new dark nights of cold,
the clocks gone back and me
duffled and happed—
passing in Gordon Street
the entrance to Central
and through its arches
that glimpse of orange names and times
lit in their neat columns on
the electronic boards—
Birmingham New Street, Ayr—
my father looking through my eyes or that
part of me that feels him there
exclaimed, astonished, still
covetous in his bony grave
for I could board tonight
to any of those unearthly destinations
whatever train I chose
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2019. 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 2019 was Roseanne Watt.
This free-verse poem is from a group of poems dealing obliquely with my relationship with my father, who died in 2010 of complications from vascular dementia, batches of which have appeared in my two most recent books. The sense of carrying some genetic memory of the ghost of a parent is probably quite common; as if the genes are the reality, and us, merely their vessels. ‘Unearthly’ has an ironic and, perhaps, not particularly pleasant tone in this context. But poetry is an investigation into the self and an attempt at least at psychological truth, not an exposition of one’s moral goodness—despite some contemporary indications to the contrary. In a real sense, our parents die so that we can live. ‘Central’ is Glasgow’s Central (rail) Station, the busiest in Scotland, connecting mainly to stations in the south. Gordon Street runs parallel to its front entrance.
I was absolutely transported into the fleeting moment of this poem; a passing glimpse at the train timetables during a winter night in Glasgow. It takes a rare skill, an attentive eye to catch hold of that shifting sense of self which such moments can bring about, those ways in which the present and the past seem to collide inside the body. Even the words beginning each stanza become derailed in this immediacy. I read this poem many times over.