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