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from the June 2004 issue

Three Poems

For the English translations, please click here.

Criffel tae Merrick

In this poem, two of the region's hills speak to each other. When a vehicle was needed for telling the story of Foot and Mouth, the hills seemed appropriate; they are very ancient, stand above the population and span the length of the region from East to West. Merrick speaks in Scots and Criffel speaks in English.

Criffel, ye're greetin!
Tell me o yer sadness.
Whit's wrang?

My eyes are misted, yes.
An acrid smoke burns here.

Why, whit's burnin there?
Hoo can it sclimb sae high
that you can see it fae yer
ain hill tap?

Pyres burn all round me
far as the eye can see.
Sheep have been lifted
from my foothills and slopes,
shot with guns, set alight
and buried in graves.

Criffel, I ken noo why
mists o tears are roon ye
A'd weep an aw if sic a
tragedy came westwards.

Cattle are being culled,
farms are devastated.
Around me strong men

are weeping. Also,
their children stay home.
Farm lanes and road ends are
sealed off, straw is soaked

in disinfectant and no
deliveries are made.
Few visitors arrive.
No one leaves home much.

Oh Merrick, I hope your
green Galloway never
has to bear this darkness
I am thinking of the

old days, old names, past words.
They don't tell of the grim
reality of this.
"elf-shot"--listen and I'll

tell you of this old word.
"The ailment in the beasts
was caused by fairies,"
it's what it meant. Oh that

it were so and
summoning fairies
was enough to stop the
spread of vileness through my

land, beseech them to lift
off their spell, charm us
back to happy days and
healthy beasts; wholesome hearts.

Aye, the aul wirds wir guid.
Thir wis "croittich" a lameness
an "lung socht," disease,
an gin we seen a

broch aroon the muin
we kent puir times wid come
betides bad wather.
Aye, there maun be a broch aroon
the muin the nicht.

We are powerless to change this.
All we can do is wait and hope
for these farmers were struggling already
diversification was needed
some were tryin
here's the tale of one:

For years he'd lifted stones,
tried to clear his land
of rubble, pulled out
hawthorn and gorse.

Now here's the son,
full of new ideas;
organic milk, ice cream, yogurt,
adventure playgrounds

"Lay matting round the trees.
No chemicals needed
to kill weeds,
just large stones to weigh it down."

Full circle they'll come some day,
father and son united under
the family headstone,
moss gathering green,

wind whistling through the same trees.
All plans, people, laid to rest,
the whaups circling above,
stones still lodged in the field's corner.

Like us, Criffel,
lodged in the region's corners
we're seein doon the centuries
watchin, waitin,
an A've never seen the likes o this.

Not even through wars, Merrick
World Wars.

Sic a slauchter is a bleck merk
on wir souls.

Unless, like they say,
it was the only way?

* * *
Oh Criffel, it's came.
The blackness has travellt
tae ma green lans fillt wi
Beltit Galloways, Chambrolets, Ling.
Fires are blazin across the Machars.
The nicht lit wi reid an gowd
o burnin beasts. A mingin reek
fills awbodies thrapple an
greetin can be heard gin
the nicht gans quate.
A've never seen strang men cry, Criffel.
Even loast oan ma hills an a white haar
stoppin them fae finnin hame,
they didna sob sae.

But their beasts are their lives, Merrick.

Aye, even kennin fine that aw roads wid lead
tae slauchter onieweys--

but this is different, meaningless,
and even fine beasts for breeding
are cut down.

Wastin bonnie beasts
whyles hauf the warld starves oan.
It's no richt.
Noo whit?
Criffel, A'm like an empty haun.

Ye ken ma name Merrick
is fae the Gaelic fir
a fork or branch--Meurach?
An Meur is a finnger,
an aw ma wee-er hills
rin doon like lang finngers
ablow me, Bennan an
Benyellary. Neist there's
Kirrieoch, Tarfessock
Shalloch an Minnock.
Aw o us thegither
in the palm o wir hills.
Hauns held sic prizes fir
kye, heichest haud yowes.

Oh Criffel, noo A'm
a tuim haun, lik
a mither whae's loss her
weans. Bairns she rearit
an fed. Growed weel on ma
pastures rich, sweet coolin
burns tumblin throu ma glens--
Wigtown an Stewartry
Kirkcudbright--aw ma shires.

Merrick--now we will weep
together for we share
this tragedy, these deaths.
Grieve for our beasts, weep for

our farmers who worked long
and hard in every
season, lambing through snow,
calfing in sharp rain fall.

And now they talk of carriers.


Yes. Might the birds be bringing this
disease from afar?
The wintering geese carrying
If so, they say, we must cull them.

Never. We canna We maunna.
Kill the birds fir fleein?
Greylag geese,
Greenlan white Fronts,
Baikals fae Russia,
Bewick's fae Finlan,
Whoopers fae Icelan,
Oh, shairly we'll no hiv tae loss them?
The verra birds o the air
as weel as the beasts o the lan?

There's black times here, Merrick.
Close your eyes
and pray for a better morning.

We've seen sic sights
fae wir high vantage points:

A farmer at Ae still
goes out on his quad bike
with his sheep dogs
every day, same time,
though the fields are empty
of beasts.

The fermer at Auchlean
feeds his beasts thou
he kens fine they'll be killt
the morra
"Ye widna lea them starvin
even thou," he tells ye.

A farmhouse window is coated
with grease, fat from the burning animals.

An naethin can be moved:

Away wintered sheep on the hills,

the store cattle needin tae move,

cast cows ready for slaughter--

an the fodder's rinnin low
soon the'll be nane

They burn with railway sleepers,
best grade coal
(too low is inefficient, the pyre
will burn for three weeks)

Bury deep, avoid water running below
seepage leads to contamination
one farmer and his wife
found blood seeping from a pipe

rats have arrived at some sites
"pigeons are flying rats"
Birkshaw Forest--a name etched
in our minds--mass gravesite

a black faced gurkha
--strange sight at Sorbie
the white suit shining against his skin
six small children hiding by
the village hall watching
as he closed the road, checked passing cars
held his gun in readiness
what did he hope for?
what will the children mind
of these times?

Aye bit they've taen aff
the soldiers o echteen year aul

a sad sight an open gate
--a sure sign all's gone

A wumman in Glasserton
liftit her cairpets
brung in her pet rams

Yin farmer said
"it's an odd thing tae hear
yer ain voice echo in
a bull shed."

I heard whispers from Lammermuir
talking to Lothians
and down to the Fells
where they're sick to their bones.

Aye, the Carricks were callin
tae Assynt aw nicht
an Ailsa Craig let oot
a lang souch in the nicht.
Awbodie's worried seeck.

If only it wis aw by. A'll tell ye aboot ma dream.

As I gaed bi the Lunky Hole
A seen thir wir nae beasts
nae kye wir lowin ower green knowes
jist craws peckin feasts.

As I past bi the Lunky Hole
a kent the parks wir bare
nae yowes wir sprauchlin throu the gap
nae lambs joukin rare.

Oh wad we hae a Lunky Hole
whaur Time's driftin fair
the beasts aw fine, the lans sae fresh
an this Silent Spring nae mair.

But silence won't last.
Voices will be heard again,
our fields dotted white
once more with sheep
the baabaa chorus singing
next spring.
A fine farmer, resilient as ever says,
"the'll be a bit remnant left."

Well, I hope he's right for
I've heard many a sad tale this year.
And I've heard angry ones too,
for now voices are being heard.

Aye, vyces wull be heard again
askin questions,
speirin o why guid beasts wir killt at aw?
speirin wis it aw fir the sake o siller?
speirin wis thir no anither wey?

A sacrifice maybe, all a sacrifice
to global markets, export, trade.
Maybe they just needed to
"thin out a bit in the south"?
For what does it matter in the
quiet southwest?

Aye, wha bothers aboot us?
We're no even Munros, Criffel.
we dinna even catch the baggers.
Naethin tae shout aboot here,
even tho the braith is taen fae ye
gin ye drive thon Solway coast
past the shining, wet sands by Creetown.

Or the fine forest of Mabie
and the bonnie Sweetheart Abbey.
You're right, Merrick,
there's a lot more needing done
to tell the world of our secret south.

Aw Scotland's crammed intae
its middle.
Let yer belt oot, Caledonia,
cast yer een soothwards an aw.
Mind ye've Lowlands jist as green
as yer Hielans an fine an mild tae stroll in.

A country garden, this region,
where the silent farmer waits in his home,
looking over the empty fields,
hoping for a new dawn.

Tenant Fermer
"We are the tenant fermers,
we dinna own these lans.
We are only rentin them
Tae tend them wi wir hans."

Land Owner
"We are the owners
of these farms and homes.
We lend a field to graze some sheep
or let the cattle roam."

"You are all tenant farmers
I own the earth
your world is only borrowed
till called to heaven's hearth."

Mither Natur
Naethin's owned, bi onie o yes.
Mind this or else,
ilka cell, ilka livin thing
is its ain self.
There is danger if ye forget
tak heed, manage wisely . . .
or fret.

No Future Age Shall See His Name Expire

"No future age shall see his name expire"
--Inscription on the tombstone of William Nicholson.

Brither Wull, tae scuil's routine ye wir ill-fitted,
they said ye could cairrie the pack instead.
No suitit tae ferm wi yer short sicht,
loadit up wi combs, thimbles, goun fabric.
Ye set aff wi yer bagpipes at twentie,
wunnert whit wid printin a buik dae fir ye.

Afore lang yer poem sangs got ye kent,
tae Edinburgh citie neist ye went.
Bit doon in London ye fell oan herd times,
preachin religion instead o yer rhymes.
Drink made ye prey tae malevolent types.
Near droont in canals, robbed o yer pipes.

Ye'll be mindit alangside Burns an Hogg,
fir yer Brownie o Blednoch written at Borgue.


The loch kens its boondaries,
sure o forms frae
ice age days gin muckle
dunts filled,
wi watter
caller an clear.

Nae man an island they say,
bit whit o wumman like loch?
Settlt o her boondaries,
kennin her depths.

Pine circles watter's edge
thraws back thir ain swaps
on winless days,
like faithers, mithers,
sisters, brithers,
sons, dochters
generations repeatit, genes returnit.

The loch kens its deeper strechts
whaur dreid lurks or
warmer, shilpit pools whaur
lauchter, leisure, labour
can be heard.

The loch his derk islands
that monie try tae win bit
they're turnt back,
kept fae the secrets.

The loch hosts wee craiturs,
swimmin fish alang reeds,
buzzin draginflea, winterin geese.
Plays mither fir birthin,
speirs naethin in return.
Unconditional lou o a parent.

Nae questions speirit
the elements poond.
Licht braks,
nicht faws,
loch stauns.

Read more from the June 2004 issue
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