Bhithinn nam dhotair, bheirinn leigheas ’son do phian,
bhithinn nam thidsear, chuirinn faclan air do mhiann,
bhithinn nam bhràthair athair piuthar màthair nighean mac eudail
ann an saoghal far ’n robh mo bheatha prìseil’s feumail.
Nam dhùthaich bha mi beannaicht’, gam bhiathadh le gràdh
ach san dùthaich sa tha agam ri bhith cadal air an t-sràid:
sa Bhroomielaw, sa Bhowery, fo Dhrochaid Hungerford,
mo làmhan dathte le rotach’s m’aodach cho rag ri bòrd.
Chan eil mi ’g iarraidh bhith an seo ach chan eil roghainn agam,
thillinn ach chan eil dachaigh agam air fhàgail.
Am faca tusa riamh dròn, cogadh catharra,
beairteas fàgail do dhùthcha anns a’ mhargaid dhiabhalta?
Bidh am First World cliobhar creachadh stòras às gach tìr
gus nach eil sion air fhàgail unnt’ ach gainnead agus dìth.
Bha dùil agam gun robh mi deis ’son gach cnap-starra ‘s strì.
Cha robh, ach ge b’oil ler taigh na galla, bidh mi aon là a-rithist.
Ach chan e seo na chì thu ’s tu air do shligh’
ach cupan cofaidh Subway, làmh neo-airidh dhut sìnt’.
Chan eil m’ Issue mòr gu leòr dhut; ’s mi nam shuidhe ro theann
chan eil truas unnad, ’s skiver, scrounger, shirker, economic
migrant nad cheann.
Tha mi tuigsinn g’ eil thu ‘g obair gach mionaid dhen an là
gus Louboutin chur air do chasan ‘s iPhone nad Iàimh,
no fiù ’s do chlann a chur gu spoil, do phàrantan a chumail beò,
le prìs gach rud ag èirigh ˋs caitheamh na th’ unnad de dheò.
Ach chan e carthannas no sochairean air a bheil mi an dìth –
chan eil mi ˋg iarraidh dad bhuat ach cothrom dhomh fhìn.
Nam dhùthaich bha mo theachdraidh nam làmh fhìn,
’s ge b’ oil le ur taigh na galla bithidh aon là a-rithist.
Nad àite, cha bhithinn-sa cho coma-co-dhiù,
oir co-dhiù tha mise tuigsinn mar a chaochlas gach cùis.
Mì-fhortan bh’ ann a dh’fhàg mi ‘n seo mar sgudal air an t’sràid,
‘S tuigidh mi gum fàgadh fortan thus’ an seo nam àit’.
Chan fheum e bhith mar seo, faodaidh sinn uile fàs nas beartaich’,
tha sinn ceangailt’ ach chan eil sin ri ràdh gu bheil mi ‘g iarraidh
ach an cothrom a bhith beò, gus cothrom a chruthachadh
dhomh fhin ’s dham charaidean’s aon là,ˋs dòcha, dham
Cha tàinig mise beò tro bhochdainn, fhòirneart ’s murt
‘son bhith lobhadh anns a’ ghuitear taobh a-muigh ur cùirt;
chan e stataistig a th’unnam a thèid aithris air Tbh.
Cha d’ rugadh mi air do shràidean; cha bhi mi beò orr’ a-rithist.
Translations of this Poem
I could be a doctor, give you pills for your pain,
I could be a teacher, put words to your desires,
I could be a father, brother, sister, mother, daughter, son, lover
in a world where my life was thought useful and worthwhile.
In my country I was blessed, surrounded by love,
but in this country I’m left to rot on the streets,
on the Broomielaw, in the Bowery, under Hungerford Bridge,
my hand stained with streetgrit and my clothes stiff with grime.
I don’t want to be here, but what choice do I have?
I’d go home, but there is no home waiting for me.
Have you ever seen drones and civil wars,
wealth leaking away from your country in the bloody market?
The First World strips resources, efficiently, from each land
until there’s nothing left in them but need and want.
I thought I was ready for every obstacle and campaign;
I wasn’t, but despite all your fuck offs, I will be again.
But that’s not what you see, when you’re walking the streets,
but a Subway coffee cup, and the undeserving poor.
My Issue’s not big enough, I sit a bit too near you,
and you have no pity for us skivers, scroungers, shirkers, economic
I understand that you work for every minute of the day,
to keep Loubotin on your feet and an iPhone in your hand,
or just to send your kids to school or keep your parents alive,
with the price of everything rising and consuming your life.
But it’s not charity or benefits that I need –
all I want from you is my own opportunities.
In my country my future was in in my own hands,
and despite all your fuck offs it will be again.
In your shoes I wouldn’t be quite so complacent
because at least I understand how tables can turn.
It was misfortune that left me flytipped on the street,
and I know that fortune could take you instead of me.
It doesn’t have to be like this, we can all get richer,
we’re connected but that doesn’t mean I want your riches,
just the chance to be alive, to create my own chances
for myself, for my friends, and maybe one day for a family.
I didn’t come alive through poverty, violence and murder
to be here outside your court rotting in the gutter.
I am not a statistic to be reported on TV;
I wasn’t born on the streets; I won’t be alive on them again.
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.
Even if – like me – you don't speak Gaelic, the rhythms of this acutely topical poem can be seen on the printed page, and carry over into the English version. The refugee casts scorn and pity back in our faces, and tells us we live in a world that implicates us in their trouble and can at any time land us in a similar place. It would be to our advantage, almost as much as to his or hers, to change these circumstances.
‘A-rithist’ was one of two raps commissioned by Kevin MacNeil and Jim Sutherland for Struileag/Shore to Shore, their musical exploration of emigration and the Gaelic diaspora. I’d never dreamt of writing a rap before and it was an odd experience to write for a specific voice I hadn’t invented myself, for someone who’d have to inhabit this persona. Luckily I was able to speak to the rapper, David ‘Corvid’ McCallum, a very impressive learner of Gaelic and Irish from Canada, before starting on it. And as we discussed migration, one thing we agreed on was the iniquity of the free movement of capital without the free movement of people, and how, through forces far beyond their control people could find everything they knew – their homes, families, countries – changed utterly overnight: this became the kernel of the song. Since it’s a rap, with convoluted internal rhyming, the English text is necessarily only a crib.