Terror of the Ash-Heap

(This poem needs a word of introduction. Jenny is my half-sister; Pippa my young adoptive sister; Helen a girl I had been going to marry. The situation in the aftermath of which it was written concerned Jenny’s and my father, a Glasgow academic, Jenny’s mother, a scholar, primarily Jenny herself, and myself: the four of us were variously involved in a terrible family break-up.)

Weep now, heroines of bright-eyed dreams!
I’m into madness.
Night monarchs me: yet the moon gleams
at least with sadness.


My Jenny is dying.
Jenny, my darling, whose dragon’s-teeth are wild.
Her dragonfly encounters are denying
a genius, an actress and a child.


swabbed and swaddled sticky terror in asylum cowering

Pippa, the crow is speaking from brambles,
not a bad place for a crow.
He’s sorry his beard is such a shambles
but he’s happy as you know.

My Jenny a car slewed as I braked a bird screamed
in my head inside are squashed insects
the driver is dead.


What poem, mirror or perimeter,
what railing is safety?
Five minutes! then my own furniture
settles into me.

Fact or surmise? Faked and/or right?

Helen, the girl with the blackberry eyes!
She leant from cloisters,
a pressed wildflower, so thin and wise.
I knew the witch in her but not the hostess.

A vice holds my eyes. Parochial night.


Walking, my feet bang the pavement like a drum
as truth spits out its lie.
To be dumb to be dumb to be dumb dumb dumb
to be dumb is better than to die.

laughing the elastoplast off my eyes

Her pop-eyed parents spliced her fast
as the knot in a balloon.

O when will she accept her past?

Her mother, my teacher, was bent in the blast

and my father will die soon.


An innocent stranger attracted to their danger I fingered different themes,
and dragged the ocean
without a notion
catalyst to a mighty old explosion!

Listen to their screams, their screams!


Weep now, heroines of bright-eyed dreams!


A matchstick burned right through I did not break.
But sometimes when I sleep
terror of the ash-heap flares just as I wake.


O in this nightmare how shall I construct
the charred truth out of lies?

Or in the black-and-white future how instruct
the pupils of my eyes?

For as little as five minutes or as much as twenty I had slipped off the side of the road, as it were, on my own in my room at the top of a tenement in Byres Road, coming to with furniture overturned around me and cut and bleeding from fighting it. I knew that if anyone had seen the incident I’d have been viewed as mad and may have been put under protection. It took me years to get back to a full strength of confidence of being. I did it on my own.

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