In Kersland Street

on the tenth anniversary of a death


Kersland Street: railings,
scaffolding and men
shifting planks and clanking steel.
I remember when
I first met you, Jenny.
You a serious ten

and I fourteen, related
by the fathering act,
sensibly discussed it,
knew it as a fact;
but always deep between us
was what the knowledge lacked.

You had grown in Kersland Street,
sister father mother
cat and school about you; I
came from somethere other;
popped up in school holidays;
an alien for a brother.

All of thirty years ago
in Kersland Street we walked.
Down again, up again –
how sensibly we talked!
Looking back, I see the fiend
that behind you stalked.

By the tall black houses,
down the street’s slight drop,
something drifted, something grew,
something could not stop
climbing all the ways you used,
till it reached the top.

It had started earlier,
almost at your birth
when your mother (now gone too)
thought that you were worth
more than Shakespeare, Einstein –
the brainiest scrap on earth.

So she tried to steer you –
and guided you instead
right up to a witches’ cave
where the mad are led.
(You told me once, years later,
a cauldron in your head

burned, burned.) Our meeting
did not cause your end –
but added to the strangeness
in which you were penned.
Now if I could meet you
I think we might mend

the rift of separate childhood –
but that it’s too late.
Ten years ago, at thirty,
the fiend that lay in wait
in a Glasgow street with railings,
leapt out – to your fate.


Mothers, fathers, teachers
for all your care and love
children are better on their own
than given too hard a shove.
Than being given a million pounds
it’s better to earn a penny,
for fool’s gold is what ruins them.
And even if to many

the metal’s true, to them it’s not
unless it’s truly mined
by their controlling effort.
This mother, then, was blind
because she saw too much; she worked,
an isolated scholar,
on histories of Greece and Wales.
She did not see the collar

she slipped on her own daughter’s head
and tightened round the temple
because the mite was quick and bright.
She did not heed the tremble
that gripped the childhood, shook the teens
of her imprisoned daughter.
And when the body broke, it was
a kind of home-grown slaughter.


I see you now in Kersland Street
some years before I met you,
wanting to screech with other tots,
but something would not let you.

I see you in your first small school –
and suddenly I see
the child you also really were,
and free of tragedy.

I see you running up the street,
I see you in the park,
I see you by the Kelvin’s stream,
I see you in the dark

sleeping a child’s healing sleep.
In Kersland Street I stand
and meet my sister, ten years dead,
in childhood’s far-off land.

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