Thanks to Thrawn Craws for posting this poem to their Facebook group today . I realised, after an hour of pulling my hair out, that Facebook no longer allow us to embed video’s. How annoying. So here is the video that was posted on the Thrawn Craws Facebook page. Please also click on the link to be directed to their page, check out all the creative talent they offer and give them a like.
It was dawn when they arrived. Two orange beams of light Cutting tight between the lines of furrows, And illuminating trees. Her baby stirred. It was dawn when they arrived. Gravel crumbling under tyres. A slither of sun crowning the hill, And puffs of cloud lay as still As her sleeping calf. It was dawn when they arrived. Two brown rubber boots crunching On grass, still tipped with frozen dew. A banging gate. A magpie flew. The baby shook. It was dawn when they arrived. Two white hands and a noose. A gate held ajar by a damp lump of wood Four white walls, a nest of hay, A trembling baby stood. It was dawn when they arrived. Two blue eyes trailing the floor, Stealing her crying calf out of the door White walls, empty bed, empty floor Her mother stood - alone. It was dawn they left.
Now published in Veggie Wagon Website.
Kelman’s novel Dirt Road is story that takes both characters and reader on a journey right from the outset, but the journey is more than it seems. The novel begins in the West coast of Scotland where we learn that Murdo – a sixteen-year-old boy – and his father Tom are mourning the death of their mother/wife and sister/daughter. Searching for solace, they embark on a journey to Alabama, U.S.A to spend time with Uncle John and Aunt Maureen. For Murdo, family is just a happy memory, a moment in time captured in a photograph, ‘The family was four and not just him and Dad’, whilst for Tom, family is the bond that holds them together.
Throughout their journey, Tom strives to guide his son and keep him on ‘the right path’, yet Murdo, as we will learn, has a path of his own to find. Stifled by the fathers influence, the boy has a tendency to stray, thus when they reach Allentown Mississippi, Murdo stumbles upon a family of musicians led by Zydeco performer Queen Monzee-ay. Murdo is as drawn to music as his father is to family, the boy himself is an accomplished accordion player, and when he is offered an opportunity to play a set with Queen Monzee-ay in two weeks’ time, we watch as the road between father and son diverges and choice and risk becomes the key plot in the story.
While this may appear a simple story line, Kelman’s exploration into the fragmented relationship between father and son gives the reader an honest analysis of family and grief. The third person narrator, with bursts of free indirect discourse from Murdo, allows the reader both an internal and external insight into the constraints of family. This parallel leaves the reader feeling uncomfortable, yet with a conflicting heart. This is Kelman’s unique writing style at its best.
Dirt Road is more than a novel of grief and family relationships though; it is a novel of risk, of following new paths with uncertainties, about leaving behind the familiarities and safety of the past and following the heart. It is about deep connections; for Murdo this is through music and the feeling of freedom that he associates with music, whilst for the other characters it is about cultural connections and Scottish ancestry. Kelman’s clever use of parallels shows the reader the intensity of human connections whilst suggesting that change and progression is possible. This great novel will linger in your thoughts for weeks after you put it down, and it brings to mind a poem by Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken
Dirt Road by James Kelman
Canongate Books (14 July 2016)
They dressed you up like Christmas day. A faux
Silk blouse with ruffled trim – garnet red. Black
Pressed polyester trousers with an elastic waist,
The comfy yins. But the shoes,
the shoes were wrong.
Unworn kitten heels – black. The yins ye bought
Fi Marks and Sparks that rubbed yer bunions.
They dressed you up like Christmas day and put you on display. Painted
Your face back to life, with tinted rouge and peach lipstick that puckered
Like melted wax, concealing your smile,
Your tea stained teeth. They put you on display – Dead
Jon brought you a school picture of your grandson Jack; slipped it under your pillow
Then squeezed a private letter into your clenched right hand. I
Gave you a card. A pink one with a rose. I placed it beside your left hand – sealed
Happy Mother’s Day Mum
They put you on display, dressed you up like it was Christmas day but without
Your love heart locket, your gold embossed wishbone ring.
Those damn sentimental things that might hold tiny particles of skin,
Fragments of last week – lingering in the grooves.
Since writing this poem, I have begun writing a novel titled ‘Cheese Scones & Valium’, which is biographical fiction of part of my mothers life, and is embedded in memoir. This has a direct link to my poem.
I published Funeral Parlour with Anti-Heroin Chic on 25th May 2017. The poem was originally written for an assessment at university and was difficult to write. This poem describes my own experience of seeing my own mother for the last time.
“Books open, pens on paper.”
Her voice is fanciful –
Worldly words of wisdom.
Take a breath Miss Brown.
Over your shoulder, birds trilling
in your ear. Knowledge?
“You understand, You hear?”
“Wings have spanned, grown and flew”.
Miss Brown is telling you.
Over your shoulder in her parchment suit.
Scattered somehow, this puzzle
this test, this class.
Yet sewn together so neatly, so tight,
so fast, that brains leak words inspired.
Alert, not tired Miss Brown.
Spoken proper. Knitted
like a scarf, like the missing words
from a mother passed.
Thank you Miss Brown, Thanks for that.
“That’s all for today.”
An end in sight. Taught by one with
gust and might,
taught by Miss Brown in her parchment suit.
©Eilidh G Clark
This poem is dedicated to one of the most amazing and inspirational people I have had the pleasure of meeting. Madeleine Brown, Stevenson College Edinburgh. Access to Humanities course – English Literature and Communications 2011.
This is my family, or part of it. That’s me on the left in my pink and white gingham dress, smiling because I don’t care that the elastic around the sleeve irritates my arms and the neckline strangles me. My socks are brilliant white, the proper wool ones that you steep in a sink of boiling water for hours until a thick film of soap powder floats in clumps on the surface. John has matching socks. He’s my little brother, he is three years old in this picture making me six. John doesn’t look as happy as I do, perhaps because Mum cut the sleeves of his favourite red jumper and made it into a t-shirt; he cried for hours afterwards. John and I are both wearing shiny patent leather shoes, good ones from Clarks. We often went there to get our feet measured. They put your foot into a strange wooden contraption and then the shop person slid a bar down the front of it until it touched your toes, it always tickled. Right in the middle of us is my Mum, she looks happy. Mum must be thirty-one years old in this picture; I don’t remember her being this young though. Look at how tanned we are. You can almost see the white line at the top of John’s arm were the sun couldn’t quite reach. The little dog to the left of me is Prince or at least I think so, it might be Ben, my Auntie Annie’s dog. We had a dog called Prince but Dad gave him to the local police man. I’m not even sure why he gave him away, I think I was sad about it but I don’t remember.
The sky looks grey above our heads but this is an old picture and the summer had been wonderful. I was on my first long holiday from school and Mum took us to King George V Park. We’d been visiting Granny who lived behind the park. We’d have come in from the back gates. I know this because we are far away from the church tower; you can see it above Mum’s head looking like a giant green pencil. It’s the parish church, built in 1845 and the cornerstone of Bonnyrigg; this is where I went to Sunday school. The big old chimney at the far left belonged to a coal mine, it’s gone now. I can still remember the smell of the smoke. They stacked the coal up in huge black pyramids in the yard.
My big sister Marion is missing from this picture, Marion would have been ten. Going by low the angle that the picture is taken from, my sister may have been the photographer.
We all look happy. Except John that is. John is biting his nails. Maybe because Mum is about to feed his chocolate bar to the dog. Maybe because Dad isn’t there. This is likely why Mum isn’t wearing her wedding ring and looks full of life. For me? I’m smiling because I have two adhesive tattoos on my arm, a tiny glimpse of the person I was to become.
©Eilidh G Clark
It is midnight.
And the stroke of its hand is a memory;
A memory of
a hand that once held mine.
I am entangled in darkness
The hiss of a serpent wraps around
until my nicotine breath bellows
Amongst the shadows,
Optimism shines like a ghost
from an invisible moon.
I am calm.
Déjà vu haunts me
and I realise my footsteps
may have, walked this place before when I was young.
And my future.
You made me. You
and a bald headed man
who is and is not my father.
You gave me this midnight, and you are gone.
Sadness lives in me like tumour
but sadness pays.
I will hold a scroll to say
Be proud mum, I did it.
©Eilidh G Clark
I sat on the doorstep. My head was filled with a itchy buzz that drowned out the noise from the road fifty yards away. The afternoon was damp and humid and a smell of rotten leaves hung thick. The air licked my skin and my scalp prickled as I sucked life into my lungs, attempting to clear the fog that stifled brain. I had been grinding my teeth ever since I received the phone call at 11am that morning and now my jaw ached. Outside, the doorstep was my reprieve, a place to escape. The mourning. It was the crying; the fear, it was the look of desperation etched on faces; pale, ashen and distorted. Outside I was alone, raw and separated from the solid hugging arms of collective grief and crumpled bodies. Fat blobs of rain began to fall, and I looked up to charcoal clouds scribbled over the sky.
“This,” I thought, “is how the sky ought to look today’.
From behind the rooftops of an adjacent tenement block of flats, a single black helium balloon appeared. I watched it stagger over the sky, bashing into thick air then sucked into jets of cold.For a moment it hesitated.
“Where are you Mum?” I shook my head and watched as the balloon skittered off into the distance. The world above was black and white.
How was I meant to feel today? How are you supposed react when you get a call at 11am on a Sunday morning telling you that your Mum is dead?
I had often tried to imagine how I would feel when this day arrived, especially more so in the last year as I noticed how fragile my mother looked and how tiny she had become. One thing was certain; I had always known my heart would break. What I did not expect was confusion, fear, emptiness and a feeling of no longer being safe. I got up and went back into a house that was no longer home.
Loss. I had experienced it before.
It was a Wednesday afternoon and I was off school. I wasn’t even sure why my Mum had let me have a free day but it was bound to be great. I got to pick my own clothes because Mum had gone out to see Granny in hospital. Before she left, Mum told me to be good and remember to brush my teeth. When I went downstairs to see who was looking after me, loads of aunties and uncles had come to visit. I felt really excited because that usually meant a party. The room was filled with pipe smoke and old lady smell.
“I got a free day off school,” I said, and tried to squeeze in between Uncle Jimmy and Auntie Agnes.
Everyone was looking at me and pulling weird faces. Auntie Phamie was crying. Auntie Isa had a crumpled up face and was looking at the floor. Uncle John coughed and left the room. I was afraid I had done something wrong.
“Your Granny died this morning,” Auntie Isa said, looking up.
I laughed because I didn’t believe her. My Granny was in hospital. Auntie Phamie started wailing so I turned around and stood in the corner.
“Poor Eleanor, not getting there on time,” Uncle Roberts voice came from near the kitchen.
I knew my Mum was called Eleanor, and I wondered if she had missed the bus this morning.
“And Chic, poor man, going home to an empty house,” one of the Aunties said. I wondered who Chic was and if he’d been burgled like the folk on Jackanory yesterday. I nervously picked wood-chip off the wall, and it fell in between my feet and on to the green carpet. I was hungry because no one had made me anything to eat. This didn’t seem like a party to me at all. I was scared to turn around, partly because I could still hear Auntie Phamie sniffing and grunting, and also because there was now a pile of wood-chip on the floor at my feet. I stood and looked at the mess for ages and thought about my Grannie. Why did they say she was dead? I thought this was a nasty lie to tell.
After what felt like hours, I heard the front door open and turned around. Mum walked in with Auntie Nan and Papa and everyone got up and started cuddling, just like at Christmas, except no one was singing. Papa was crying, and I felt like I should be crying as well but didn’t know why. My Mum took ages to come over and see me and when she did she crouched down so her face was close to mine. I wondered if my Mum would like what I had picked to wear.
“Your Granny died this morning,” she said.
I frowned and turned my back on my Mum, then felt warm pee dribble down my leg and into my sock.
©Eilidh G Clark