Epiphany Sunday *For J.A. (4/01/2021)

Because no home is not linked to other heartbeats

A reminder of hope, of purity of purpose

Thread the gut of misery in this new Lockdown.

The wee Nativity is put awa*

This home’s window birthed with flowers

An icy rain beating against the glass.

The Janus-birthed storms will be as chaff in the hurricane

What has no ask, and no price will last

It is all we leave, all we would be

As the man within could always feel and see.

*Awa-Scots: away.

Journey Home









Journey Back from St Andrews March 2018.

A fuse, a dud wire or a twist in the guts o the radio?

In the spirit of the machine

Who knows as I kick it back hame.


No tunes, no Springsteen or Mellencamp

(Car Radio deid as thon Scotland match in Moldova)

Yet, it dings, it skelps the inside o my skull and soul:

A wee pairt at the clanjamfrie o Stanza in St Andrews.


Shots, keepie uppies, penalties, players, managers, World Cups

The losses, the wins, the legends, the joys..things well-manicured pundits cannae destroy.


They arrive and twist grey matter an thocht tae cerebral spaghetti

Wi faces like Bremner, an Jordan an Ormond an *Norrie himsel

Nae tae mention a Baxter or Larsson or some ‘fabled’ Dumbarton FC thoroughbred chiels.


They tackle and nip and harry my every turn and rumination

Far, far mair than just poet inclination.


As the twin baps o the glowering Lomond Hills pit aff Big Tam Forsyth

And Scott Brown gies a dunt to a sleeping Italian defender

I realise that I am ready. Warmed up. Prepared

For a guid second hauf…


*Former Captain of Dunfermline Athletic Football Club-Mr Norrie McCathie

Scots: hame-home; dings-rings/echoes; skelps-smacks/hits; mair-more; gies-gives; dunt-a hit/kick etc; guid-good.

Thanks to Mr Jim Mackintosh.

A View of the Sea



The sea is roiling and a grey essence runs through the turbid water. Leaden clouds hasten across the clash and froth below.

Sheila is having a cigarette on the path leading down to the small harbour beach. She is outside the café set inside the old Harbourmaster’s House. The Sunday shift is busy as people and some tourists come off the coastal path walking along the seashore of Fife; they are in for a coffee and what there is of their small selection of soup, sandwiches and cakes.

Brenda, is in charge is in a bad mood as the sandwiches due for delivery have not arrived. There have been a lot of apologies to customers and some hurried work with baguettes and some bread she had bought to fill in the ‘Soup with a Sandwich’ gap.

She has about five minutes for her break. It’s only three-and they always get a rush before they shut at 4.30pm. The old dears, the old ladies are the worst. Most are widowers. They’ve come out for a Sunday drive and they mean to milk every last tea drop from their time. Most are fine, some show what they would have been like thirty years before. Still sour.

Sheila’s thoughts got to funerals and black again. So would I if I was on the wrong end of the Grim Reaper’s shopping list; Eddie’s anger now depression was getting to her.

Christ, that’s her back to death again. Eddie’s bed in the Victoria Hospital came into view. He was due the move to the hospice next week; they would have room then for him to get a bed.

Like a tree felled. Never a heavy drinker and smoker he was shrinking before her eyes. Diane would greet for an hour at the house after she had visited her father. Chatted him no problem-big smiles and everything while she was there.

One minute. She had better go in.


The old harbour where Sheila works saw boats go across to Holland and beyond even before the old Scottish Parliament shut up, she thinks. And now they-those that have riches want a change. And yet it seems the poor get it in the neck. His army pension and army pension should be enough but Diane’s wee one has that hip problem and needs extra.

‘C’mon Sheila get the lady the latte, now. And the coffee cake too, mind.’

The customer in question looks at the outstanding bully that has matched the ancient surroundings with a distinctly historical foul presence.

Her dark hair and calm eyes take Sheila’s attention as she wrestles with the coffee maker and watches a noisy family of four enter the arena.

The lady’s raven black hair is tied back in bunch behind a green and yellow blouse that has songbirds arranged on it.

The coffee is finished and the unsmiling Brenda-with that long boned drip of a face looks to tend to the ménage that has just entered.

Sheila gets the things arranged on the plain tray at the till. A small creel boat leaves the gnarled maw of the harbour and heads into the Firth of Forth waters.

Taking the ten pounds without looking into the woman’s face she feels the warmth first. Then she speaks as her wrist is held.

‘He will be fine. Your husband is a good man. Don’t worry.’

The tone, is mellifluous like the surge of water left by the seals she sometimes see come into the harbour’s mouth.

The lady sits at the window seat in the corner but two metres from the till.

At the counter there is a metallic English voice talking about rabbits. It comes from the pram wedged between father and the older son. The device talking to the toddler is lodged, a sliver of silver between his arms. The buggy he sits in is being tipped up now by the older brother.

It keeps Brenda and her words busy.

Still stunned but not really surprised she takes over the change the lady undoubtedly left for her. The nearly four pounds rests lightly in her hand. The April sun bounces of the waters that still seem stirred by an underground wrath.

Sheila pauses, still sweating and looks into her eyes. A family with a beautiful brown spaniel walk by. Less chaotic than the present inmates.

‘Here’s your change. And what you said…’ Sheila uttered as she made sure her back was toward Brenda whose face was showing the strain as a small orange was dumped on the tray by the elder boy.

‘It’s the truth. I know. And you’ll see it is,’ the lady said with a reassurance that no doctor intent on getting on to the next job had ever shown her in the last six months.

Sheila says, ‘Thanks. Enjoy. Still rough out there’

Going back to the kitchen. Sheila noticed the two ladies in the other corner but six metres away from the lady who had taken off her scarf like she was walking the carpet to the Monte Carlo casino.

The two old ladies smiled at her. One took a sip from her tea and nodded. Sheila gathered the detritus from the one table that was now free. The pieces of cake that even the seagulls might have left unharvested drew Brenda’s eye.

She tutted and nodded toward it.

‘I have to go now,’ and Sheila turned to get her coat from the back, ‘I told you I had to be at the hospital. You’ll have to get it. Or sweep it later.’

The open mouth and wrinkled bony brow was a fleeting enjoyment.


A week later. He died. Just went. He’d been at peace. Just a day in the hospice where the nurses had been great.

She would phone Diane and his remaining family later.

On the way back in the bus the streaming rain sends rivulets sliding down over the window. They seem warming, like a small sea.

Pine Flakes of Us


They are the seeds of our green fringe-

The pine trees, slivers of essence

They are winged micros

Pared elliptical spirals into here:

The square concrete and steel of human nests.


They mark another cycle:

Death, renewal, birth and awakening

As their girth grows, ours weakens.


The August sun splits the early evening

As a grey squirrel dashes over the fence

Like an office worker in Adidas trainers

He is all frenetic energy and need.

Kingdom of Fife Menuki


Menuki 目貫 [めぬき] are the ornaments that are found under the handle wrap on katana and wakizashi.  They define the character of the sword and can tie the owner to the sword.  The Menuki can be replaced when the tsuka (handle) is re-wrapped.

Hardly the placing of a katana or its menuki near violets

Not here in the clarity and bone-brittle spring sunshine

No ancient murmur in step and pulse like Okinawa.

Yet the placing of a pad near red-skinned herbaceous fingers

The noticing of the bare silver birch, the opening applause of blossoms

It harkens a speed to the toil and labour of stance, strike

Breathe and breath to give life to kata, pattern

A rhythm.

Lomond Hill Run

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It tested you that gut wrenching run

Up from the village keeping tight by the pine tree line

Burst a lung and cerebellum over rock, mound and mud

West Lomond’s skirts demanded blood, sweat, dying legs.


Knee strip support and mair* rests than Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’

Means I can still make it-

See Perthshire and the guts of Scotland beyond

Savour that kestrel level view forever.


Mair-Scots for more.

Christmas Shopper

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This piece appears today in The Herald (Glasgow, Scotland). Good to have a wheen of readers across the nation.


Level to my car carapace eye

Five robin body lengths away

The blackbird guzzles yellow jewels.

Stuck as the rush of bipeds with bags

Goes by this atavistic duel

He eyes me as shoppers pass, motors run.

A yellow ocular rim gives his stare power

Mine bigger, less focused, mindful of the other.

Swallowing the berry orbs offered

He yields not a bit.

Relents to the green interior

His adversary is moving:

A fawn-coloured Mini has muscled in

Into a queue fat with the unnatural fuming.

A Different Ending

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Her mother in Kolkata always used to look at the sky, rainy season or not and dictate what the family had to wear for university or school. When they went to the Botanical Gardens in the city near the Hugli River the necessity of cooking the right foods and correct shoes was a must. And her Grandma’s samosas were just perfection.

Daksha is out for a walk. It is an expedition for her. When the weather is right, here in Fife she will venture from their bungalow round to the small row of shops that are on the edge of the industrial estate. The expanse of window factories and workshops starts as their small town finishes.

The covering of the sari across her head will do. It is December but mild. The wild misery of the rain whipping across the country and kingdom have stopped. Today, Sunday it is quiet. The boys-their grown-up sons are busy with the cars in the driveway and her husband is working in Edinburgh. The animal laboratory has an important-and rushed job for the Department of Agriculture.

The small field near the roundabout that she walks near to get round for her walk sometimes has deer in it. Once a kestrel sat making its own film while young rabbits ventured beyond their mother’s control. She thought it must be young as the beak was overly yellow, she thought so anyway. A biologist, she was not an ornithologist.

‘Was.’ It is the past tense, she thought, as she carefully crosses over the road that bent round toward the first corner in the estate.

A stint in Penn State University teaching and the lectureship in Poland. Yes, she thinks she has been luck. And family. Above all, family.

The anomaly of an atypical carcinoid, this would kill her. Not a benign tumour but one as aggressive as the fighting at Partition that had killed her army father.

The twilight of this unusually warm December could allow her to walk slowly. Though sometimes she still got a strange look from the various garbed gym visitors who jogged, ran or drove past her as she went on the walk.

One time a nice young girl had asked if she was okay. The pain that day had been terrible. The operation had been a total failure. Private hospital or not. The operation had taken place in Edinburgh. Proficient-they had not been. Like cancer, respect and reality sometimes did not go hand in hand.



The circuit has been completed. Daksha is tired and her elegant movement is more stilted and almost a limp might be seen if someone was watching her.

The walk back into Coaltown is a short one. The wall of their garden can be seen as she turns the corner onto the straight road into the village.

Two women-obviously ‘Power Walking’ come toward her and pass vigourously without talking.

The gritty surface of the old pavement sounds out her steps back to home. In the field she sees the wild cherry tree at the back. It is heavy with berries. The sodden earth in the field beyond is churned by the small Shetland ponies.

Her sons moan every time she mentions the ‘poor wee ponies’.

The street lamps are lit by an invisible hand as she is some twenty metres from her gate.

From Ainster tae Pittenweem


It was the Pittenweem Fishing Festival
A chain o ladies in bunting would link the towns:
The fishing boats would grace the Firth of Forth
A line o trawlers and ithers fae Ainster tae Pittenweem.

On the bow o the lead lady
Heidin oot as the Isle o May looked on
Ma faither piping Highland Mary or Scotland the Brave
White palmed applause ablow fae a douce* watter;
Nae lik the savagery we kent in December or January.

Drinking lik Vikings aw wid enjoy whatever weather
The gods gave and even the grey seals took solace
As the water and land became one.

*Douce watter-soft/calm water.