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.

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 fourth, 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!'

Cloud, Moon and Reef

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

Gruff murderous pirates, the vice of Blind Pew,
The trampling of night horses:
A gift that's handed 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.

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.

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 

Furth, Fortune

Boots up on the van's dashboard,
Watching the wipers slapping at the rain,
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.

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.

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,  with 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.


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 -  I remember
As if it were yesterday, and laugh out loud.

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.


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.

Whisky glow in the local hotel
With a literature-loving waitress;
Here,  take this,  my business card:
Consarutanto in Katakana -

Show that to old George Robertson,
Let the language master take a bow.
The link between illusions
A landfall in the Tao.