A paper lantern on a balcony
in one of those old Edo evenings you
have read about, perhaps. Kabuki, tea
and blossom, wavering: do or not do.
The blank space in between the letters of
a broadside ballad, from our green country
where everyone must watch their own true love
wed to another. Mottled ivory.
The faded columns of the Parthenon
stripped bare of marbles, battered by the flash
of Turkish gunpowder. Magnesium
on fire: a pallid, self-consuming rush.
Or icing, glaciating down a cake
outside this room in which all eyes are drawn,
mothlike, towards a tea-light in white fabric
among the kilts: a garden in Japan.
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.
It’s a cliché that a bride is ‘radiant’ and the ‘centre of attention’. This poem’s succession of precise, complex images shows there are always fresh ways to describe a familiar sight and situation. Its controlled use of rhyme, and its inside turn from the last line back to the first, tap a toe to the dance it implies.
I write a few different kinds of poems, from wilfully weird exercises in Scots macaronica to relatively straightforward pieces in rhyme and metre. This one is in fairly regular quatrains. Looking over it again, I’m struck by the haiku-like, imagistic way in which each correlative for the dress is introduced, then left hanging, without a copula or ‘like’ simile to bridge the gap. The poem is also circular, coming back at the end to the Japanese garden scene from the opening quatrain, which is now contrasted with the similar colours of a Scottish wedding. I can’t recall much about the writing of this poem, but seem to remember these things coming about serendipitously, without much forethought on my part.