Stars Are The Aizles
Moth Larva In The Muckle Tapestry
History I digest slawly:
Hou it sticks in ma thrapple!
I got masel taigelt amang the Stuarts,
Cuidnae follae the threid through Reformation,
Swallaed the Union haill
Till it unraivelled in thrums.
I bide in the past and hae
Collogued in monie a stitch up
In the deid o nicht in Parliament Haa.
I play ma fou pairt in Life’s rich pageant:
Eggs liggit in the past pupate,
Predestined tae unfankle Fate.
Ma mither uised tae threip nae news is guid news and I wad snirt at hou naesaying the auld fowk were. As I’ve gotten aulder masel, aiblins I’m comin round tae kennin whit she was mintin at. Twaa years ago ma hairt lowpit in a gleg wey when an email kythed in ma inbox fae ma best neebor fae schuildays. I clicked on it blythely tae catch up wi his news and was stouned by his wittins: he had been diagnosed wi Motor Neurone Disease. No that lang afore we had met up in a favourite howff for a pint, minding back and blethering anent our plans for retirement. Efter tholin thon lourdsome puddock that Philip Larkin caaed Darg we were baith nou heidin taeward saxty, safety and the Promised Land. Lowsen time was neirhaund. Daft ploys were afuit.
As the Ardbeg flawed we fondly imagined we micht resume oor tentfou careers as rock gods and musicians that we had puit by forty years afore. A perr o lads o pairts fae warkin class back grounds, Kevin had gaun tae St Andrews tae study medicine, masel tae Edinburgh tae read English, I graduated and became a teacher but Kevin was a heicher fleer. He gaed tae Manchester and heezed hisel up tae be the Professor o Micro Bacteriology – luikan at bugs he caaed it. Later on, no happy wi the dreich world o Academia and jalousan that he wasnae puitten his gifts tae best uiss he taen on a new job at Harrogate Infirmary, a fashious and deavesome post that did his health and speerits nae guid. He was a life-lang hertsome uphauder o the National Health Service and its socialist values o puittin luikan efter fowk afore makkin siller: the sleekit raxin o privatisation and the lang hours o argie bargie wi bureaucrats ower infection rates and statistics exhausted him and taen him faurther awaa fae his first caain. It micht soond pawky and sentimental but gin onybody deserved a breither efter cawin his pan out for maist o his life it was ma guid feir.
Being a medical cheil, the Prof had a better norrae o whit Motor Neurone Disease meant than the lave o fowk. I had heard tell o it and kent that there was nae cure but like muckle else, I had nae cleir glisk o whit this terrible lurgie did. The MND Scotland wabsteid explains it aa: motor neurones are the nerves that cairry messages fae the harns tae the muscles, telling the body hou tae wark and gar shift itsel. The heicher nuerones, caaed axons, send messages tae the spinal cord. The laicher neurones rax fae the spinal cord tae the muscles tae let them ken hou and when tae muive. Gin heicher motor neurones stert tae be hermed, syne control o the muscle is tint aathegither. The wittins and commands cannae leave the harns and the muscles dwyne awaa causing paralysis and at the hinder end, daith. The tholer can nae langer breith. There are a wheen o types o this disease and aabody is cawed doun by it in ilka weys . Survival rates are twaa tae fower years. Ae drug caaed Riluzole maun haud up its infuit for a smaa bit. Sae faur, nae cure has been found.
Seeing hou bravely Kevin puit up wi the onding o this progressive disease made me feel baith thowless and at the same time gey lucky. Whit micht I dae for him and ithers like him? Afore I could get ma heid thegither Kevin had gaun – faur airlier than had been diagnosed. When a dowffsome outcome befaas us, it is a naitral eneuch howp tae dae some guid thing aiblins gin juist for selfou raisons. I had published ma first poems in ma last year at schuil in ‘76 in a Fife magazine caaed Words. I mind shawing them aff proudly tae Kevin – and the cheque I got for twaa pounds ten forbye. Since thon I hae published a wheen mair: the cheques hinnae raxed muckle mair though… I jaloused that I micht bring out a Collected Poems wi aa the proceeds gaun tae MND Scotland tae mind Kevin’s memrie.
MND Scotland is a charity that gies free support tae fowk afflictit wi Motor Neurone Disease: councellan, ettling tae win grants and benefit advice, equipment loan and graith tae help wi communication, information for carers and faimily, respite and holidays for sufferers. As weill, MND Scotland donates tae research intil the causes and curing o it. Ane day, this awfou disease, sae thrang tae puit the hems on life, maun be owercowpit. In 2015 MND Scotland successfully campaigned for the Scottish Government tae gie siller for three PhD research studentships. Nou they are campaigning aince mair by responding tae the Scottish Government’s speirans on the future o social security in Scotland. They threip that fowk wha hae tae thole it are automatically entitled tae benefits athout application or means testing.
But ma thochts are aye wi ma pal. Luikan back, I see that we had our differences. I was a proto Nat, Kevin was mair pragmatic Labour. In the airt we grouwed up in, we taen a wheen o things for grantit. A job micht be for life gin you wantit it. Public service needit nae apology. Athout kennin it, we were the cou’s tail o the cradle tae grave generation. Since Thatcher in the echties our warld had slawly gaun tapsilteerie.
It’s a gey funny and aiblins ooriesome feeling when you rake ower and edit forty years o your thochts and feelings tae wale out fae the midden-hairst o words the poems ye jalouse worth republishing. Sae muckle has kittled in that forty year spang: muckle waas hae cowpit doun; muckle biggins hae heezed up. Ayelestan wars and famines hae filled our widening screens and een. Mobile phones, social media, cloning and stem cell research bumbaise me but aye there’s nae cure for a wheen o things that I mibbe thocht wad be auld history by nou …
…and whaur did aa that time flee awaa tae? Forty years hae birlt ben since I was at secondary schuil in Kirkcaldy whaur a gyte auld science teacher held up a silicone transistor atween his thoomb and his pinkie and announced tae the cless: “this tottie wee thing’ll chynge the warld you laddies and lassies grouw up in.”
Hou we lauched!
Glenrothes this nicht fae afaur:
An infaaed star. A pit
fluidit wi fause howp,
A lang gaun glimmeran, a sklentan
o orbs and caunles.
Gin we maun sperkle
he micht laund the nicht.
Ma best pal bides thonder,
lending a lug tae his radio late.
Time’s knock is sweirt
tae ding amang daurk holes.
Sic a waste o a beinly, byordinar saul!
Stars Are The Aizles
Selected Poems in Scots 1976–2016 By William Hershaw.
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