Arjun into Scots 2

This second piece by Arjun really spoke to me, and I started producing a version in India which I finished on getting back home. It seemed to want to move toward ballad, and when I said that to Arjun, he replied that this would be in an odd way the poem coming full circle, as it specifically, but also a lot of his other work, drew its inspiration from the Sufi poetry he heard while growing up.

(Arjun, I’m starting to paraphrase you here: do you want to say more? – And sorry again about losing your layout.)

Under a gold desert sky

a sparrow sat
my foot
a slumber
i stood in
looking up
it whirred
little wings
dropping dominoes
opening memories

stretching a wing out
to make a point
it twittered
“we flew together
under a gold desert sky
to the giant tree
of the hermit prince
do you remember?”

she hovered
and pricked my finger
drawing me
out of
a trance
“you’re done, my love
now be
a bird”
i fell to fly
light by her
to my tribe
that waited
not far

“greetings friends, how goes?
che, you look a bit used up
tahir, you bend at your spine
lee, you been sleeping with william?
m.m. are you a grandma now?
i had left you all”

tired, sad
eyes glow
inner peace
and question
with kindness
“and where
were you
all this

i whirred
my wings
from a branch
“i…i…was living
out of boxes
gathering dust
growing a beard…

you been around
since i turned two
you stood by me
at maya’s birth
do you still hate me?
you really must smile more
sorry i muddled your lives
in transit

hey! but we twitter well together
i must confess

now i did
not intend
to jumble
you up
like i did

by light
i had to
put you
all away”


Under a gold desert sky

Yestreen a speugie percht upon meh tae,
stertin me fae thi dover Eh sat in;
ut lukeit up and burred uts wee wings,
drappin dominoes, openin doors.

Streekin ae wing oot tae mak uts pint,
ut chirpt, ‘You and me flew thegither
ablow a gowden desert lift
tae thi ettin tree o thi eremite prince —

dae ye no mind thon?’ She hovert and peckt
meh finger, draain me oot o meh dwaum.
‘Ye’re din noo, ma dear, sae be a bird,’
and Eh fell tae flehin, licht beh hur flank.

Meh clan wiz bideit no far awa:
‘Peter, you look a wee thing disjaskit,
Paul, ye’re gey humphy-backit;
Maureen, ye’re niver a granny?’

Thir weary een askt wi a mensefu gleid,
‘And whaur were you thi hail o this time?’
‘Me? Eh wiz jist livin oot o boxes,
gaithrin dust and growein a beard…

‘Mojo, you’ve been aroond
since Eh wiz fehv; Mike, you stood beh me
at Izzie’s birth. Helen, dye still hate me?
Jamie, ye shid really learn tae crack a smile.

‘Sorry Eh plaistered wi yir lives in passin
but, ach, we natter well thigither.
Eh must confess Eh didnae mean
tae maxter you up lyk Eh did —

blinnert beh the licht, Eh hud tae pit
ye aa awa…’


About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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2 Responses to Arjun into Scots 2

  1. arjun says:

    beautiful! i could almost hear it being sung, bagpipes, highlands… (has anyone heard Bill sing?)

  2. Bill Herbert says:

    My family advise against the whole ‘hearing Bill sing’ idea. Have you seen that movie The Shout?

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