Days After

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Five days after Burns’ Night

It is pay day and the wind gods

Tear across the Kingdom of Fife

Like a possessed Roman legion resurrected

Fife Power Station beams and shines

A bug-eyed leviathan coming out the mirk;

Where once thousands of miners dreamt of better

Some leaving to bleed in *Spain

Driving home the bone-dissipating damp lifts

Fissures in the complacency of those whose position

Whose wealth means everything the

Food banks, the lack of sovereign movement means


* Fife and other Scottish miners fought in the Spanish Civil War

San Francisco Garage


The flight on an Air Canada plane seemed peopled by a few passengers uninterested in any return to North America. The air seemed freezing for the entire flight and the air hostesses hostile to the idea of personal service. The palatial and glacial emptiness of the stopover at Toronto airport didn’t go down well either.

On arrival at San Francisco airport the feeling I had was of unease given the journey and the wait for someone to turn up.

Her arrival. Meeting me at the airport my business contact was lethargic. She barely spoke and said the vineyard owner had been unavoidably delayed. She didn’t say why. I had flown slave class on the plane where my six foot frame had lost touch with its own leg circulation as I slept like some intestinal worm. I was tired and wanted to get to my hotel before we/I would cross the Oakland Bridge tomorrow.

I had been, was, a green keeper in Scotland who had worked three summers in California in a vineyard. After fifteen years soil and course management my American cousin had helped get me this job in the Napa Valley. I would be on trial for six months then they would propose to support my Green Card application at the end of a nine month period. From the intense slate skies of autumn to the searing heat of a Californian summer.

We headed on the freeway while my head was still seeing grey skies and the shrunken roads in Scotland.

The soft top convertible we had gotten into had the chink and slide of automatic seatbelts. This turned out to be deceiving. As we drove along she said,

‘The front left is kinda soft. I think we have to stop and sort the tyre.’

We turned off the freeway at the next turn off and headed into what was an anonymous street with a few stores or shops and a bar with a rusting and faded neon sign outside.

We pulled into a gas station. The booth was manned by a small guy who looked bored and unable to cool himself down.

The lady who was maybe over fifty looked at the tyre while I stayed in the false iciness of the air conditioned Mitsubishi. The lady went to the booth and spoke to the guy. He looked up and pointed strongly to the vehicle.

‘I got the car here and they won’t call someone to come fix this tyre. I have had nothing but problems.’

She was sitting in the driver’s seat. The air conditioning was now off. With the time difference and the heat I was tired. The company was closed as this was a Saturday.

‘I am sick of this crap with this garage. And the apartment.’

She began to weep. Quaking and fumbling in her purse she gulped air.

‘Can I help? What is it? Is it the car problem? I can get a taxi to the hotel.’ I said.

It seemed a long time before she swept back her bobbed red hair.

‘No its fine. The landlord at our apartment is wanting us out and our lawyer turns out to be wanted for fraud when she ran another company under a different name.’


The car engine had to be started as the heat was so intense. This was not a foggy day she explained. She was finishing wiping the smears of the mascara and explaining the owner of the vineyard would see tomorrow. I small car pulled in that looked like an old Datsun. A man got out and headed for our car.

Her short stare out the front windscreen and a held breath got through to me as I fought a sore head.

‘Terri, you gotta a problem. I read the message about you being here and being late’ the man said.

The smell of booze was reeking of him and the words had a slurry end on them.

‘I just finished at the airport.’ More reek of drink.


They went around the corner to the snack stand. I got out and went into the 7-Eleven store across the busy road. Feeling like I had gone somewhere light in my head I spoke to a tall guy who seemed like he should be on an NBA court.


After translation from another guy he got me a phone in their small office.


I got back and sat in the car. The sweat on my head and back was running in lines.

‘I’ve arranged for a taxi, Teri. Now don’t be worried. I’ll be saying not a thing’. I said to her when she sat back down and turned to speak to me.

The small car had headed off with her husband perhaps walking with his head higher than before.

I got the taxi to the hotel. The cable cars and view of the Bay with Alcatraz seemed false. Drinking a beer in the hotel bar the aches and tiredness in my head didn’t hide things from me. I’d probably be back in the grey, the sleet and the wind that can cut on a Fife beach.

Six months to learn. Feel a different dirt under your nails. And the boss at the golf course had said give him a ring if you needed it. He’d said that at the leaving party they had all organised for me.

Listening to the bar staff they warned a Japanese tourist not to carry his camera round his neck down at the pier. You had to watch you see.


*Screived in response to UK wide publicity that the origin of the English language was found and this was to be celebrated in a proposed museum.

The origin has been foond

Nae a gilded an bejewelled place of valour an gowd

Lik the Queen’s RP English

Naw the Scots leid’s birthin neuk is thon:

Hunners o years ago a bairn named Malcolm

Hid a skelf in his finger-a wee ane…

His cry o sairness an pain..

‘Weeh’ becum ‘wee’ an a leid was sterted

alive an kickin

The wirds hid thair DNA

An Rabbie Burns nae e’en a glimmer

Wid gie it a hansel as did Fergusson

Later Mackie anither Makar wid put his ain polish on

Scots…sittin gey weel an smert

On tap o Arthur’s Seat an the Billowness*

Watchin the threapin fer the Independence tae cum.

{Gowd-gold; leid-language; neuk-corner; skelf-small splinter of wood; hansel-gift; Robert Fergusson-Burns’ ‘father in the muse’-from Edinburgh; Alastair Mackie-a Scottish Makar/poet who taught me and passed away in 1995; *part of the coast in Ainster, Fife)



The ground is rough, wet and pulls at the ligaments

An evening karate practice in the January maw of darkness

A first kata then *Kanku Dai where possibilities beckon

A rooting for a release of the finite into

Space where power, speed as one energy

May submit to your own art


A glaring wash of van headlights stutter

Flow and fell any concentration, movement

Both feet of mud and clay stop

The mind busy with a lack of any path to the sky.


*Kanku Dai-meaning ‘to look at the sky’

Pillar o Hercules
Female and male helmeted, mini-Hermes
The pair flutter in French green coats
Beaks polished and poised to pick
Crumbs at the Pillar of Hercules bench
January rain has worn a trench below us
And a scale of dropping notes
Is a thread of liquid music
a Pacific under their flights
A Length of dark below their relays
Alongside us, coffee drinking
Wrapped up
thinking of Monday
And a race where no wings exist.




Karate. Kata. Movement and easing the body’s joints into this January day. A young blue tit watched unafraid as he did Godan then Sochin. Like an expert rock climber it hopped along, gripping the sheer face of the fence as a friend watched from the small silver birch beyond the fence. It was only four metres from him.

He is out on the grass near the road at the back of the flats. The frost has been severe and the sharp January sun is welcome. For the first time since he moved to these new flats the gritter has come into the estate. In their low lying area which is marshy and where years ago deep mines bore into the Scottish mantle they get all the rain, fog and frost.

Entranced by the small bird’s fearlessness he lightens the kata movement. The road beyond is light with the Sunday traffic. On the other side of the road is the path that leads alongside the road.

Beyond the fence where the bird is a bay shaped patch of earth which is planted with small shrubs. It is next to the pavement that loops round the corner of the estate with the road. At the end of this patch of earth he sees the small West Highland terrier with its owner. He is a tall man. It’s been years since he spoke to him.  He thinks it was maybe five or more years ago. He had come to the door with a leaflet about his daughter’s birthday. She would be twenty-three. It would also be her last. She had cystic fibrosis. The leaflet was to say she didn’t have long and we could donate to a charity. No asking for pity and the picture of his daughter was of a girl as happy, open and alive as a father could hope for. A businessman it was taking all his control to be light and business like.

Everyone knew each other by sight, by the car huddled in its familiar parking space or the pet they had to exercise. But everyone is the walking wounded somehow he thought miming his friend’s occasional mantra.

Just before the tree line began they stopped. It was only about another eight metres away from where he was practising. He had leant down to the dog and spoke.

‘It’s been six years and a day now, Fergus,’ he said.

They soon moved away. And by now the bird and its kid brother had left and the birch was without its winter tourists. He finished and picked up the makiwara and washing basket and headed round to the front.

He wondered when he could say hello to them both as they walked out of the estate.

Auld Mary


Auld Mary sits unmarried but ready

Her blue carapace is immaculate

And celebrated by the giddy throng of seagulls

Her white sides are bridal white

Curvaceous opposite the strand of DNA like cloud

That lingers over Edinburgh and her Salisbury Crags

Other Maidens have been where she bides

Hynd, Kingfisher, Eastern Dawn and Cubbie Braes

They all like the Monarch sat in this *harbour.

*Dysart Harbour, Fife

Up to Old College


Up to Old College

In the twenty years he has worked in Ghana as a lawyer Scotland has changed. A Parliament at the bottom of the Royal Mile and partial earthquake damage all over Edinburgh as they went back to the past with trams being re-introduced.

He had come home to die.

His first wife-and only one had disappeared like ducks off Holyrood Loch when his prostate cancer had first been diagnosed. Married at forty-five and deid or dead by fifty-five he wondered as he entered the Old College square-home of the Law Faculty, here, at Edinburgh University where he had studied.

The place had been cleaned up and made more amenable to a city where its volcanic bones gave way to the independence of the east in Fife and the rolling fields that would meet the sinewy and rich weave of the Border lands.

His work. Wills and the avarice of the close knit human animal gnawing away at itself. He had tried to steer a democratic and common sense approach amid the travails and joys he had witnessed in his time. Five years in Dundee then the amazing Francophile existence and chaos of Ghanaian Africa.

From the stone steps where Conan Doyle had come down a student made a small crease in her forehead. The older gentleman in the tweed jacket and brogues swayed from hip to hip as looked at the student services door from the middle of the square. Almost like an African sway.

The light May drizzle took a swirl as a Forth born wind eased down.

Storms Over Time

Walking the harbour walls in Ainster*

I can feel yet the reek of death from

The fishing boat out to lay creels caught itself

A ripped and shattered fabric when righted

No human crew left.

In Toronto at the Native museum I saw

how easy the ice claimed lives

In South Africa I walked in charred ruins

A township house gone fire become savage

As the cooking oil was burnt for warmth

It seems there is aye the storms come winter

They bring a warning from the past and the past yet to be made.

*Fishing/tourist town in Fife

Malawian Heid Malawian Head


Malawian Heid

Malawian Head

It sits mony toned and bonny on the desk

Its sits many toned and attractive on the desk

The sweet-breid aroma o the wuid thrangs itsel through the years

The sweet smell of the wood works itself through the years

The Malawian wuid-carvers cairved it on bare five pund

The Malawian wood-carvers carved it on barely five pounds

A week in a winter heat thon meltit ma spine!

A week in a winter heat that melted my spine!

Jist ablow the stream whaur men an wummen wur kept apairt

Just below the stream where men and women were kept apart

The morning ablutions feenished wi a decorum that befitted the Auld Coorse Hotel

Breakfast room

The morning washing routine done with a decorum that matched the Old Course Hotel.