The Female Muse

According to the dictionary, the Muse is 'a goddess that inspires a creative artist, especially a poet'. Well, that's surely a male-orientated origin of the word. The Nine Muses in ancient Greek mythology were sister goddesses, each of whom was regarded as the protectress of a different art or science. In the twenty first century, what inspires a female writer to create literature, whether it be poetry or prose? In this GaelForce, in a Centre-page spread, we see the Female Muse at work and inspiration clearly stems from a wide variety of stimuli: childhood, family, identity, nature, dreamworlds. The women writers draw upon a myriad of sources and the reader is presented with an enchanting kaleidoscope of memories, aspirations and present-day realities. All the writers are based in Scotland, all the writers have held residencies or given readings in south-west Scotland. Enjoy your own muse through these specially-commissioned poems and stories as you explore this year's GaelForce programme of events.   Liz Niven

 

 

Split

who knows what will emerge from this
split in the curly ash
sweet-smelling warm-coloured
cutcomb wood-honey

crests of grain on the waney edge
contours of the border hills
and curious valleys
in the splice felled by the gale

aglow with leftover heat
galaxies fly apart faster

now you can see
stars beside a tree

Valerie Gillies The new collection of poetry by Valerie Gillies, The Lightning Tree, is published by Polygon in June 2002-05-28

 

 

The Vital Pantomime

Prologue

Before the tick of dawn light
& feathered, it must be that the night
has tugged on the boat in which she slept, remote

Act One
THE MUSE,NIGHT

Do I come tripping with neat
steps through the yellow corn and the green
dreamland and spew my energy over
the slivers of life in lonely rooms? I shake
them by the shoulder. Stir, awaken.

Flung in my folds of darkness, russet-
bellied hopes wriggle. Unbutton the flounce
of starlight, stricken! And the mound of moulted dying living,
hump that mutes all singing, damn of all love,
do not give it dignity. Come.

And she was Night who said all this
Who bent to me and gave me a kiss
And put into my empty arms
A fidgeting wood full of charms

Go forward, my tongue like a dog's
laps at the moon, full bowl of clung to
pleasure. Your pared down dreams
scream! Inside my Night's vocabulary,
stretch! Have vowels as velvet dragons,
syllables that spangle on the drapes of speech...

When I was over the next
Piece of wonder, finding myself back with
Who I was to be, her owls came
To stab me. Oh then I slept
To be harvested. Round me, I was later told
Night folded gold and set the ticking
Clocks of a hundred years.

Us, all with the desire to be free
have futures we sometimes cannot see.

Maureen Sangster is a poet (and hospital worker) who lives in Kirkcaldy. Sheis a former Writer-in-Residence for Dumfries & Galloway Health Care Trust. Forthcoming poetry collection 'The Unseen Hospital' publishedby Kettleonia due out August 2002.

 

 

My Aunt Marge

My Aunt Marge lives on the edge
Of the village in her little white cottage.

She had waved goodbye, handing a bouquet
To her brother Hector over sixty years ago
With tears in her eyes and a brave
Smile on her lips, when he went to the War.

He never came back, though a telegram did
Saying what a great hero he was. So he stood
Smiling on her dresser in his smart uniform
And as a little boy on a bicycle in a glass cabinet
In her chintz curtained living room
And she spoke to him every morning as she did
To Roger, with whom she sat hand in hand
On a studio couch: she in a floral dress
And he in his dark uniform with wings on his
Shoulders, both smiling hopefully for a future
With no War, when they would have married
If only his plane had not crashed
In that village near the city, far away -
The name of which slipped her memory
As did many things these days...

So she told these two young men of what
She would be up to and what she
Would buy, and what she would
List as messages for her milkman
Who was a good lad, bringing things
To her door. She didn't go to these
Big places with rows and rows of things
That set her head whirling.
The little things that she needed
Were at the corner shop -
Her tea leaves in a box, her Robinson's
Barley and marmite, digestive biscuits
And corned beef and condensed milk in cans.

And at night without blackouts
And sirens, she sat watching the
Patterns of intricate flowers on her carpet,
Dreaming of the exotic lands where
Her Hector and her Roger had gone And now lay, mixed in the dust
While she remained where they left her
On the edge of the village in the
Little white cottage, while the rest of the
Street changed and others moved on.

Bashabi Fraser Widely published in poetry magazines, anthlogies, and her own collections.in India and Scotland. She teaches English Literature at the Open University in Scotland and is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Edinburgh University.

 

 

TEETH

My mother must have been in her early forties when she had all her top teeth taken out. I couldn't look at her. She sat in the small leather chair with a bowl of blood beside her. I think it may have been the blood that upset me more than my poor mother's loss of teeth. I wanted her to go away and take the awful bowl of blood with her. To go away and grow new teeth. To stop holding a blood-stained handkerchief to her mouth and telling me, inbetween groans, to look after my own teeth.

I sat on the floor with my back to her, playing with a pack of cards. I was pretending to be the fishwoman. The cards were my fish. The fishwoman had a cart which she parked alongisde the post office every Tuesday and Friday. Usually there were two boxes on the cart, one of plaice and one of kippers. The plaice was my favourite. The kippers looked brown and old. I couldn't imagine them swimming. But I was as entranced by the dead plaice as I was by the fishwoman herself.

I was under the illusion that the fishwoman caught the fish herself. I pictured her, in her old grey coat, worn blue headscarf and grey, fingerless mittens, turning her cart upside down and sailing it over the sea at night, singing to herself and belonging to the sea as much as the fish did, only unlike them, she was immortal.

The fishwoman's hands, dealing with the dead plaice, had the deft grace of a concert pianist. Her hands would slither among the shining, sippery white bodies, pull one out, slap it on her board, chop off head and tail, slit its belly, flick out the bones and have the fish wrapped in newspaper all in one fluent movement.

I loved the dead fish as much as I loved the fishwoman. The sheen of them. Their sea-coldness. Their still, marble eyes, their freckled bellies, the minute, crisp pleating of their bark-brown fins and tails. The erotic slime of them. It was such a guilty love that I could never eat one.

So that afternoon, while my mother mourned for her teeth, I pretended the cards were fish and slithered my hands among them. What I really wanted to know was how the fish felt on your hands. How cold they were. How slimey.

My mother's one attempt to serve me fish only made matters worse. 'Mind the bones,' she said. 'You could choke to death on one.' The bones - it must have been an unfilleted fish - were so tiny, fragile as the veins of a leaf and as white as the flesh itself, that it seemed pure good luck not to choke to death on a bone. I saw no point in eating such life-threatening food.

Even with my back to my mother, I knew something terrible had happened and that she would never be the same again. It wasn't just her teeth she had lost. It was youth.

My father already had false teeth. At night they each put their teeth in plastic containers. They joked about teeth. They said how wonderful false ones were and you never had to worry about the dentist again. But that was after you'd got used to wearing them and that awful, ageing, gummy look before you put them in.

I think my mother felt very alone that afternoon. She sat with me for the minimal animal comfort another human being could offer. It was a dreadful afternoon for me too. For the first time I realised my mother wasn't built to last. Anything could happen after teeth. Arms. Legs. Feet. Ever larger bowls of blood. I kept my back turned and went on playing with my imaginary dead fish. I felt quite sure the fishwoman didn't have false teeth.

Anatomically, teeth was probably the nearest I got to my parents. I never saw either of them naked. Sometimes I saw my mother in her underwear. It was fierce stuff. More like armour. A bra that almost came down to her waist and a boned, pink corset. In time this was replaced by something lighter, called a 'roll on', an item my mother was very glad to roll off on a winter afternoon. The topping to the armour was prettier. Lace-edged French (or cami) knickers and sometimes a full length petticoat. My favourite part of her was her upper arms - plump, white, soft and always cool - on reflection, like the bodies of the plaice.

Perhaps because they were so rarely exposed, the bodies of both my parents - or the glimpses I had of them - looked pitiably vulnerable. You wished them fur.

The most I ever saw of my father's body was his pink, rawly-loofahed legs when he was wearing his bath-robe or sometimes a little fuzz of hair appearing through the gap of his pyjama flies when the waist cord worked loose.

Both of them hated to be seen without teeth. In time, my mother had her bottom teeth removed too. She said that was worse, but I think she was wrong. By the time it came to the removal of her bottom teeth, she'd settled for middle age.

Diana Hendry has published poetry and prose for adults as well as over 30 books for children, one of which won the Whitbread Prize. She has been Writer-in-residence for D&G Health Care Trust.

 

 

SURPRISES

Once, my mother surprised me.
Can't quite remember the date,
though I know it was the last year
they played for the Queenshill Cup
on Carlingwark Loch.
Winter of waking to frost ferns
inside the bedroom window,
dad lighting a paraffin lamp
to stop the bathroom pipes from freezing.
The loch froze, hard enough to support
the curlers and their granite stones, skaters,
children sliding on ice made slicker still
and those who came for the novelty
of walking on water.
I was surprised when my mother
fastened on a pair of skates she'd borrowed
and glided away, a sudden stranger.

Years later, on a summer day in the park
I saw the same surprise in your eyes
when I walked on stilts.

Mary Smith is a writer and journalist based in Castle Douglas. Her first book 'Before the Taliban', based upon her experiences in Afghanistan, was published by Inyx in 2001.

 

 

Living by Rivers

We live by rivers

This wee country's water-veined from
coast to coast, north to south, west to east.
Burns are blood-vessels,
arteries touching seas,
fingering lochs.

I have lived by rivers:

Clyde, Cree, Nith.
Swathe through Mungo's city.
Snake to Ninian's Machars.
Crosswash on Whitesands
flooding bank.

We will die near rivers,

the moon whispering water harmonies,
moving monthly cycles past autumn days,
watching those who flit base,
lose moorings,.
re-find them though shifted.

Shores to die for.
Shores we'll die before.

Liz Niven is a poet and writer based in Dumfries. She was Writer-in-Residence for D&G Arts Association. She is a widely-published poet in Scots and English her most recent anthology is 'Stravaigin' published by Canongate.

A Grandchild

The child is asleep in the big bed
In the afternoon.
Curtains are...HUSH...closed....HUSH
Against the light.
Silence is pulled down like a soft blind
And fastened.

Throughout the house
Petals are falling soundlessly,
Or so it seems.
All's held in thrall.
Carpets glue themselves to the floor
And the fire
Tones itself down
To a quiet purr. Everything's pegged down.
I'm pegged down
By the child's powerful sleeping.

Josephine Neill lives in Dumfries.She is a former teacher and has published a large amount of poetry and prose in Scots and English.

 

 

Extract from 'The Beauty Room'

'Celia's just a short form,' her mother would lecture Celia whenever she'd misbehaved, her painted-on beautician eyebrows furled out of reach. 'Remember that. Short for Cecilia. So you'd better be careful. Better watch out for the missing bits. If you ever want to grow up, that is, and become a full person.'

The warning seemed to be uttered more frequently, recited word by word and with a certain gusto, once Walter started secondary school.

But how on earth did you 'become a full person'? The way her mother talked, it must be something deliberate. Like thinking, or doing an exercise. Maybe it simply meant covering page after page with those 'c's and 'i's from Cecilia till she got cramp in her hand - plain and spidery letters painstakingly drawn, or slipshod scrawls like so many crescent moons, suns half-rising on the horizon, guttering candles, organ pipes ... Maybe writing out those letters would be enough and she'd end up complete. A perfect adult specimen.

Easiest, of course, would be to take the 'c's and 'i's from the magnet alphabet on the fridge which was always dayglo-daring her to compose some 'nice little message'. She could put them under her pillow before going to sleep, pray for a magic transformation in the dark, and when she got up next morning, hey presto, she'd be whole. Like Walter.

The only problem was the tooth fairy - whatever lay under your pillow was hers. Not that Celia believed in such kids' stuff any more. And yet, her tooth fairy couldn't be trusted: sneaking in to leave a couple of pricky pencils behind; then a rubber in the shape of a heart, a curvy pink sweet-smelling heart that gave her headaches and blotted her mistakes all over the page; and last, outrage of outrages, fobbing her off with a dozen ancient ink cartridges, sticky and faded-looking after being kept through years of heat, thunder and rain and dry brittle cold, the ink flowing onto the paper thickly, in milky grey splodges the colour of old people's eyes - nothing like the limpid green she'd asked for.

Eventually Celia decided on something altogether different. It wasn't so much a decision really as a sudden insight. She was undressing when she spotted her new orange top where it had been dumped in the deep-sea shadows under the radiator, turned and twisted and glowing faintly, like a crushed sand star. She'd stopped dead, half in, half out of her dungarees:

ALICE - she'd call herself Alice. ALICE! It was her name too, wasn't it? Jumbled up but still her name, and with no letters missing, starting slap bang at the beginning of the alphabet.

She told Lily next day as they were walking home from school. Lily smiled and, with a glance towards the track where some boys from secondary were doing long-distance running, she said, 'AAAAALICE,' caressing the name with her tongue. Then she laughed: 'In that case I'll be RUBY. Red-haired RRRRRUBY.' For a moment her curls flamed and danced in the early autumn sunlight, in sharp contrast to the grey walls of the new ice rink they'd just passed and which was to open in less than a month. And like dancing flames they licked the side of Celia's face. No mention of ruby lips, she thought; despite their secret games.

It was a half-day. Lunch over and homework done, they had the afternoon to themselves. They clunked about on stilts, skipped rope and hula-hooped, shouting out their new names all over the backyard, playing around with echoes, accents, voices - their mothers', Walter's, Uncle Godfrey's, Lily's father's, old Frau Gehrig's from upstairs - and pretend-feelings (clipped chopped-up sounds for anger, excitement or fear, slurred and slow ones for love, or drunkenness).

They threw their names at the sun and the swallows in the sky. 'R-u-b-y! Ruuuuuuuuby! Ruby-by-by-by-by-by-by!'

At the telegraph pole with the BEAUTY TREATMENTS - PRIVATE SALON sign. 'Ali-ali-ali-ali-ali-ali-alice! Alice-ce-ce-ce-ce!'

They catapulted them over the latticed fence and into the side street at cars, children on bicycles, at the sour-faced woman with her yapping black poodle from the apartment block. 'Ru-ru-ru-ru-ruuuuby!' 'Al-al-al-al-al-al-al-ice!'

Kicked them like balls down the slope at the two closed garage doors. Across the yard and into the kennel which had been empty since Charlie's last trip to the vet's in spring - 'Rrrrrrrrrrrrrruby!' 'Alicccccccccccccce!' 'Rrrrrrrrrrrrrruby!' - flustering the wild grasses that thrived in the tarmac cracks and narrowly missing the border of sunflowers and long-stemmed roses.

Suddenly a balcony door squeaked above them, then Celia's mother appeared round the corner from the Beauty Room and leant over the window boxes of pink geraniums and white petunias suspended from the kitchen balustrade. Her eyebrows had been freshly shaved off; it was her client-free afternoon, reserved for her own personal beauty treatments.

'Alice? Alice? ... Now who could that be?' The lumps of naked skin seemed to be drawn halfway up her forehead.

'Oh, it's nothing, Frau Roth. Just a game.' 'Well, a game's not nothing, Lily, I wouldn't say that. Nor would your mum now, would she? Games are fun, aren't they? Good games, good fun. And I like having fun!' Her smile was like a bruise. 'So, won't you tell me, Lily? There's a pretty girl ...'

Purring with persuasiveness, the voice asked to be stroked and petted, and Celia knew her friend was going to fall for it. Ten years old and already menstruating, yet so easily fooled by flattery, it just didn't bear thinking about. Already Lily had taken several steps towards the balcony.

'Well,' she squinted upwards, 'when we play this game I am Ruby. It's because of my red hair, and Mum's got that lovely ring with a ruby. And ... and she -' here Lily looked over to where Celia had been a second ago, only now she was gone, '- she -' emphasis trying to make up for absence '- is Alice. Not in wonderland, though. Never that, she says.'

From her hidy-hole inside Charlie's kennel Celia saw the puffy brows glisten. She felt laughter arch above her, like a cat about to spit.

'Just you watch you don't call her MALICE, Lily. MALICE is the full version, you know.'

There was the gleam of mother-of-pearl as a hand sliced the air, wagging a finger. Then more laughter, loops and loops of it that dropped right round the kennel and got tighter all the time. So tight Celia had to cover her ears, close her eyes.

She pictured her mother back in the Beauty Room. Her face would be almost touching the cool silver sheen of the wall-length mirror, pulling away every so often when her breath became too hot and misted the surface. Her fingers would be probing the swollen skin, tapping it gently, gently, their tips soft and fluffy with her favourite Magic-Pink cream.

Celia squeezed her eyes shut harder. As hard as she could. Then harder still.

Regi Claire is Swiss. THE BEAUTY ROOM is her first novel. Her book of stories, INSIDE~OUTSIDE, was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Award.

 

 

WITH THESE RINGS

You are fresh words
on the old stone of time.

Here, silence honours you,
here now, the earth turns,
the sun beats, the rain sings.

You are not adrift
among the wheeling constellations
but held by the hoop of love.

Ancient as the ring of standing stones,
prophetic as a snow-ring round the moon,
marriage is.

Wear your vows well when laughter
is the wine between you

or when night lies like a bolster
down the middle of your bed.

May the cold shoulder of the hill
always afford you shelter.
May the sun always seek you
however dark the place.

We who are wordless know
thorns have roses.

And when you go from this day
the burnished stars go with you.

When you go forward from this day,
the love that grew you
grows with you

and marriage is struck,
iron on stone, hand in hand.

Janet Paisley is a poet, playwright and prose-writer, award-winning in all three. She lives in Falkirk and won a Creative Scotland Award in 2000.

 

 

Faraway

At band, he says,
fae the Faroes -
nae the Egyptians, y'ken,
the isles -

So,
he thinks I'm the kind of girl
who'd hold those Pharoahs
uppermost in my mind.
He must register
my place of origin
more southerly;
yet it's sailing by,
moving slowly north,
losing its identity . . .
About those islands,
far north,
cast off the mainland . . .
Where are we going?
That captain - on the Pharos - said
you'd to run with the swell;
rough weather repels,
the sound of their names
hauls us in:
Auskerry, Out Skerries, Fetlar, Unst,
Papa Westray, Papa Stour, Yell -
no place in the sun.
Sandoy, the sound hauls me in.

What band from the Faroes?

Irene Leake
Artist, researcher in drawing/dance. Moved north to Aberdeen: first poems,short stories, text-based installations. Moved south to D&G: Creative Education residency, currently based in Dumfries.

 

 

Miss Made The Sky

Miss made the sky for us on Monday. It was huge. It filled up the whole room and we had tae squeeze intae the corners tae gie it mair space. It was soft tae touch but some of the grey bits were wet and made your hands cauld. The blue bits were nice but, and the fluffy clouds like a kitten's tail. The sky is a lot heavier than you'd think.

On Tuesday she brought a giraffe tae school. It sat on a chair and weÕd tae ask it questions like What do you eat? and What do you do with your neck when you go tae sleep? It had really long eyelashes. I thought it was a bit shy.

On Wednesday she got us tae chase rainbows. They were everywhere, hiding in the corners of windae panes and at the bottom of a vase. There was even one in Maria's eye. But when you tried tae catch them they disappeared so you had tae keep dead quiet and dead still, then they stayed and you could watch them. Richard of York Gained Battles In Vain. Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet. I like Indigo best. In di go.

On Thursday we went tae the moon. It wasnae green like they say in the books - it was silver. It was hard tae walk on the moon even wi our spaceboots on. Your legs felt dead heavy as if you were walking in water. I was glad tae come back.

On Friday when I pulled doon my pants tae go tae the toilet a star fell out of them. It must of been from when we went tae the moon. I gave it tae Miss and she put it on the wall.

The day Miss took off our sad faces and gave us happy ones tae wear instead. I wore my happy face hame and my daddy said Wipe that silly smile off your face. And I took my hanky out and started tae wipe my face and he said Who do you think you are? Go tae your room.

I sat on my bed for a while then I went and opened the wardrobe, pushed the clothes aside and rummled intae the very back of it, but I couldnae find the door that takes you away intae another land like the one in the story. So I just sat in the wardrobe wi my blue coat over my face. I must of lost my happy face somewhere in the wardobe because when I brushed my teeth the night I couldnae find it. Maybe Miss will give me another one tomorrow.

Anne Donovan Winner of the 1997 Macallan/Scotland on Sunday short story competition and a Canongate Prizewinner in 2000. Hieroglyphics, her collection of short stories, was published by Canongate in 2001 and her novel Buddha Da is due to be published in January 2003, also by Canongate.