I keep the heid. I’m cool. If asked - but you never ask - I’d answer in tongues hinting of linns, of Leven, Nethan, Kelvin, Cart - but neutral, balancing both banks equally as I flow... Do I judge? I mind the hammer-swing, the welders’ flash, the heavy steel-built hulls I bore downstream from my city, and maybe I was a blether-skite then, a wee bit full of myself, when we seemed gey near unstoppable... But how can I stomach any more of these storm rains? How can I slip quietly away to meet my lover, the wide-armed Ocean, knowing I’m a poisoned chalice she must drain, drinking everything you chuck away... So these days, I’m a listener, aye. Think of me as a long level liquid ear gliding slowly by. I heard the world’s words, the pleas of peoples born where my ships once sailed, I heard the beautiful promises... and, sure, I’m a river, but I can take a side. From this day, I’d rather keep afloat, like wee folded paper boats, the hopes of the young folk chanting at my bank, fear in their spring-bright eyes so hear this: fail them, and I will rise.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2021. 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 for 2021 was Hugh McMillan.
Here’s a poem engaging with a real issue head on, avoiding the polemic but making a point and remaining lyrical and surprising but at the same time highly accessible. People think poetry is an elite practice but also feel the historic need to use it to commemorate major events, to make maps of their own lives. The Makar is in a unique position among poets to be a major influencer as well as a stylist and ambassador for the world of poetry. I look forward to more powerful interventions like this one.