Hillhead Revisited

In the lightest of February snow
I saw a younger brother, watched him go
along Great Western, into Byers Road
and climb up to a dingy roof-abode.
He lived under the sky in a high room
and fought with demons. There was none from whom
his mind could drag relief, no man, no woman.
He struggled to be free, an embryo human
near dead at birth, unintelligibly curled
within a nightmare of the harsh-mothering world.

He raved of poetry, of philosophy,
of impulse and of insight, as if he
were gifted to become a pen of light.
I watched him lose his reason, fall and fight
the furniture; I saw him tiptoe out
into the terror of day, a brainless shout
of atom-people in street and shop and station . . .
and start to speak, to lose his separation.
I saw him sit the day long in room-shadow
waiting for no-one, nothing, waiting for Godot,
waiting, perhaps, for me to come and see him
from twenty-one years back, who used to be him.

“Brother of shadows, eclipsed in a high room,”
I said, “out of the future’s light or gloom
I come as one more normal, more involved
with – ” “Stop! you think I want some problem solved?”
he jeered, “some way out, some ‘young persons’ shelter’ – ?
You nose in, whinnying like a village elder –
you’re more lugubrious than I’ll ever ne!”
He broke off and looked ponderingly at me,
“And do the demons still squat on your shoulder
and monkey your face round? or do they grow older,
become more normal?” he shouted. “What have you written?”

It was as if a demon’s tooth had bitten
my tongue, my jaw shot wide, my mind was empty
of all but pain. He said, “At two-and-twenty
I ask too much, too wrong.” I shook my head.
“Ask, ask,” I whispered, “the pain says I’m not dead.”

Our eyes met, and we talked of those we knew –
some now had died indeed – of what was new
in his time and in my new world – the signs
of change in types of art – and of some lines
of verse of each. I told him of my job.
He seemed amused. I said he was a snob.
He said that would not change. Outside it snowed.
I found myself adrift down Byres Road,

and then in Saughiehall and George’s Square,
St. Enoch Station and veered round from there,
up Hope, St. Vincent – till I stopped, alone.
While walking I had learnt what it had shown,
that strange encounter with a younger sibling.
My family, my teaching and my scribbling
were no defence against a demon shrieking
“Why? What? Where? When?” At first when he was speaking
and I had seen his hurt (and felt some pain)
I heard a question of existence plain –
but very soon, as pain began to dim,
I talked more with my now-self than with him.

The city’s roads are still the same as when
I took a high nook in a tenement-den
and beat my brains out on an answerless question.
The traffic (in its ceaseless auto-suggestion)
moves with the times – but the lines laid down
change little, if at all. I trod the town
at forty-three, without a map . . . and knew
the plan had not changed much since twenty-two.

“Speak to me brother!” but I sense the riddance
at last within me, of that young-man cadence.
It will not need to find me out again,
that blinding question, that chaotic brain,
that senseless strength, that sun eclipsed in night,
that demon taking up his pen of light.
It came for good, and it had gone for good.
It was my origin of adulthood,
now re-discovered on my coming here.
The high room was my birth-place and my bier.
From that exaggeration came a leaning,
a bent to write, that gave the years a meaning,
though hardly answering that cry, that gleam
that broke through snow . . . and now is back in dream.

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