In the bread-bin, by Mandy Macdonald

I found some hot cross buns,
almost three years past
their sell-by date.
Greying, solid, stodgy,
made to a recipe created
in 1940, or possibly earlier.

Their lightness is all gone,
their golden softness.
Yet they survive,
for they are vacuum-packed,
tightly insulated
from all outside influences.
I wonder whether
they packed themselves.

But put your ear, your nose
to the packet. Can you detect
a yeasty whisper, a leak of conspiracy,
an odour of pseudo-sanctity?
If i just pierce the clingfilm wrapping
– like this –
the sour-sweet efflatus hits you
like decades-old resentment.
In there, the winey, bog-brown fruit
is fermenting.

Sentinel, by Mandy Macdonald

On 17 November 2018, a young American missionary who tried to land illegally on the remote North Sentinel Island (pop. c. 100), one of the Andaman and Nicobar group in the Indian Ocean, was the latest person to be killed by the island’s inhabitants, who violently repel all outsiders. Since the 1990s the Indian government, which is responsible for the island, has declared it out of bounds to visitors so that the Sentinelese can be left alone.

 

a people at least
thirty thousand years old
living on what their island provides
naked, handsome, happy
(or so we imagine)
officially ‘uncontacted’
in fact uncontactable
by their own wish
which they enforce by attacking
anyone who tries to land

we want to know about them
of course
……………….how they live, how they survive
how can an island of twenty-three square miles
……………….support them for so many millennia?
can their needs be so modest?
have they solved the problem of overpopulation
in some way
……………….we might disapprove of?
has nature herself set limits
on their fecundity?

so we send emissaries, confident
we can help
we know what they want

they want Jesus
they want money
they want booze
they want pop music
they want the internet
but most of all, they want
clothes
and Coke

some of our gifts
they use –
metal salvaged from broken ships
for arrowheads
bits of the bright plastic tide we send
to slosh against their shores
just once – in 1991 – a gift boat of coconuts
brought them down to their beach
in friendship, or truce
……………….(they like coconuts
……………….but coconuts don’t grow
……………….on North Sentinel Island)

everyone else
they drive off with cries
in their language that no-one else understands
and arrows

Ride to the abyss*, by Mandy MacDonald

Is this the beginning of the end
after all? Hell-bound,
slip-sliding on power & money
& lies,
our nations’ mad charioteers
career after the old horsemen aroused
from their uneasy sleep, eager
to mow & slice & erupt in blood
from land to land.

Contagion of savage pointless deaths,
those small wars like inkblots on a map,
their edges bleeding out, flowing together
into one great redblack pool, meniscus
slick with death.

Here in my garden, spring comes late,
yellow & blue;
the small birds flutter & pipe, nest-foraging
in slow green.
It is pleasant here
but it is not an island.

Am I just to stay here & wait?

,

*The title is borrowed from Berlioz’s opera, The Damnation of Faust.

Aberdeen, 2050 ce by Mandy Macdonald

On days when the sun shines we stop work,
go into our garden with books, coffee, wine, fruit;
it will not shine for long, and we must make the most of it.

The garden is violet and misty blue,
full of ferns and skiophilic flowers,
but I remember it as it once was

 in summer, blazing with hot vermilion,
bronze, gold, chrome yellow, as the fields were
yellow with dandelion, ragwort, rape.

More people are coming now,
more of them every day, swarming north
with their cracked skin, flayed faces, dust-filled eyes.

They think us a haven. Sometimes we almost laugh. Among those
assigned to us, the wizened children, desert-dried, touch the fruits
we can still grow – raspberries, redcurrants,

dark acid cherries espaliered against a wall –
as though they were jewels. And they laugh at us
when we seek the sunlight, mothlike. They have sunned themselves

enough. As the south shrinks and broils, a terrible beach,
the north is moss-dripping pines, haar reaching inland
for miles. Grey flannel furs the coasts

above the drowned cities, streels far out to sea.
Cloud never leaves the heights, its exhalations
slithering down to overpower the valleys.

We cry for light. Our eyes grow dull like those of fish
caught yesterday, unsold upon a market slab
in some still inhabited seaside town.

In the mornings now, I wake
to despair like a dark moist shawl around my head,
a sticky caul. I know it will never lift.

After Grenfell by Mandy Macdonald

Wiry, precise, like a wading bird —
egret, perhaps, or avocet, or stilt —
an elderly man in the coach queue
bursts out: ‘We were lucky! We had jobs!
Not to have a job was shameful; to lose
your job, a bloody disgrace!’ Startled by
his urgency, other grey heads nod agreement:
to be young now’s not much fun at all.

Round the corner, by the crossing lights,
the same young man, mud-coloured, sits each day
with his begging beanie, his hopeless, dreich politeness:
‘Spare any change?  … Have a nice day then …’
When the rain comes he’ll slip under cover, resettle
at the stairs’ foot, take up his chant again.

On the coach, two ladies of a certain, uncertain age
talk in whispers; each wears six shades of beige —
blouse, jacket, trousers, shoes, plus skin and hair,
treading so palely on the earth, they leave
hardly a glint of brightness, a plucked edge
of sound behind. Do they fear I’ll overhear
their news of gardens, grandchildren and prices?
Yet these mild presences are dangerous: you cannot tell
what they’re thinking, how they might vote, what hushed
and smothering force they could exert on the nation’s fate.

Rain on the window whispers back to them.
Fields fall away, we glide on flyovers
between Glasgow’s high-rise sentinels. And suddenly
clouds part for a moment, the afternoon sun flares
unbearably bright along the upper windows,
and now
everyone is talking about tower blocks.

A History Lesson by Mandy Macdonald

Strathnaver, May 1819:

 

They smashed through our windows,

they tore off our doors,

they burned our roofs of peat and living turf.

In a cold springtime,

they left our children wailing, our elders dying, our herds scattered in terror.

They drove us into ships, into the sea.

 

In a hundred years

there will be nothing to see in this place

but tumbled stones, faint hollows

where once neat tighean stood,

long-cold hearths among the grass and nettles,

bright saplings of rowan.

 

Their magic did not save us.

 

 

Calais, March 2016:

 

Here we have

no windows, no doors,

no roof

They drive us from the shelters of canvas, cardboard, plastic, duct tape, rope,

in which we have barely endured the winter.

They set fire to our tents and shacks;

everything is gone, everything is mud,

everything mangled, suffocated in mud.

 

In this alien place rain falls all the time

but they are driving us even from here

with riot shields, fire, gas, as if this too were war.

We ask whether we are human, when humans treat us thus.

 

In a hundred years

there will be nothing to see in this place

but concrete:

a vast flat lorry park, motorway’s anteroom, oilrag

for the ceaseless machinery of trade, the pointless flow of money.

Or there may be nothing here at all

but the bleak, clouded edge of an encroaching sea.

 

Their cruelty will not save them.

..

 

a revised draft by Mandy Macdonald

after millennia

and millennia of watching

and wondering

where she’d gone wrong

Gaia

went back to the idea she’d had

at the very beginning

..

and when she spotted the first

inquisitive simian

in its sun-shot edenic jungle

painfully curving its spine back

in the wrong direction

forcing its pivoting hip-joints

to bear an unnatural load

just to get at a particularly

rosyjuicy fruit without

having to climb

..

she rewrote the plan

stirred the gene cauldron

stamped them all out

Remembering by Mandy Macdonald

What if we really remembered, and could learn
the lesson taught us by the countless dead
of countless wars:
could hear the shrieks, the clamour of the dying,
the voices of the firestorm; could have caught
the whispered faint escape of terminal breath
deflating the body, floating out, blown atoms
carried across ages and continents? What if
we paid attention?

After Charlie by Mandy Macdonald

 ‘Across the planet 300 million men, women and children are looking for work in order to have the minimal means for survival. The Tramp is no longer singular.’ (John Berger on Charlie Chaplin, Sight & Sound 25/1, Jan. 2015)

Behind the Little Tramp there tramp
and trudge three hundred million more –
all the colours of the earth,
………….all the colours of poverty,
…………………….all the colours of starvation.

Women, children, men
tread a grey Calvary through
the glistening, oiled world of the rich,
its golden doors that are closed to them
except as servants
………….except as slaves
……………………..except as currency.

In the desert language of economists
they are called human capital
people are profit on the hoof
walking money
driven to market

until they stampede

flow like sand dunes, rise like floodwaters
around the feet of the crystal palaces
press on the monstrous glass prisons
with the countless palms of their
finally staunchless rage

bring down the towers,
equalize.

Overheard on a bus in Aberdeen by Mandy Macdonald

– I have lost my travel pass!
– You’ve lost your tribal past?

Well, that too,
now you come to mention it:
I am so far from my ochre deserts,
my dawdling, tawny rivers,
my tangled harbours,
my thirsty grey-leaved eucalypts.

My history is smeared on the landscape there,
map and dream knitted in ages past but never gone
from rocks and stars, beasts and birds,
the yarn of songlines winding, binding past to present.

But I have no free pass to the past
where I must pay to go walkabout now,
not barefoot but hiking-booted in my own country;
I do not stride the songlines, tall and swift,
no, I creep in metal baggage, winged and wheeled
and new and safe
and paid for.

*

There is another history I know: I am writing it now,
on the cellphone flicking coloured light in my face.
I stand, writing, umbrella’d
in a rainy street at midnight, impelled
by some memory far older than i can calculate
urgently to set this telling down.

Inside this small, smooth tessera, shiny-beetle-black,
that fits the hand as well as a stone skinning knife,
there’s a grain of tantalum, older than all the songlines,
silent, latent under ancient rock paintings,

then, torn up from my land,
yanked, sifted, strained
from millions of tons of it,
from Greenbushes, Wodgina
upheaved, convulsed, raped.

And yet, without that scintilla
I could not write like this, standing
in the dark street, in the rain, half a planet away,
could not tell the story.

thigh deep by Mandy MacDonald

 

 

green green green

green rain washing green leaves

thousand times washed leaves reel

under the kisses of importunate rain

 

washing

we are always washing

gotta clean it up

the dirty wound

your wound

 

on the bus in the bar in the bedroom

you wound me…………….your blunt and rusty

edges dig into me

these wounds you leave will turn yellow

and purple, look

how i am bruised

 

you help me up the kerb &

drop me in the shit

you pull me down beside you

pull me

down in the shit

down writhing

wriggling

to your music

pa pa chím pa pa chím pa pa chá cha chím

in the shit

help me up

help me up

help me

yellow and purple

& livid crusted resentment is what is to be healed here

 

wash it & wash it &

dry it in the sun

that will help

but i am tired of help

the helping hand

the guiding hand

the hand under our elbows

guiding

steering

round our waists

protecting

helping

holding & steering & pushing

& pulling

                & slapping

i am tired of your hands

and i am tired of your music

pa pa chím pa pa chím

your sly guitars and amorcita

palomita

guapa guapa guapa*

sounds like slapping

you are fucking us every minute of the day

red red red

is the colour of the blood of the seven virgin whores

blue silk & white muslin

for the dresses of the seven virgin whores

whose blood i prescribe

for your condition

should clear it up

in a jiffy

 

red as blood

red as rage

 

what’s that you say?

am i all right? not really, no

¿perdón?

yes, i am angry

yes, i am very very angry

thank you

in spite of the shit thigh deep

i can climb this mountain quite well by myself

thank you

in the shit and very angry

 

* Amorcita (sweetheart), palomita (little dove), guapa (pretty, cute) are piropos, the kind of sly endearments men in Latin America whisper into the ears of women as they pass by.

Red: Guatemala, 1980 by Mandy Macdonald

this is the colour we use to ward off the evil eye:

scarlet of cochineal, russet of achiote pod

plant and insect woven

into skirt, sash and shawl

.

this is the dance of rose crimson vermilion terracotta:

bougainvillea swarming over tiled roofs

the shapely bowl for food

baked by morning sun

scoured clean at evening

.

this is the life-and-death march of blood:

of workers blood of women

monthly and daily flowing

red river of sorrow and strength

scouring my country’s wounds

crying: Enough! Enough!

.

(and i cannot but think of the red of the lips and the scarf

of the girl on horseback

in another country

where the banners fly red and black

and she calls from the roadside:

Come and see, come and see!

.

in her crooked arm

a baby sleeping perched

like a kestrel)

Remembering Víctor Jara, 11 September 2013 by Mandy Macdonald

my second son was twelve days old when the terror

broke              poisoned surf sown with nails

on your shoreline of tricolour ribbon

& I was marvelling at the blueness of his eyes

while they were dying there

blood banners flying on the wind from Valparaíso

forty years on, words still recoil, stick

half way

love & grief

cannot drown out the howl of blood

love & anger

cannot sweep away the red sand

cannot unchoke a throat crammed & clotted with music

denied

there are those who say

it turned out all right in the end

& there are those who say

forty years on

there is still no justice for the dead unfound

for the lives unwound

& there are those who say

forty years on

Víctor is more alive than ever

homage to the spectacled savant by Mandy MacDonald

I wish i could write like John Cooper Clarke;
i wish i could rant with his fire and his spark
at the bankers, the wankers, the capsized oil tankers,
insane council projects all morphing to shops,
the high street deceased and our culture sold off,
the software, the hardware, the hard-wearing leers
of the people who sell you your rage and your tears
in a 2-for-1 offer (we care for your purse!);
and you can’t ever say it won’t get any worse,
with the lies told for profit, the god that Trumps God,
and the rape of our  land that goes through on the nod,
and the way that our food makes us sick, makes us fat
(but let’s blame the victims for troubles like that!),
and the rattling and waving of sabres and flags
(in that order), cos peace is a terrible drag –
it’s so bad for business, if arms is your trade
(when the shit hits the fan there’s a mint to be made!);
and searching out peace is like hunting the Snark …
oh, i wish i could write like John Cooper Clarke!