The North Wind
If I had known my eyes would web over
I would have stayed awake
as long as light.
I would have gone out in all weathers,
learning to tell trees apart
and the pathways of stars.
The world is full of places
I never went to:
once they were destinations.
I have photos of people
who aren't here any longer.
I wish I had videos,
but I could never get the hang
of making videos. The people
in the photos have lost their voices:
they went out in the north wind
and their faces, so quick.
so mobile, froze
in one attitude:
talk and joke all you like,
they won't smile back.
Their accents are fading, flattening out.
I would have listened harder
if I'd known that would happen,
if I had known about the north wind
and the passage of time.
But you did know. You knew
all of that, always.
I can only say
that was not how it seemed.
King Edward the Seventh postures on Union Street
looking ridiculous in granite breeches.
The sculptor, we see, has done his best to imbue
the florid features with an unmerited hint
of nobility; has disguised the little paunch
in the folds of a stone cloak, but all is undone
by the republican, bolshie, sarcastic seagull
perched on his head.
It is the same, praise be, all over Scotland:
wherever a statue stares over folk's heads
with that trademark, costive sublimity,
there'll be a seagull cackling in his curls,
on his helmet, his mitre, his Stewart cockade,
his poet's laurel. Great men all, pose as you please
in bronze and marble, you'll find no man is a hero
to his seagull.
Seagulls are atheists, anarchists, troublemakers
to a bird, lower-deck mutineers, sea-lawyers
with a salty, raucous laugh. They don't do deference
or fan-worship; they are strangers to decorum.
If they were comedians, they'd be Max Miller;
if they were instruments, they'd be kazoos.
If they were characters from history,
they'd be the jester
with his fool's licence, waving a pig's bladder
in the faces of the mighty; they'd be the slave
who rode with the moment's Caesar in his triumph
muttering, "You're still going to die,
you know that?" For every oration, may there be
a satirist; for every emperor, a small boy
with sharp eyes, and may every statue be crowned
with a seagull.
His sight failing, he gazes
toward a distant church.
White tombstones uproot themselves
of a sudden, galloping
flatfootedly to the man
with the feed bucket.
Speak of paracetamol; he hears
Paris in turmoil. A tame housecoat
slips its peg, prowls the shadows,
an ocelot. The world
in his ears grows more various,
less commonplace, by the day.
Memories richer, more detailed
the further away. Was his life
really like that? Words, acts
tumble-polished till the beach
is a stretch of light,
a perfect story?