Crankshaft and piston. Hard words roll

Off the tongues of the island men.

Unschooled, they carry their knowledge

Like grime, in the folds of their skin,

In the creases of their hands. Geometry

Is instinct. Physics they have by heart.

And the miracle of setting iron and steel

Upon the water is well within their grasp.


Sons of the sea. Of Vikings and fishermen

Ferrymen and adventurers. A boat is after all

A boat. This much they have learned.

Their work done, they can only stand by

And watch as she vanishes, escaping to a point

Beyond the horizon. (The hulk upon the river is

Always inexplicably female)

                        Queen Mary, Queen Mary‚Ķ

Downstream sailing, in search of a better life

In the huddle of tenements: Black-smoked

Inside and out. Hole-in-the wall beds

In a single-end. Five to a room and a fight

On the stair on a Friday night.

Meeting in the pubs they know, where the

Barmaid soothes in her mother tongue

She loves the boys from home. But they are drawn

To city girls. They make their beds and know

They must lie in them. Grow old in them

Till home becomes a dream of fresh sea spay,

Of pebbles and streams and the scent wild flowers

Where you walk in the stories that you tell to your children.

First  published in a slightly altered version in From Glasgow to Saturn: issue 19

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