You have X% of genes in common with this
common wasp, bothering your breakfast
scaling the juice jug on six sticky feet,
striped abdomen dippy with desire.
How stupidly it zigs and zags,
weaves tangles round your head,
seeming not to notice luscious black cherry
smears on the knife, figs oozing juice.
But now, insect lexicographer,
it sees that words are good to eat.
Thready yellow legs find Bonne
raised on the surface of the jam jar;
proboscis measures along
the trade description, list of ingredients,
then comes to rest in palpitating bliss,
getting its tongue round Maman. Maman.
From The French Literary Review No. 9 (April 2008)
Tennant's Stalk - that's my monument.
Talk of the town, top of the walk, tells them to stop,
Any that trudge by that well-named Sight Hill.
It tapers elegant to its hourly bloom,
Thick smoke, acrid, highest anywhere,
Four hundred and thirty blessed feet
Above my empire, my chemical empire,
My blessed St Rollox, biggest anywhere,
My eighty acres of evenhandedly
Distributing industry and desolation!
Chief of all chimneys, carry your noxiousness
Into the clouds and away from my employees,
Settling if it must where I cannot see it!
I am in business for the uses of the world,
Bleaching powder, soap, sulphuric acid,
A thousand casks a week from my cooperage.
I'm standing here in the midst of furnaces
Which I understand and command - oh yes,
If there is anything new or strange in chemistry
It will not be the case that I have not heard of it.
Boasting, in my Glasgow way? Well, perhaps.
I am a chemist with passions. I am a character,
They say. Take my wife. I don't mean take my wife,
But just consider. We are not married
Except by good old Scottish cohabitation.
She is a total non-person to my family.
My brother, well we don't get on, that's that.
My sister-in-law, put bluntly, is a bitch.
My dear Rosina was a factory girl,
She may be beautiful, she may be bright -
She is beautiful, she is bright -
But a lassie from St Rollox, that's not on.
Well well, I've put their gas in a peep,
That claque or clat of bitches who can't stand
Class mix - my grand house in West George Street
Has, or should I say boasts, a fine brass plate
For MR & MRS JOHN TENNANT. And that's us.
How can a rebel be a capitalist?
What's the problem? I have a yacht - of course! -
And some have tried to poach my butler - fat chance -
But who was it marched through Glasgow in '32
To see the great Reform Bill safely through?
Who was it planted a doctor in the work
To give free treatment to all? Who ran
A factory school for workers' weans? Who
Cranked up mechanics' institutes? Who stayed
In the centre of Glasgow when the nabobs and nobs
Hustled out to suburban palazzos?
I'm bluff and gruff and tough enough,
If a foreman is a pain in the arse
I tell him he's a pain in the arse.
My eyebrows are bushy, and if my finger is in my fob
You had better watch out if you are skiving your job.
But, or rather BUT,
If ever you are down on your luck
You can come to me, you can run
With a secret misery, I can cut
Corners for you, nothing is shut
That John Tennant cannot get unstuck.
I come back to my Stalk, my obelisk, my watchtower,
My beautiful slender avant-garde polluter.
What poet would sing those acres of grey ash,
That ghastly guff of hydrogen sulphide?
Who cares? I'm happy to stand in for Homer.
His gods would have cackled with joy
To see my new-born boy
Poking manfully towards their heavenly rookery.
I marked the occasion - oh, did I not!
I gathered a posse of friends to hansel the Stalk.
Ladies and gents, I said, you're going to the top!
Such cries of horror, it was like a play.
I relished the moment, lifted a hand
For the clamour to subside. Just a joke, folks.
I don't need steeplejacks. It's inside you're going.
The bricks are the best money can buy,
They are new, they are brilliant, not a smitch of soot.
Please admire them as your rise past them.
Climb? Not a step. You will mount like magic
By a system of hissing steam-powered pulleys -
O James blessed Watt, late of this parish! -
Emerge at the viewing platform, safe as houses,
And sweep your eyes around like modern gods.
What's that sir? Insurance? Christ man
This is Glasgow. You are pioneers. Get in.
There's a woman in the Stalk before you.
Yes ma'am? Skirts? That's taken care of.
No one will look up your furbelows.
The ladies will sit in a basket, like balloonists.
The gents will be in buckets, like Brahmins.
Well, up they went into the half dark,
Clutching their ropes, listening to the pulley,
Silenced by the mystery
The summit was all light and air and chatter.
The smoky city was shunting fiercely below
But the height, the horizon, the haze was their hope
As they looked at, looked for, Scotland.
The firth, the masts and sails, the Arran hills,
The river winding south through glasshouses,
Eastward a faint glint of spires - Edinburgh?
We don't want Edinburgh! Find Ben Lomond!
They found it, and they found much else
As they leaned on my parapet, not paradise
But a throb of the great paradox,
Useful filth, mitigated pain,
Crops of brick and iron, with or without rain.
When the doctor cut off my son’s cast the
high scream of the saw filled the room
and the boy’s lap was covered with fluff like the
chaff of a new thing emerging, the
down in the hen-yard. Down the seam that
runs along the outside of the arm and
up the seam along the inside — that
line where the colour of a white boy’s arm
changes like a fish from belly-white to prismatic,
the saw ranged freely — the saw that does not cut flesh,
the doctor told us, smiling. Then the
horrible shriek ran down in a moment to nothing
and he took a sharp silver wedge like a
can-opener and jimmied at the cracks
until with a creak the glossy white
false arm cracked and there lay the kid’s
sweet dirty forearm, thin as a darkened twig.
He lifted it in astonishment, like a gift,
It’s so light! he cried, a lot of light coming out of his eyes,
he fingered it and grinned, he picked up the
halves and put them together and gripped it and
carried it out through the waiting room and
everyone smiled the way you smile at a wedding, so
deep in us the desire to be healed and joined.
You made handbags out of milk bottle tops
bound in raffia; machined rugs out of rags
and odd balls of wool; sewed cami-knickers
from parachute silk, my first satchel
handkerchiefs from flourbags; cooked up bread poultices
sheepshead brawn; crocheted cuffs and collars;
smocked, pleated, piped; cable and moss stitched.
Cakes though weren’t your forte. You were defter
unspooling golden syrup onto mounds
of bread and marge, doled out slice by slice
or recycling the weekend’s leftovers.
Now, sitting here, turning up trouser legs
apprentice task, I’m aware that even
the names for your skills are exiting Left
out of my head, and the mother tongue,
shop soiled, shop spoiled, we learn to forget.