Privilege or necessity of age
 this twice or thrice nightly quitting
 warm pit for a slash in the dark?

Not that automatic
nocturnal quest to the loo and back
I woke to hear my father make,
   heavy tread past my room humming
   childlike under his breath
        Oh Jeezy-beezy loves me
        the Bible tells me so
and wondered that he went so often ...

Years tell not in the mind but in the bladder.
It's a reminder
who's in charge here
as one unzips the tent and stumbles
turf thrust wet between toes,

      to sway  stop  stand
      upright in the night
      streams of oneself back to earth.

I find myself
   upright in late middle-age
     a mast stuck into the ground
bracing the billowing
     spinnaker of night
as the dark hull of this island
      sails forth with constellated sails …

Cockleshell image, I know!
    Couped by the first critical wave
but wonderful to float within
for the duration of a pish.

Damp soles dried on palms,
back in my pit,
first offices of the night performed,
I smiled at the dark and sank.
Andrew Greig

from Found at Sea (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2013)

Reproduced by permission of the author.
Andrew Greig

Poet, novelist, sometime mountain climber and musician, Andrew Greig has faced dangers that have enriched his verse.

Read more about this poet
About Pish

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2013. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2013 was David Robinson.

Editor's comment:

We're on an abandoned island, camping overnight with a friend after a short trip from Orkney in an open boat – a voyage which, in Andrew Greig's Found At Sea becomes a celebration of friendship, a life-enhancing mini-Odyssey across the worrying swells and currents of late middle-age. I chose this poem for two reasons. First, because its unaffected, meditative joie de vivre is rare enough in long-form poetry (or indeed on the Traverse stage, where it transferred brilliantly in February 2013); secondly because it's a reminder that poets should be confident enough to be able to tackle a wide range of subjects – even clichéd images and inconsequential (or are they?) memories that might occur while having a piss.

Author's note:

This poem marks a playful interlude in my micro-Odyssey poem sequence Found At Sea, based on an open dinghy voyage from Stromness to overnight on the abandoned island of Cava. It is wonderful to wake up on an empty island, and one of the great and elemental pleasures of tenting – and one of the few pluses of late middle-age – is getting up in the night for a pee. When Tam Dean Burn and Lewis Howden performed this at the Traverse, Tam remarked it was probably the longest pee in theatrical history (some 7 minutes, including music). Men especially seem to relate to this one. The memory is of my own father, 'a wee homage'. Another homage is the echo of MacCaig’s ‘A ludicrous image, I know’ from ‘On the pier at Kinlochbervie’ – a poem I knew he was pleased with.