An Anthology of Scottish and South Asian Poetry
Edited by Bashabi Fraser and Alan Riach
Luath Press, 2017
I like a random poetry discovery as you may well know. Well, this one fell into my lap last week just as I most needed it. I've been struggling to read anything longer than a paragraph recently; exhaustion, child care, lack of motivation, other concerns, world weariness, etc.
So, this literary "feast of many flavours" was a much appreciated find. Here are just a wee sample.
Tessa Ransford (1938-2015)
The dhobi's dog
The dhobi's dog will return from riverbank in the sun
to the house, but not lie down; to and fro he'll trot
panting, semi-wild, hither and thither recalled,
never petted, fondled, either hot or cold.
Does he belong? To whom? Dhobi-ji send him home,
Bibi-ji won't give him room. Such is my lot.
Born and reared in India, comforted by ayah
on some cool verandah of lofty bungalow
with charpai and dgchi, decander and serahi,
enervated, dusty, the whining mosquito,
black ants and red, hug fans overhead:
when all was done and said, the British had to go.
In Scotland I froze: hands, feet, nose,
in thick uneasy clothes at dour boarding school:
a wind-resistant, dismal, stern, redoubtable,
grey-stone-wall life exemplified by rule;
embarrassed to embrace, weep, laugh, kiss:
was I of this race? from such a gene pool?
I lived in Pakistan, land of the Mussulman,
governed by the Koran. I learned Punjabi,
dressed in shalwar, travelled to Lahore,
joined in zabur, lived on dal-chapatti:
but didn't my passport say 'British, born Bombay'
however long my stay in Sialkot or Karachi?
I like the way I speak, the voice my thoughts make,
yet Scottish folk are quick to think me English.
I've lived here (sixty) years (Anderson forebears
and Glasgow Macalisters - that's buksheesh!)
Still my language finds no place, no ethnic dress or face:
I plead my special case and thus I finish.
Address Tae Chicken Tikka Masala
Fair fa' the nations favourite dish
fulfilling everybody's wish,
great chieftain, O so very Scottish,
the spice o life;
ye came, and conquered the English,
tae cure thestrife.
Born in Glasgow's Shish Mahal
during Thatcher's iron rule,
your origins stretch to the Mughals
but when they tried
the chicken tikka, the locals
found it too dry.
The chef wad think tae open up
a can o' Campbell's tomato soup,
add chilli, colouring with pap-
-rika for zest;
and then O what a glorious sup,
simply the best.
As Scots we want the hottest thing
on the menu, a dish with zing:
haggis disnae mak us sing -
it's the mince an tatties o Tony Singh
brings tears tae eyes.
Noo we export tae India
oor national dish, making it clear
that Scotland is a warld leader
in aa the airts;
fir chicken tikka masala
ye've won oor hairts.
Lord Ganesh, tae please the Scots
remember whit they want is lots
o sauce and spices, very hot,
but dinnae worry;
Ah've got the answer in ma pot -
gie then a curry.
Are you land or water?
You welcome me,
spongy wetland, burnt red
rain-fed mosses stacked
discreetly under heather.
I've gone this way before,
looked out at lochs,
Grand Canyon, a mile deep,
gardens that no longer hang
but are hung into the earth.
I have seen you, cast
my thought-hook elsewhere.
But today it is your
peaty reticence, the silence
of your insects, the lure
of no purchase, that wants me.
Your open-heart surgery landscape
will unravel me enough.
I want your compressed
witness, your tidy files, the human
and inhuman in your dark seams.
What was and is, together,
not reduced like the curlew's cry
but deep as Bible layers.
You do it with such flair,
skip over the ten thousand years.
You are the story I would walk on,
slip through as fish or toad,
come clean to fill your sky
full of bright sentences.
|Bashabi and Alan