Fireside Spectacular

Late-night with whisky, the biscuit-tin reverie -
Shadows in hats on a harvest field
And a letter from France.

The worst already over,  and no illusions left.
A final fusillade of entertainment - 
We were all phantoms.

Whir and ting 
Of the crofter's clock,  an heirloom,  
Enthusiastic on the mantelpiece.

Cloud, Moon and Reef

Bed, and a book, in a night-boat, glimmering,
Torchlit and lifted on the jewelled tide
Of Stevenson's imagination.
Treasure Island  caged the midnight fear -

Gruff murderous pirates,  the vice of Blind Pew -
Spectral in solitude,  whirled under hooves -
A gift passed down from claw to claw,
The painterly extravagance of nightmare.

Oh flattery of Hollywood -
Welcoming Shout of American Poetry!
Limo! Freeway!  The Lot -  on Warner Boulevard
Magnesium light,  an ominous migraine.

Rewrite man,  washed up to write
At lamp-lit desk throughout the night -
Marooned where once the treasure lay,
A forehead-clutching castaway.

Cocaine.  Entrapment, lawyers, debt.
There is no gold.  Reach bedrock, sweat -
Dumbfounded,  as when Bill Bones finds
The Black Spot on his palm.  Struck blind.

There's no escape.  The dreamer,  home,
Still hears Flint's haunting cry -
You're one of us -  thus dead men taunt the dying.
An empty boat turns slowly on a grey lagoon
Gathering rain.

The Heroic Age

Books are celestial;
Required on every voyage,
A trunk with maps and curios,
Hearts bound with triple brass.

Pot-bellied Innkeeper,
Doctor and Squire -
Proprietorial laughter,
Claret,  beef,  port.

A private world of eloquence,
Felicities in Latin;
Heavy coats and walking-sticks,
Church bells and sin.

Vibrant language radiant
From London to the Hebrides,
With genial enlightened Hume
An image of how human

Life might be.
The low spark on cobblestones
Lights up the fond
Rambunctious literati.

Memoirs of the Sage of Rogart

The Gulf Stream brings warm rain and the seeds of palm trees;
Old Tom Morris's Tain is arrayed on the resonant shore.
Miller arrives with a crunch of gravel, fills the doorway.
Glenmorangie, late lantern-light, and treasure,
Sketched ammonites, Victorian geology.

Moment of ritual stillness; a splash of seal or dolphin.
The hickory whoosh.  Stevenson's stylish Forgan woods -
We're stride for stride - rattle in handsome withered leather. 
On the dunes, in slanting rain, we shelter in a doorless shed,
And listen to the weather; now hailstones pound it. 

Turn inward, homeward.  Circling ghosts and gulls;
Remote high cries in the gale on linksland: 'Found it!'

Scenes and Legends

It's 1856
And Stevenson is six years old,
Absorbed in eerie Highland tales
On Christmas Eve.

Nearby,  Miller in his study
Collapses on a cryptic note -
A fearful dream;
I must have walked.

Exhaustion in a book-lined room,
A loaded pistol.
Surging shadows in the firelight,
A hairy-knuckled hand.

One last walk,  
Wave-lashed along the harbour wall;
Red coals erupt in rain from the lava crust -

Adrift in primeval mind,  
But outwardly respectable
He must have walked.

The Whisky Mind

November night after the cold river,  when warm
In the stone kitchen MacDiarmid's voice was talking,
The gamekeeper's kind-to-me wife put a tray of biscuits
And a specially-made cup of tea into my hands.

The men were talking kindly,  drinking whisky,
And no-one was angry with me for being there.
Old Mr Ross put his feet up on the silver bar of the range -
Unbooted,  socks dishevelled,  the heel and toe darned.

MacDiarmid,  philosophical,  launched into ardent poetry -
Resonant,  unstoppable,  the fiery certainty of the whisky mind -
Shouting across the Cairngorms to our pre-eminent
Precambrian and Silurian hills,  where we were transfigured -

Immortals,  enriched by the poor rocky landscape
And the oldness of everything.

Gallic War

strath of rogart -
walls of books
and latin homework,  
caesar and great-aunts. 

uncle -  treasurer, glasgow;
brother on argentine ranch. 
grants and murrays graduate
in flinty aberdeen. 

lairg's muddy main street -
once nothing, 
now something
seen for the last time

troop train
sleeping fitfully
the waxworks vividity 
of stations at night 

Desert Island

A well-stocked mind for a serious century -
Ledgered,  libraried,  life after life.

And where did it get me?
Festubert.  Wytschaete.

Reassembled from fragments,  a hard case;
Anarchic,  an echoing shell.

Furth, Fortune

Boots up on the bountiful haycart,
Dreaming of France -
He's lost among the cherry trees
All ghostly white.

Dear Mrs Gray,  I cannot tell you
What sorrow it gives me to write this letter,
And I know what it must mean to you...

The auctioned farm, 
The spotless house,
The daughters in empty dance halls.

Distinguished on the War Memorial,
Long lichen-covered names -
Unmentioned men,  disowned buffoons
In permanent disgrace.


I am the one who was shipwrecked
Off the coast of Africa;
Who saved the life of Lovat's daughter,
Swept along by the Beauly in spate.

I have inherited the Second Sight -
The same fine bones, a tendency to silence,
And the confidence that comes from knowing
Impatient death will have to wait.

Leaves of the same book,
Leaves of the same tree;
The thing that's looking out through all our eyes
Plays on, disguised as me.

Fiddlestick's End

We drift from sandstone houses
On a raised beach above the firth,
Crunch in warm boots through a picturesque blizzard

Swirling under street lights
To eventually descend on Alasdair's house
At the foot of Castle Brae,
Glenmorangie in every pocket.

Fire in the big room, unstoppable musicians.
In the kitchen - close the door -
The talkers, and the New Year phone calls
From exiles in England.

Out on the hills to see the dawn,
Cloud-hidden, ice on the roads.
Driver and passengers, sun-dappled,
Snore in a ditch.


At heart a Murray,
Made frae girders.

What is to be done 
With the rose-growing poets
Describing each other as important
In the Sunday Papers?

To hell wi' happiness  -
See 'em grieve!
More Scotch!  More ice!
More fire!

And the Prose of Stevenson

Imagist,  arabesque -  Old Bill Bones'
Inn on a cliff,  a china-blue sky,
White linen snapping in a cold spring wind -
His memory or mine?

Chaos has invaded the Admiral Benbow,
Pirates are wrestling in the room downstairs
And  my father is dead,  or useless,
My mother is crying -

As if it were yesterday -
Spindrift,  within;  
The illusion of time.

Blind Pew and Borges dance like Astaire
In the brain of the old divine,
Tap-tap-tapping forking paths
On a clifftop of the mind.


Seaforths in monochrome
Vanish into sunny wars -
A variant on Walking Tours
Gone upon alone.

Bound in cheerful cloth
I set out westward -
Bicycling The Best of Myles

By Dante and the Lobster
Held motionless
By the spears of the little gate.

Halfway to Paris!  I lean on the rail
Lit by the luminous wake.


Sydney to London to Inverness,
Car-hire to Helmsdale.  Inland,
Over moors of heather and grey rock,
Farther north and winding west

To a bone-littered beach -
There's treasure not yet lifted;
Links golf,  Atlantic surf,
The music of previous lives.

Stockaded by the fireside,
Feet up,  Glenmorangie glow;
Maggie leans over the table, 
Positioning the teapot -  Oh,   

Pipe-smoke,  the Way of Words,
And Stevenson's elusive I                                                                                                        Orchestrating flapping sails
And youthful sky.