.

her childlike hands
wrapping my rosary
...ten knots

Their infectious happiness (witness Sr. Guerrini's modern-day cartoons).

drenched in laughter:
the flowers
they tend

Eventually, as they return to prayer  (their work in, and for, The World)
they sneak a quick( and perhaps pitying) smile through the latticed screen as we leave.

compline  -
shining stars
in the dark vale/veil

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Scythes sing through the corn;
the sheaves are bound and stooked (reservation of tiny wigwams).
One old clydesdale snorting, trudges through clouds;
pitchforks hoist and glitter in the sun.

I stand mid-photo holding Jack’s bridle, a townie romantic,
never wanting the day to end  -  but it has ended!

The bothy is empty, horsemen gone, with their secret words, their squeeze-boxes and ballads.
No more, the tinkling bells of harness, or sparks lighting the dawn mornings, as jack stamped the cobbled yard, impatient to be away, to drag a plough and a hundred gulls behind him the day long.

The millstone leans a weary shoulder against the old cottage, the plough, gone to rust, stands red amongst the roses gone to briar.

I return the sepia photograph to its rusty nail on the stable wall…and go!

the earth
rising in great waves
gulls’ screaming

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Trudging through dripping pines, and knee high ferns, we arrive:
an old gamekeeper’s hut  -   here the  gralloched deer hung and bled
(a groove cut in the floor letting the blood run back into the earth);
now  a nine foot by five foot crucifix takes up all floor space; the life- size Christ resting on the timbers, head lolling  -  as once the great stag, his blood drained from him, stared out from under the thorns of his tines.
We gather round the cross, the old man holding one nailed hand, and we enter that
silent and timeless space: prayer;

whilst beams of light criss-cross through the slatted windows,
fixing  an eternal hologram.

treading on a chestnut
the shell breaks
...little crown of thorns

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


The building broods.
Windows scowl.

Every stone sits uneasily on its mortar,
willing itself away  -  to be  crushed to dust, then blown by the winds out to sea; there to sink back into the ocean, to forget that they were ever a part of the evolutionary road that led to such beasts!

out from his grave
horrendous thistles:
grave of the torturer

Monday, August 22, 2011


Old miner.
I remember the day you took me below ground for the first time,
hurtling down and down in a rusty cage, then walking the dripping wet tunnels
for a mile, to meet up with your gang working at the face.

It was at this point, you turned our head lamps off, so that I might experience true darkness: everything but consciousness disappearing  -   a moment in eternity (sadly none of the others were aware of it)  - awareness freed from the World; from this identity I'd taken to be me; from everything; only IT remaining, aware of itself (the great journey completed)  -  the Zen Master’s
'only ever this!'

Guru, I salute you, on this, the day of your funeral;
going underground again  -  but there’ll  be no ‘lowsin time’.

touching his coffin  -
in the dark wood
loving eyes

                                                                      Note:  ‘lowsin time’ – finishing time.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


They swim now, face to face in the calm waters of a glazed frame:
two seahorses.

I remember the day - a beach in Portugal, a little boy sidling up to me, asking, if for a few coins, I would like to buy:  holding out in his hands, these two delightful creatures, gentleness shining out from them.

I’d see him every day after that, wandering the beach, searching for the unusual to sell to the tourists  -  tiny breadwinner.

He will be a man now, and I often wonder, whilst looking at the seahorses, if he himself finally found calm waters, and if that gentleness still shines out from his eyes.

in the city
still hearing the sea
in grandmother’s shell

Monday, August 15, 2011


The dark rocks of Donegal:  
not unlike my own country, although perhaps not so mountainous
(this is the land of my wife’s people).
a flinty lot we Celts; maybe this is why: looking out on this hard rock for most of our lives.

Back here for a few days, and overwhelmed immediately by the perfume of peat smoke (or turf as they call it here) lazily rising from every early morning chimney:
that sweet smell of forest and vegetation perhaps thousands of years old!   -
the mason building his dolmen; the scribe etching his letters as the priest dictates;
the warrior-farmers, sharpening sword and ploughshare, all peer out from these mesmerising plumes.

Back for the festival: bars bursting with banjo. bodhran, fiddle and flute:
9/8 time slip-jigging out from every door. The balladeers; the story tellers, with their druidic tales of princess and unicorn, battles and magic  -  the childrens’ eyes big as saucers (a few adult tears).

The Celtic family gathered again around the hearth, re-tapping the root, connecting
to a past that is always present for us  -
when we leave, we leave only in the sense that the river running through the village races away, yet remains the river running through the village.

the moon tonight
fit a fingerboard
what a banjo!

(after Sokan)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


this land of happy people, of dancing people:
everywhere the quivering rhythm; the seduction of bongos;
and everywhere they stop me to ask if I’m related to ‘Papa’  -  Hemingway that is  - it seems I have a look of this most honoured of men here in Cuba.

Later, in El Floridita, sure enough I find a bronzed Hemingway (literally) in his usual pose, leaning on the bar, patiently waiting for another daiquiri (I believe sixteen at one sitting was his record). After the mandatory photographs with him, I enjoy a mojito, and reflect on the many fine stories he wrote; the sad ending to it all, and the stories that might have been.

Later as we leave, we meet an old beggar lady in the street: calloused hands that lived through a revolution, reaching out to us, imploring  -  we suspect for money  -  but not so, she is asking, it seems, if we have a pen or pencil for her  – sadly we don’t:

but I leave, wondering what stories have been lost, for want of a pencil!

bongos beneath the moon  -
a bright peso
in a dark calloused palm

Monday, August 8, 2011


I remember mornings down by the harbour, not so long ago: the squealing of winches, jibs swinging their shimmering loads on to the quay: a silver hoard of herring (lying there, open-mouthed, staring at the land.) until: the lightning flash of the fisher-lassies’ gutting blades; their salty songs and tales; bubbling laughter; innards scattered back to the sea  -and the gulls, the ever screaming gulls (snowstorm on a summer’s day) drowning even the winches skirling, to bloody their beaks.
Boats rising, and falling.  Contentment!


Nothing here now but rusty jibs, broken creels, and two boats sunk in the sand.

The songs and laughter carried out to sea long ago.

A tattered net hangs its grid against the sky, where occasional gulls move from square to square, in a slow game of draughts.

old men
gaze seawards  -
glitter in their eyes

Friday, July 29, 2011


Slowly she goes  -
as though each step might
spin the Earth to brightness,
wandering her own uncanny by-ways  -
where we are the shadows and sounds that terrify.

Is it him she searches for  -  her golden-haired lad;
him who lay with her, and danced with her, and lit up her days;

the golden-haired lad: John Barleycorn,
who breathed on her wits?

in the silence
the closing door
the turning key

                                                      notes:  Gartnavel  -   Mental Hospital in Glasgow
                                                                   John Barleycorn:   whisky   

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Twenty-five years on:
we are back for a visit to the Airborne war graves in this little Dutch town close to Arnhem.

The military precision of row upon row of head-stones  - 1,759  young men, mostly in their twenties: UK. Polish. Canadian. Dutch. Australian. New Zealand: sons all.   
I remember my own son pondering awhile, then:
‘they’re like swans daddy, their wings spread, trying to rise from this terrible clay; imagine daddy, if they did rise, if all the swans in every war cemetery in the world rose from the terrible clay, it would darken the sky, wouldn’t  it, daddy?...

falling leaves
children throw sticks at them
tears in my wife's eyes

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A bundle of feathers weighing nothing;
a wraith leaving no footprints in the snow;
stumbling on until he reached the valley of bones,
and stood there with others, in their desolation, dripping sadness.

However, their agony became his cure:
befriending them he listened to their stories,
(forgave their tall tales) gave them strength each day to see beyond their particular story; gaining strength himself as a requirement to be there for them.
Eventually, one by one, they left that place;
leaving him to close the door on his own memories, and come home.

Today, whenever he meets a homeless person he still listens to their story  
because, as he discovered long ago, our stories are not who we really are.

staring into the mirror
the old man
tries to remember

Monday, July 25, 2011


Jazz festival:
wandering through the old city square for the first time in many years,
(here, the music, as in the old days, is still free)
searching faces for recognition, but finding none.

Even the bands whose names I do recognise are full of old men: the odd beery-red face; bald heads hidden under baseball caps  -  total strangers at first glance.

Later, in the pub, I’m astonished to find that I went to school with most of them!
(I see the same astonishment in their eyes).

As I leave they are playing ‘Bad Penny Blues’  -  perhaps I shouldn’t have turned up!

outside the pub
an upturned tuba
inside, upturned jazzers

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Wakened again by the morning bell, and the burring of wood pigeons.

Peace of the early morning cloisters.

The Sun, burning off the mist from the Tuscan hills, reveals a beauty that has everyone singing in the showers.

Home again, to this 12th Century Monastery, restored and maintained by the Augustinian Order, in this delightful hilltop town: every year we arrive for a week of ice-cream, wine, pasta  (and some prayer!).

Dreamy days/daze:

meditating to the hymning of the bees amongst the blossoms, or the flute
of our German Buddhist friend who comes to play for us (sometimes our own piper joins him).
Later,wandering the cobbled streets renewing old  friendships:
a grappa here, a grappa there, (a grappa everywhere!)  -

ah!  Italian hopsitality


full moon  -
a midnight
ice cream

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Feeling the warmth against my lips again - the ever increasing heat,
the sounds becoming sweeter: deep throaty growling, rising, rising,to
the higher screaming notes; the increasing rhythm; tongue darting in and out.
Wow! After fifty years still got it (perhaps a little too breathless, and maybe not the driving power, but not bad ) -

fifty years on, and I can still knock a tune out of my old cornet.

jazz session  -
raindrops zigzagging
down the window

Monday, July 18, 2011


Here was Spring flowering on a marble branch,
a lion yawning in Summer heat,
birds  pecking at stone berries,
alabaster dogs stretched at his feet.

Deaf and dumb, he had no language of his own,
but was shackled to this alphabet of stone, this gallimaufry  -
not unlike God himself.
A little man covered in dust (making a ghost of him before his time) wrestling with granite generals and marble maidens; working up a thirst, which he slaked over lengthy lunches, arriving back a little unsteady,
      (I imagine)

extended lunch  -
the statue

A lovely young man…
the bloody arc from his hammer traces itself across the ceiling;
down the wall.
His mother lies broken, broken that she may not be privy to his shame;
the love of his life lies broken on the turn of a card:
had it come up trumps she could have slept on, as it was, everything was now lost
and he couldn’t have her waking to it tomorrow.

‘A lovely young man’, my mother kept saying
(keeping  the outrageous act at a distance)

whilst his step-father went out and bought himself a gun.

A last photograph  -
her murderer
kissing her cheek

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Shanghai: everywhere I went students would approach me, and pointing to my beard enquire (as best they could) if I was a professor.
On informing them that I was simply a Scottish tourist, they were not too disappointed, and excitedly started asking about ‘Braveheart,’ and where was my skirt!

A week later, wandering the streets of Hong Kong, we accidentally wandered into the red light district, and when the ladies approached me there (as they did)
It was I, who helplessly stroked my very white beard, shrugged my shoulders, and sent them on their way giggling  -  AH WELL!

incense to the Gods
drifts into the square
bathes the mah-jong players

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


They seemed to cherish silence - each at either side of the hearth,
never breaking breath  -  even the kettle spluttered  its Gaelic, but not them  -
gold of the Gael was this silence.

When silence came to cherish them nothing changed: at each of their wakes, they lay by their own side of the hearth; he as though he had just come in from scything;
she as though she had just finished making crowdie  -  nothing more.

What is eternal, is the silence,
out from it another kettle splutters  -  in English.

empty glens
stone and wind
lamenting                                                           note: crowdie: cottage cheese


The first snow of the year falls on her cheek, her eyes stare beyond us
(struck dumb and useless for all our sophistication).
A motley group of youths are gathered round her now, some gathering up her spilled shopping, the oldest one  -  aglitter with nose-rings, ear-rings, eyebrow rings  -
starts to apply mouth to mouth resuscitation; until finally, exhausted and realising it is useless, simply cradles her in his arms until the ambulance men arrive, when he hands her over  -  and her dentures from his pocket.

Then off into the blinding snow,
with the taste of death on his lips.

her cold flesh
by his living warmth

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Crossing the Mojave Desert we stopped off at the old mining town of Calico.
This once thriving silver- mining town, became a ghost town when the miners moved out in the 1890’s; since the 1950’s it has become more of a themed area  -   most of it restored to look as it did in the 1880’s (one of our party actually worked on the restoration, and showed us  his old  Stetson, still hanging there on a wall in the store, after the passage of some twenty-five years.) Nevertheless it was still exciting to wander the streets and imagine the old-timers working this area. Inevitably we ended up in the saloon, where we enjoyed a glass of Sasparilla;
Unfortunately, there was no honky-tonk piano punching out ‘Careless Love’ or the like, which would have perfected the scene.
Heading back to the bus, we suddenly came across, what was the thrill of the day for me: a group of chipmunks, working furiously in the shade of an old ore-truck –  digging up buried treasure.

sunset  -
rusty mine machinery
merging with the hills

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I remember him well, with his long horse’s skull of a face
and the sad suffering eyes.
We lived in fear of him, with his ‘quick draw’  belt  -  no strolling  over to the top drawer of his desk for him, no, he carried it with him at all times rolled up in his pocket, a black coil of pain readily leaping to hand.
Sad, really that it’s this bleak picture one has of him, for I’m told that in later years
He became quite a successful poet:
wandering Elysium fields filling buttercups with sunlight;
friend to birds and toads;
they even say he was very humorous  -  hard to believe this of our old antagonist.
Pondering it, I can only believe that he, like us, just didn’t want to be there!

school's back:
of tiny dramas

Thursday, July 7, 2011


A few hours in Fukuoka:
we headed for Shofokuji Temple  -   Japan’s first Zen temple.
Arriving early morning the only life we encountered were the sparrows
having a sand bath at the old temple door: a building standing since 1195, when Eisai brought the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism (and green tea) to Japan from China
(how many sparrows in all that time?);
taking off my shoes I crept into the new meditation hall for a few moments of silent meditation

clouds’ shadows
move across
the polished floor

Setting off again we had another ambition to fulfil: our first tasting of saki.
After much wandering we eventually spied a hostelry across a busy thoroughfare and    
waited at the crossing.              
Suddenly, as the lights changed in our favour, the air was filled with very loud music (signal to cross) 
astonishingly, what was playing was the Robert Burns song:
‘Coming Through The Rye’: the ploughman poet’s work still appearing
In the most amazing places -  as with his contemporary, Basho, whose frog is still plopping into pools all over the world  -  truth of the simple life!

With the arrival of our sakis we raised a warm one to Burns and Basho,
and later, a cool one to J.D. Salinger  -  who had also got in on the act  -
(after all it was the fourth of July!)

first saki  -
Santoka's haiku
swim past


You have re-strung the harp of Gaeldom,
and it is firelight dancing on red hair.
The spear once broken in the glens  -  all
the light in the world glitters from it today  -
the lightning of the waters is no longer cold silver in a creel.

You carried your tabernacle  -  sun of love by day;
flame of freedom by night  -  into our time , and wander now, Bard,
by the streaming tide; turning pebbles, and turning the turning of pebbles into poems;

and the deaf (such a one as I)
cry and ache to have one word of them  -
that would burn in the breast, like a young man’s first dram.

highland stream                                           
its purling

                                                        note: dram: measure of whisky

Monday, July 4, 2011


Crossing the Sinai Desert our guide stopped the bus
to show us one of the few remaining oases;
suddenly six Bedouin children appeared from nowhere,
holding out to us large platters on which were spread the most amazing agates;
urging us to see!  -  see the wonders grown out of the desert’s silence:
the crystalline brain of the hidden purpose.

Later, our guide explained to us how the Bedouin people were the first people to
introduce Islam to Egypt.

the Bedouin boy
splits the rock for us
shows its jewelled heart
  (for Miles)   

Night streets itchy with intent:

alleyways anxious to unburden their illegitimate offspring:
a drunken brawl or a stiff corpse.

Suddenly:  the air abubble with bop: a trumpet  -
what wizard! what shaman! weaving from his own soul
this amazing sound?   -    here was spirit trying to break from clay;
a rustling forked-lightning translated into music;
a minstrel wandering new by-ways  -


the pain born of slavery
was always at the cutting edge.

to New York
black cats and blues

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Whisky is the flame he warms at
while his hemisphere tilts from shadow to sun to shadow.

A tongue of song for his friends
(who are corn to its scythe as quickly!)
sings now by a cold hearth.

Sad schizophrenic.

Street-corner orator,
mocker of the church:  ' all its baubles and beads...   its opiates...'

dancing now to silent music.

Marx, his hero, would shy away from such a sight:
a ‘party-member’ who, with nails of gold,
has manufactured a crucifix.

tin horn blues  -
a drunk vomits
into the litter-bin

They grip the image in their young minds
like new moon’s silver,
and wish their childish wishes for her.
They try to set yesterday’s emptiness
against today’s fullness, and reflect
(as we all might): the World has worked a wonder.
Each mind’s grindstone strokes and strokes
her to a jewel, until  the light
from the finished facets glitters in their eyes.
They are dumfounded by it;
each head is a spinning top  -
the World swirling to the one colour  -  her colour.

Later, in the midnight hour,
cradles of bone nod her to sleep  -  and them.

against the baby’s head:
the mother’s cheek

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Her needles are quiet now, a silence has come over her  -
what dream or nightmare dances in the hearth’s flames: his childhood,
his youth, or finally, him lying open-mouthed , eyes staring, riveted to the ground?

The clock ticks (drip of his blood).

He is always there in every reverie: a boy running, already
crippled from the blast, running, running, until a red star smashes through his forehead
(she’s stretched forward at this, gasping: ‘barley’ ‘barley’ but no, not in this game.)

The clock strikes;
suddenly she’s out of it, asking:
‘where’s time gone?’
‘A dinner to make!'

…soldiers’ shadows
across his
staring eyes

                                                                                        Note:  barley: a truce term

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


On that day , she got into her car and drove down to the seaside;
taking off her beautiful birthday coat she folded it, laid  it neatly on the shingle and  walked on into the sea.

They found her weeks later caught between rocks on another shore.

Naturally her parents retrieved the coat. It hangs now in her favourite charity shop:
a dejected looking thing: shoulders slumped, sleeves hanging lifelessly.
Many have admired it, some have even tried it on , but nobody buys.
The sales lady tells me they complain of a strange sea-like smell…

(or, perhaps, fear-induced perspiration)!

in the
sea's sigh

Friday, June 17, 2011


New Orleans  -  made it here at last; living in the French quarter,
Bourbon Street no less!  -  a sixty-year-old kid with a lollipop.

Burgundy Street, Canal Street, Basin Street,Decatur Street, what a litany:
strolling them all, chewing on a stalk of sugar-cane
(that kid with the lollipop again).

Later, in one of the most famous venues for revivalist jazz,
we were amazed to come across a notice by the dance floor: NO DANCING!
Here, bathed in a music invented for dancing to: NO DANCING!  -
how ludicrous!

Having had a couple of mint juleps earlier, we danced anyway!

pomposity pricked
to the tune of
'when you're smiling'

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


They found him swinging  (a clapper in a wooden bell) in his workshop.
Everything tidied, and the note written in his usual beautiful script  -  a love note!

We are left to reflect now…ah! Reflections:

His pale moon-face in the window...
Her pale moon-arse waxing and waning above her young lover…

They found him swinging…

Christmas bells  -
a dead friend

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

(for AT: banjoist/artist)

It was to be a poem with a banjo in it;
a knocked-over barrel of apples of a poem;
a New Orleans rag from 'Auld Reekie'
But, all I could remember of your banjo
was the wall it hung on: black  -  a mural of Belsen:
skeletons shimmering,
like uncanny constellations;
and I wondered if it is still there,
hale, and lurking below layers of wallpaper;
a comfortable Constable;
and a flight of ducks.
Still there,
shimmering yet,
that flight path of madness.

the tune lingers  -                                         
the stretched skin

                                                  note: 'Auld Reekie' : ancient name for Edinburgh

(contemporary haibun July 2011)

They come,
dressed in robes of silence,
dressed in robes of love.
Faces weathered;
calloused hands gathering in the four quarters
In a blessing.

The wind sighs,
sighs round this shelter built by remarkable men
(hands shielding the candle’s flame)
who came to stone and bankered and broke the iron granite
for the love of God.

A shelter built; a world within a world; a body given up.
Remarkable men, moving into the darkness
shielding the flame.

monks chant
wind howls 
silence undisturbed

We worked at ‘heads’ until our own spun, and thought it the end of the world
if we took a corner off, or ‘poxed’ a stone altogether.
Worked out in all weathers, ‘head’ after ’head’ after ’head’; and always ‘himself’
standing glowering  -  a hard man, turning the air blue with his cursing
if his billy-can wasn’t boiling on time, or mocking the blood dripping from a mangled hand.
Standing, always standing with his straight-edge, all eyes for hollow or chipped arras;
grumbling back out under his armpit  -  ‘do it again’, ‘do it again’ ,
until once he would say (reluctantly) ‘ it’ll do’  -  just that  -  ‘it’ll do’
and the air gave out its bells with a sigh.

Since then  it’s been a lifetime of shaping stone: dragging from prehistoric clay:  angels’ wings; senators’ beards; huge breasted women; tracery as delicate as lace;
fine work, work to be proud of;
and he’s dead long since,
who shaped us

old mason
coughing, coughing  -
the young ones eye his tools

                                                         Notes:     ‘heads’:  dressed end of a stone
                                                                           Poxed:   ruined

An old sepia photograph: the stone-yard.

All the masons gathered, some puffing on their clay pipes,
some snuffling their snuff, some raising their billy-cans.

Four stand prominently, proud as any barber-shop quartet: with
their curled moustaches and thumbs stuck in apron-tops;
ready to face anything (as, sadly, they did in 1914).

Beside them my own grandfather stands, pointing to his banker:
wondering, no doubt  -  who’s taken his mallet!

left as a gift
his carving mallet
finger-grooved handle

                                                                        Notes:            banker:  work-table