That sound outside, near Sandyhills bridge,
along Barnhourie Burn, a high wild wailing
winding down to a long low growl of echo,
has me up in my chair, neck hairs tight.
You’d tell me it’s a heron out on the scope
for sprats, perhaps a dog fox losing its head
to the vast dark freedoms of a Galloway night.
Part of me wishes you here with your
brush-off urban logic, dismissing
superstitious whims of banshees, bogles,
shades, you who are out there, somewhere,
unaccounted for too.
Yet part of me thrills, the part
still too unsure to rise & draw the curtains,
like a vole forced into the bright
desperation of winter moonlight
on untrammelled snow, fearfully
seeking proof of something other
than its tiny self on the go,
trembling, held somewhere terrible
between warm safety, hunger
& the old need-to-know.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2015. 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 2015 was Ken MacLeod.
Listen to the vowel sounds: ‘a high wild wailing/ winding down to a long low growl of echo’; the hissing consonants after ‘brush-off’. What in us thrills to the unexplained, and holds our irrational fears close?
I returned to live in Dumfries & Galloway in late 2012, after 14 years away & having written no more than a handful of poems in that time. Within months, poems began appearing regularly & haven’t really stopped. Many of them were collected in Border Lines, a 36-page pamphlet published by IDP last year. All of its poems are centred round the area, one of Scotland’s great hinterlands, the bit that most folk miss as they zoom north up the M74 in search of the living tea towel that is Scotland. Which is a shame. It feels as if Galloway still has one foot in a wild & mysterious past, just off the main roads, where the borders between then & now, here & somewhere else, blur & fade as the light goes & you can almost hear the timid present gralloched by a far darker time…