On our immigrant Canadian street
we heard at least twenty words for frozen,
spoken by snow-blonde children named for Icelandic volcanoes,
Ukrainian saints or Hungarian freedom fighters.
“Melting pot” was an American idea,
but ours was mosaic or patchwork Confederation.
Termed “New Canadians” (not white settlers, incomers or aliens)
just “new”, the right road for a young nation to go.
Two hundred years ago a proud Shetlander
boasted that his son was able
to master a new tongue in Caithness:
“De vara gue tee when sone min guid to kadanes.”
(Those were good times when my son went to Caithness)
Someone across the world may be wishing the same thing
right now, in their own tongue:
“De vara gue tee….”
For sons and daughters,
huddling from Scotland’s past
to future and back again.
Today, new in Caithness,
I drive or walk Bridge Street
with modern Vikings whose legacy is in their hair, their height, their eyes.
Modern Hallgerdas and Gunnars whose ancestors
were named from the West, “strangers, Gollachs”.
Together, we are all crossing
from Asia, Africa, from New Worlds and Old,
new strangers on one bridge (One Planet)
in hard rain and cold.
But bridges have a way of being built
exactly when needed,
where none could go before.
About this poem
This poem was commissioned by Jamie Stone, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, in 2005. It was part of the second stage of the SPL’s Holyrood Link project, through which poets and MSPs were partnered and explored areas of mutual interest.
Gallaibh. The Gaelic word for Caithness, "the land of strangers, foreigners"(Probably, the Gaels describing the Vikings)
"On the east side of it (The Burn of east Clyth) scarcely a word of Gaelic was either spoken or understood, and on the west side English shared the same fate…" - George Davidson, Minister, Latheron, 1840.
Tom Bryan comments:
This is one way of looking at Scotland as a nation that welcomes "New Scots" - of which I am one. I think there is too much bad press about illegal immigration, but I am talking about legitimate refugees and immigrants, who always add to a nation.
I was also intrigued that the name for Caithness itself means land of strangers. There are new people of Asian, African and East European backgrounds who are contributing greatly to the North of Scotland, and our New Scotland will of course include and welcome Scots of all races and backgrounds, especially since we will desperately need new people in the decades to come.
One day, on Bridge Street in Wick, I had this thought which became a poem.