Let’s do something you’ll never tell
your friends about, my convenient wife.
Read me theology until holiness runs
deeper than my sackcloth and cassock,
take me to the back street barber
to see about my beard, and then let’s
split up. It’s too late for me to bugger
off to the Episcopalians and become
a bishop, which is all you ever wanted
through the jumble sale years,
when asking ‘What would Hegel do?’
was your answer to everything.
I will save my hairs in this leather
wallet labelled, Relics of a Saint,
ready for the bells and smells
of futuristic Edinburgh – cat-calling
choirs rattling pails after closing time
among winged taxis and unfinished
tramlines, like a cut of Bladerunner
directed only by CCTV cameras –
a confusing place to be religious.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. 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 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.
Mackenzie is a protean writer, whose poems run from straightforward narratives, to playful satires, to those with more complex diction and syntax, under the influence of New York School poets. This curious monologue (perhaps from an alter ego?) is one of his more satirical pieces, taking a potshot at religious fads and futurology. Interesting to note that, far into the future, Edinburgh still has unfinished tram lines!
I spend more time than is good for me reflecting on what kind of religious faith might take root in the urban haze of twenty-first-century Scotland. Partly that’s just a human reaction to apparent meaninglessness, partly it comes with my ‘day job’ as a Church of Scotland minister. Can we become trapped in a role others expect us to play? The poem closes in what I hope is an entirely recognisable grey winter evening in Edinburgh during the city’s disastrous tram project, which has meant years of uprooted roads, crazy diversions and the bone-crunching racket of machinery. The characters are fictional; the anxieties spring from some dark corner of my psyche. I had watched Ridley Scott’s movie, Bladerunner – the Director’s Cut a few days before and it appeared to me that there might be similar challenges to being a minister in Edinburgh and carrying out the same role within the movie’s landscape.