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…
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