sheena blackhall

(18/8/1947 / Aberdeen)

When Walking in Blake's Garden et al (8 poems)


1.When Walking in Blake’s Garden once I saw:
An elephant who wore a bridal veil
A bowl with sixteen squirrels and one snail
A lemon hedgehog dancing with a dog
An oak tree leaping like a frisky frog
A Quaich that held the frothing Bay of Biscay
A dish of smiles from sayings sweet and risqué
A slice of moon with twenty pips of stars
An angry little pot pourri of wars
And Blake himself. He grinned and said ‘Hello’
And introduced me to a pedalo
We jumped on board, he sailed me round his dreams
Of growling lions, lambs, and green sunbeams

2.The Street
Two students walk by whispering, arm and arm.
Nobody’s grandfather curses the dog shit on the pavement.
It’s a black and white day,
Raggedy round the edges
Mrs Kablinsky stands in her winter coat and slippers
Putting out the bin

Nobody passing by gets anything they deserve
The trees on the hill look thinner.
Like skinny railings
The cyclist stares right through them

The starlings sing to a cabby who doesn’t listen.
A shrieking seagull repeats itself like an onion,
The Canales’ cat, sidles up to a chirping sparrow
Mrs Kablinsky is still in her winter coat and slippers
Having forgotten her name.

A mother bends to a buggy
Stoops to wipe the drool from a toddler’s mouth.

Mr Baxter’s dishes are done.
He is as graceful as a zebra
Sometimes he smiles. Sometimes he spits
His shadow is light as candyfloss spun at the fair

The water sings in the drain with a cracked voice
Behind Miss McTavish’s screens
A tsunami of grief crashes over the carpet
Though she says her prayers once daily
Twice on Sundays.

Who needs steak if you've got bread?
The grass sits by the path, envies the tree

3.The No-One Poem
No-one spread rose petals on my bed
No-one ever wooed me with a song
Some folk go all through life without romance
It’s slam-bang -thank-you mam, good-bye, so-long

No brave knight ever saved me from a tower
I always had to pick the lock myself
And now, a wizened cynic here I sit
Dusty and cracked and back up on the shelf

4.Meltwater
On the last day of the Ice Age
A bee unthaws and buzzes, drunk on frost

From the dark flank of an ice floe
A whale breaks from its moorings

In the green, deep shadow seas
Beams from the warming sun
Fall on a gold-scaled turtle

On the last day of the Ice Age
A Women softens like dough in a jug of milk

A black-sailed boat emerges out of the mist
With a sword on its deck. Its figurehead is a plough

The stars above are unconcerned by the Earth’s arousal
Stirrings and deaths are cyclical, cosmic work of a moment


5.Shellyman
Sea-Citizen, friend or foe?
He has a bird’s skull for a head
A scalp as white as a bone

Scoured, scalded by storm and blistering heat
The brain’s washed clean away, leaving
The horror of empty spaces,
Ghastly gape of the eye sockets.

Shellyman, conceived in a womb of seaweed
From the seed of drowned sailors

Time has picked him bare as a newborn
Under the beaks of carrion crows

His vowels and consonants are clacks
Of a skeleton’s rattle.

That coat: a shawl of clams and barnacles
Smelling of sea rot from the ocean’s outswill
Appals and fascinates

Here are he stands, confronting me
Foam drips from his shoulders

Echoes of shell-halls fathoms beneath the waves
Sigh from his clattering throat.


6.Fear-Bhata
A ghaoth ag iarraidh na'm port
The wind is wanting the harbour

The boatman follows the wind on its way to Harris,
High heart of the Hebrides

His yellow oilskin is slick as a wet sun
He is riding the racing waves, breasting their highs and lows
Dogging the steps of the wind,
Through foam and fathoms of gloomy deadfall water

Spirits of drowned companions keen in the air
Like voices carried by wires too high for decoding

How wide the loneliness, as he moves in the fishes’ element
A snagged hook trapped in a hull, as his boat
Climbs the slopes of the heaving sea

A ghaoth ag iarraidh na'm port
The wind is wanting the harbour

Ah, now he sees them, the hills, cut from Lewisian Gneiss,
A lunar landscape.

The bays by the bright Atlantic, unpeopled, untrodden


7.Isaac Benzies
Establishments with etiquette retain
An assured niche is memory’s trinket box

Such places speak of genteel assignations
The ensemble in the corner, playing the current songs
The hierarchy of the plates
Sandwich, cakes, confections

The tinkle of tea poured into a china cup
The mahogany table seats
The doilies like Elizabethan ruffs
And a great aunt powder-puffed to the absolute nines

Hats like perching pheasants lurk in corners
A-line mink coats cosy up to North East calves
15 denier nylons sheer as the cliffs of Dover
Crackle beneath silk petticoats and lace

My hostess, telling me what a treat I’m getting
My mouth sticky with icing
Crumbs dribbling down my Shirley Temple coat
My knickers damp from holding in the pee
My stomach turning over like a wringer
The luckiest little girl in Aberdeen


8.Winter, Glen Quoich
Three deer teeter on ballet dancer’s toes
Raise perfectly synchronised necks
To stare in wonderment at a passing crow

A hare thuds up from a ditch
Sideleaping the snowdrops
Thumping into the woods with its skinny branches

Snow lies like an old ewe’s pelt
Dirty and shaggy, crusting the road’s edge

Submitted: Sunday, April 21, 2013
Edited: Friday, September 27, 2013

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