Five poems by Edinburgh-based Colin McGuire — poet (As I Sit Quietly, I Begin to Smell Burning), performer and creative writing teacher — who has worked collaboratively with the Scottish Poetry Library
Sit down and shut up
Hold your tongue. Sit at peace.
Orientate yourself with a spoon,
stir complete circles in a coffee cup.
Imagine a snail’s voyage
across the continent
of the floor of your living room.
Sit down and shut up;
somewhere a leaf trembles
on the edge of a runway.
Stillness is its own reward.
Rare lucidity without appointment.
A flightless bee with honey collected.
There is a space with nothing in it.
Inhabit it. Know
what increases, in quietness.
It sits well to reinstall yourself
periodically while dying.
Lock any new age out,
breathe privately to calm.
Each musician must tune to themselves first,
before they tune to the orchestra.
Exhale one deep current.
Leave the knocked door.
A progress is in silence.
This area must be kept clear.
Exam quiet, without test.
What matters is what remains
after every thought and feeling
has been extracted
from the rush of its making.
Public Order Act Sonnet Section 8
Remember: our staff are doing their job.
We always seek the strongest penalties
against assaults on staff and passengers.
Please offer this seat to those less able.
Obstructing the doors can be dangerous.
Don’t leave the train when the doors are closing.
Do not leave any child unattended.
Please keep children in your view at all times.
Unattended baggage will be destroyed.
Be careful when alighting from this train.
You must give up these seats for anyone
disabled, or elderly commuters,
expectant mothers, those carrying gifts.
In case of emergency, please break glass.
Beware: our soldiers are doing the work.
We always seek the strongest weaponry
against assaults on state and government.
Don’t offer this throne to those less able.
Dangerous facts obscured can be useful.
Please leave the truth when the doors are closing.
Do not leave your children unattended.
Please keep your orphans in view at all times.
Uninvolved civilians will be destroyed.
Be careful when alighting from this war.
You have given up compassion for blood.
Disabled or elderly survivors,
expectant mothers, those carrying kids,
in emergencies, please break them like glass.
It rattled the lock on the door
before sliding through the gap.
Creeping up the stairs with so much as a creak
and slipping into his bed, under his arm and settled
in that warmth, carried on nonchalant
in its casually brutal air into the brain
where it sat in the morning and clutched at his head
as it enlisted four more
to come to sit at the table in his skull
to give orders
to take his wife and daughter hostage
to blindfold the parents
to gag the brother
to hold the firing squad back for 6 months
to make them think that tumours were almost easy
to have him golfing, design his prized garden,
to build his hopes up for a life with Georgia
to focus his energy on saving everything that matters,
to pull a trick like that on a Sunday
have him fitting after a shower — not even dry
still dripping in the nude.
To detonate one week later, on a Saturday,
at bitter least with all his family around him.
To take him in twelve hours
as we sat surrounding him in our straitjackets,
in silence, like priests and nuns holding vigil;
to come and bulldoze the house
Don’t tell me what love is
Which is invisible, which is thin currency,
which is an end in itself, which is a fire door,
which is a window blind, which is a dust particle
which is a noun hardened until death
which is a verb exhausted on its bed,
which is a sign indicating something is missing,
which is an extra added to a useless commodity,
which is the rich sauce you do not have the appetite to finish.
which is the squeeze in desperation
which is nipples of rain clinging
to the flimsy tentacles of your arm hair
which is a man sitting on the fringe of a pond
which is a table surrounded by family,
hot with laughter under dimmed lights.
which is the cold stark separation of each from each
which is the firm grasp of an elderly woman
which is the possessive instinct while it lasts
which is the last vestige of a ghost.
Age is being struck by a bolt of lightning
that slows you gradually; the envy of youth
is never having to rush, who speed past drunk
on their own engine, before being struck
by lightning in turn.
Roll on Gran, roll on Sister, roll on Mum, until
the tale end of the night, until the batteries run out,
until the bones creak like a stiff door,
until your voice slows to an aphasic blur, roll on love.
For now you pocket a few biscuits, and turn back
to the living room and the television, the programme
on in a few minutes. Your slippers like a voyager’s
boots carry you on, to that firm chair.
You sit alone, but not lonely and say to air
with the wisdom of nothing: It’s as if my life happened
to someone else. And you take a biscuit and taste,
as all moments, the crumbs of what remains.
Eighty years. The accumulation, to bring me here,
to bring me here, to this conclusion, to sit alone
and watch the television, the screen’s white illumination
a kind of joke, and I am all that’s left of the tree now.
Love stretches as long as a life, before it snaps.
But God have I worked for it, Christ.
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