The New McGonagall*

* William McGonagall 19th century bad poet

My muse is a lady of inconvenient truths and laughter;

Here we present an ode to Monifieth Beach and Its water,

Stating clearly the facts about this popular facility –

Something beyond the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s ability.

There’s space for cars, a play park and a promenade

With views across the firth of Tay to Fife. There, bikini-clad

A youngish woman with a child in hand came past my car emoting,

“The notice says that water quality’s good but I saw it floating

Past me!” “What was that?” I dared to ask her. “What was that ? I’ll tell ye,

It was a jobbie! Swimming past  just inches from my belly

Which is bad enough but it could have been the wee lad’s mouth!”

I told her that could happen with a wind in the south

Or south east blowing the sewage back on shore. “But fuck,”

She said, “ on a recommended beach ye shouldnae have tae duck

Big brownies!” I told her that Scottish Water was allowed to discharge

Untreated sewage in an emergency but usually there not many large

Pieces, which you could at least avoid; but the more common fecal bacteria-

It might be days before the symptoms started. “I don’t want to weary you,”

I said, “ But although the Scottish Agency says the beach is good to go,

The European Union calls it “poor”. There are a number of local sewage treatment

Plants feed into local burns that feed the river which is not sweetened

Thereby, but most users think it pretty rather than polluted.”

“Shite,” she said, “I call it shite an’ my voice ‘ll no’ be muted!”

 

Some people are absolute in their judgements. John Calvin for example,

The 16th century Presbyterian reformer refused to let anyone trample

On the Word of God which revealed that human nature is utterly

Corrupted by Original Sin. Reading him I tend to start muttering

About innocent children and decent unbelievers. I prefer

a more nuanced view of sinfulness than his. To err

Is human, to forgive divine, a decent balance of responsibility.

When people argued so, John Calvin opened a window on his city

Square, saying,“Look at them!” (Humans) I think this theologian might be

An admirer of the woman who knew what was in the sea.

ODE TO EXERCISE

 

In my eightieth year, I still go to the sports-field every day to sprint,

-Usain’s record’s not in danger- interval training, 15 times 100 metres , by dint

Of which I keep fit, at least when not suffering muscle strain or tendonitis.

Meanwhile the world trains all around me. On the dot of 9am my sight is

Caught by Blue Pru dashing to the nearby beach to plunge hugely

In the firth 365 days a year, while Glam Sam is no stooge as he

Lycras his carbon racer on the coastal path. Penelope lopes on her five mile

Circuit past Wavy Davey curled in a perfect Plough on the organic pile

Of his yoga mat. By 10am we’re on our way to showers but other heroes

Take our place on grass and sea and trail. Wow! Our existential fear knows

If we don’t move forward, time will catch us, so we push the soft machine

To maximise its function every day. Half-concealed by Time we see the clean

White coat of Death who notes our  BM Index and our sweat with a nasty

Grin, confident that we will all one day be his however fast we

Run. I add an extra sprint to give him the forks and he applauds

Politely saying,”only 1 second 35 slower than yesterday.” The odds

Are stacked against us. But for us resisters of gym and studio,

Outdoor exercisers, there’s something beyond any change of mood you

Ever felt, when you cease to be this person with high blood pressure

And a pension, and become a creature moving with the leisure

To feel simple motion as one with that of gull, of hedgehog and of leaf,

Just that, finding the ineptitude of the body and the grief

Of selfhood annihilated. Here nothing blames and nothing flatters.

You’re going to die of course, but that no longer matters.

 

 

 

ODE TO SUPERMARKETS DURING PANDEMIC

 

Three supermarkets are the glad recipients of my grey pound:

Righteous places all of them, for they impose an order you’re bound

To follow, starting with fresh fruit and salads and ending

Somewhere with the water; and in between the bakery, sending

Its aromas from deep within the store, seductively. It seemed stupid,

The P.M. telling them to feed the nation during lockdown, but they did

And well, without incompetence or dubious contracts for their pals.

The logic of their usual trade extended easily to the rituals

Of hygiene, hand-wash, one-way aisles and distancing. We obeyed,

Since lovely men and women put themselves at risk while paid

Miserably, yet remained cheerful with us at the shelves or till.

The necessary chore became almost a pleasure, that’s a miracle

We could use more of. Some sense of civic virtue inhabited these sheds

Which not everybody liked or lived by. Yes, there were the usual neds

Drunk and buying tinnies; but more significantly, single, sober people

Who trashed the rules. A massive woman, trolley a crazy steeple

Of toilet rolls (maximum purchase 3 but she had 30) was unapologetic

When challenged by the staff: “All these rules are just pathetic-

I don’t see what’s wrong with looking out for your self, so you can stick it.”

A small elderly lady looked her in the face and said, “That’s because you’re wicked.”

 

ODE TO THE STRAWBERRY

 

 

A good one is improbably delicious, you bite into this effervescent

Sweetness with an aftertaste of not too much sweetness, meant

To make you eat and excrete the seeds, so that more strawberries

Will grow, a strategy shared with other fruiting plants like cherries.

First there was a small green plant with colourless fruit, discovering

That if only the fruit was red and sweet those creatures hovering

Around on wings or legs would seize, devour and shit the living

Seeds  where they might thrive. The wild berry, though small, is tasty-

You could call it a symbol of the plant’s determination, its face to

The future. Then human beings by craft and grafting maximise

The berry for their own delight, because savouring it we want a size

That fills the mouth, a symbol of our aggressive partnership

With nature. The European girls and lads who come to strip

Our plants each summer, I see them walking down my street

Young, fit, brown and paired – see this couple now, their feet

Almost dancing! From this tough adventure they go home enriched

With money and memories. Scots too, come maytime, used to switch

From school or unemployment to the Berries, joining travellers and farm

Hands on the rows of planted fruits they knew as dreels. No harm

To anyone but you had to watch for gypsies stealing your picks. Or the weigher

Hiding the scales from you when you brought him your pail. All-dayers

Who kept their heads down and gathered steadily were scorned

As grubbers, while you might eat a few and talk. You’d been warned

Not to, but if the farmer had not given you fair pay you’d piss

In the final fruit pail before you handed it in. Ah, in the midst

Of poverty in Dundee or Romania there was and is something merry

For hard-pressed people in the harvest of the strawberry.

 

 

ODE TO THE HORIZON

 

For a person of average height the horizon is about 3 miles

From the beach. Climb vertically upwards in repeated trials

And the distance to the horizon increases swiftly. You can watch a ship

Vanishing or appearing over it, or you can take a boat-trip

Towards it, only to find it always remains the same distance

From you, like trying to find the rainbow’s gold, no chance.

Analysis of early human habitation here shows most traces

on the coast, where humans navigated leaving as little space as

Possible between their boat and land. Going where land fell

Below the horizon was fearful requiring other means to tell

You where you were. The Phoenicians, best navigators

In ancient Europe, steered first by landmarks, later

By the stars, the Pole Star especially, letting them sail beyond

Horizons to Africa and Cornwall, waters whIch however are a pond

Compared with the South Pacific where Polynesians in nothing bigger

Than rafts and catamarans with crab-claw sails and outrigger

 Canoes slid over thousands of sea miles. Skill and invention

Were of course needed, but think of the courage, not to mention

Contempt for boundaries, of those who knew the world didn’t have

An edge to drop off and heard the tales of dragons with a laugh.

 

Thinking has horizons that define the limits of reason enabling

Us map the landmarks of reality, but when the fabled

Strangers make landfall, when Phoenicians come with spice from Babel

Or Polynesians want to settle with us, can we cope? Or will

Our certainty they don’t exist, our knowledge they are nil

Make us obliterate them? From beyond the horizon they spill

Over, with names like Pandemic, Racial Justice, World Peace, yes, that odd,

Facts and Global Warming, Fire and Flood and Famine, God.

 

ODE TO THE OWNERS OF CLEAN CARS

 

Down here, on the cycle path below the dual- carriageway

I sometimes get hit by the detritus- cigarette stubs, burger trays

Newspapers, cardboard wrappings, food leftovers, knickers,

Ejected from the speeding cars as a wake of waste that flickers

Into grass and shrubs. Now the car is clean. I hope the fires

That’ll burn this rubbish and the verges, that’ll leap to car-tyres

Explode on paint and petrol, gut the vehicles and occupants,

Will leave their skeletons as clean as they would want.

ODE TO GENUINE EFFORT

 

I have a long-term project to improve my humanity

By becoming a just person like Luther King or Gandhi,

Imagining I could succeed by adding some practical concern

For the poor, some solidarity with the oppressed. I learn

that this doesn’t cut the mustard because I don’t rid myself

Of arrogance, posturing, and love of ordinary wealth.

It appears that virtue cannot be obtained by simple addition

Without the effort to change habits that comfortably fit one.

There’s an old Gaelic proverb that’s wise if somewhat harsh:

“You are unlikely get a large egg from a wren’s arse.”

 

The prime minister has announced that poorer parts of the nation

Are going to be levelled up. This will be poverty’s annihilation:

The poor will get richer and so will the rich, so nobody will see

Disadvantage, and all citizens will feel happy and that will be

Best in the best of all possible worlds. Amen. But is it level?

And where will the cash for the poor come from? The devil

Is in the detail and the lack of detail suggests that the PM

Being not interested in the hard grind to make the system

Just, prefers a rhetorical work that may be called a farce.

“You are unlikely to get a large egg from a wren’s arse.”

 

What are the chances of getting world-saving commitments

From COP26 in Glasgow? Few rich nations have a fit sense

Of universal solidarity even in face of universal danger

Having already found ways of keeping the climate-affected stranger

Out. They do not disbelieve the facts but already plan

Where to get their resources when the shit hits the fan.

If the USA wants it, whose water supply is safe? If China

Has famine, whose rice fields will they seize? Designer

Promises will be made, but their authors are booking for Mars.

“You are unlikely to get a large egg from a wren’s arse.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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