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Mo Shearmon – The Way I Talk, A Poem taken from New Writing Scotland

PART OF THE Blether ISSUE

‘The way I talk moves, streams and urges, rushing along like water. . .’

Crìsdean MacIlleBhàin / Christopher Whyte is a poet in Gaelic, a novelist in English, and the translator from Russian of the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941). After teaching at the universities of Rome, Edinburgh and Glasgow, he moved in 2006 to Budapest where he writes full-time. His sixth collection Ceum air cheum / Step by step, with facing English translations by Niall O’Gallagher, is published by Acair, and has been shortlisted for the Saltire Poetry Book for the Year 2019. This is his poem in the latest New Writing Scotland collection, Sound of an Iceberg.

 

‘Mo Shearmon’ / ‘The Way I Talk’
By Crìsdean MacIlleBhàin / Christopher Whyte
Taken from Sound of an Iceberg: New Writing Scotland 37
Published by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies

 

MO SHEARMON

Mo shearmon siùbhlach struthlach deifreach,

’na ruith gu cabhagach mar an t-uisge

an dèidh da dhoineann bualadh air bearradh àrd

fad uairean, ’s e sireadh gach beàirn is sgoir,

dèin’ air a bhith tèarnadh, a bhith

sgaoilte ann am mìltean dhe chuisleannan

beaga, drillseanach, nach cuir cnap-starra

bacadh fada orra – far an tig stac gu oir,

bidh an t-uisge gu h-obann a’ stealladh

mar gum b’ e falt fuamhair a bh’ ann,

ach leis a’ cheart ghluasad mhì-fhoighidneach

a bhios aig boireannach ’s i tilgeil

a pailteas chiabhan ri taobh

a thuiteam ’nan eas dhe bhoinnean

do-àireamh, làidir, leanmhainneach –

theireadh tu nach fhliuiche idir a bh’ ann

ach sreangan, ròpannan anabarrach tana,

cho tana ’s gum bi sèideadh beag gaoith

a’ fòghnadh gus an toirt às a chèile –

no dh’fhaodadh iad a bhith

’nan cùirtear a tha ceiltinn

chan eil dòigh air nochdadh

ciod e ’n seòrsa thaisbeanadh,

am mireagach no gruamach no co-measgt’ –

mo shearmon a shiùbhlas cho grad

nach bi gu lèor a dh’ùin’ agad

airson freagairt a chruthachadh nad inntinn,

feumaidh greas a bhith ort

ma tha thu ag iarraidh a ghlacadh!

Mo shearmon a tha mar bhòcan beag crùbte

a gheibh a-steach do chùbaid

nach bu chòir neach eile seach am ministear

a bhith ’na sheasamh innte,

le aodach sìobhalta, oifigeil a’ mhinisteir air,

tha e sealltainn dìreach coltach ris

ged a smaoinicheas an coithional

gu bheil e mar gum b’ ann air seargadh –

b’ àbhaist don mhinistear a bhith coimhead

beagan na b’ àirde – agus fhuair

am bòcan gruag bhreugach a dhinn e

sìos air a cheann, bhon a tha fhios ann

falt nam bòcan a bhith cleiteagach, pràbhach

mar nach biodh riamh falt a’ mhinisteir

’s e nochdadh anns an eaglais air Di-dòmhnaich

agus, san tiota a thòisicheas am bòcan a’ bruidhinn,

cha bhi ach treamsgal gun chèill

a’ sileadh a-mach bho bhilean sgabach

do bhrìgh ’s nach eil na bòcain

eòlach air aon chànan daonnda

ach draoidheachd shònraichte a bhith orra –

is ciamar a dh’fhaodadh draoidheachd phàganach

a bhi èifeachdach san eaglais air Dì-dòmhnaich? –

san tiota seo, nochdaidh am ministear

am measg a’ choithional

gun aon chòmhdach air a chom

rùisgte mar san latha a thàinig e dhan t-saoghal

agus bidh e a’ ruith ’s a’ ruith às an eaglais

suas air a’ chnoc a tha faisg oirre

fo mhaoim gum faic an sgìreachd uile

cho crìonach neo-theòma ’s a tha a cholann

’s a bharrachd air sin cho beag ’s a tha a ——

(aon fhacal air a dhubhadh às an seo)

ach air cho clis, grad-shiùbhlach ’s a bhios am ministear

a’ ruith dh’ionnsaigh na coille taobh eil’ a’ chnuic,

fo ionndrainn do bhrìgh ’s gu bheil e cinnteach

nach bi e tachairt ri drathais no briogais

air an crochadh gu dòigheil air geug beithe

no sgithich, mar as àbhaist dhaibh bhith crochte

ann am preas-aodaich farsaing

san dachaigh chomhfhurtail aige –

aig a’ cheart àm, bidh am bòcan a’ leantainn air gu socraichte

treamsgal an dèidh treamsgail a’ tighinn bho bheul

cha robh fhios aige idir e fhèin a bhith

cho sgileil anns an òraideireachd,

tha ’n coithional a’ fàs beagan an-fhoiseil

b’ àbhaist droch latha no dhà a bhith aig a’ mhinistear

cha bhiodh e an còmhnaidh ag ràdh

rudan reusanta no loidigeach

aig amannan bhiodh e doirbh dha-rìribh

aomadh no brìgh a shoisgeulachd a ghlacadh

no aon seagh a b’ fhiachail a tharraing a-mach aiste

ach an-diugh tha e dìreach air a chuthach –

bidh am ministear bochd a’ faighneachd dheth fhèin

am bu chòir dha, ’s dòcha, dàibheadh dhan lochan

ach tha uisgeachan an lochain uamhasach fionnar

b’ fheudar dha snàmh gu tìr is a liubhairt fhèin

mu dheireadh thall – air cho bun-os-cionn,

dian, clisgeach ’s a bhios am ministear fo oillt

a’ saigheadh air adhart ’na dheann-ruith,

cha ruig e ’m feast’ an luathas a th’ aig

Mo shearmon a bhios uaireannan mar fhiadh sgeunach

nach fhaicear ach plathadh dheth am measg nan duilleagan

leis cho meata prìobhaideach ’s a tha e

agus an uair sin, gun rabhadh idir, mothaichidh tu dha

a’ streup suas air a’ bhràighe

is smaoinichidh tu gum faodadh sin a bhith ’na aisling

bhon a tha am fiadh cho mòrail, rìoghail, coileanta ’na mhosgladh

gach ball dheth a’ co-oibreachadh le chèile

mar gun robh e ’g itealaich an àit’ a bhith siubhal,

creididh tu cuideachd gum b’ fheàrr math dh’fhaodte

nach robh sin ach ’na aisling bho nach bitheadh

modh no inneal ann an uair sin

beud no aimhleas a bhith beantainn dha,

bhiodh e do-ruighinn do-leònadh do-chiùrradh

mar gach rud a chruthaich mac-meanmna

no a thugadh dhuinn ann am bruadar,

cho iomlan, cuimir, do-chlaoidheadh –

agus their thusa riut fhèin:

“Chan eil mise creidsinn ann an Dia sam bith,

chan e Crìostaidh no Muslamach a th’ annam,

cha bhi mi toirt mo thaic do ghin dhe na seann-teagasgan

mu bhodach aosta, fòirneartach

no mu na h-àitheantan a sgrìobh e sìos

gu bhith gan leantainn leinn

no mu na peanasan sìorraidh

a tha a’ feitheamh oirnn

mur a bi sinn strìochdail gu leòr” –

ach their thu cuideachd gur dòcha sin

am faireachdainn a bhiodh aig Dia fhèin

an uair a chruthaich e creutair ùr de fheòl ’s de fhuil

gu bhith ga shuidheachadh am bad àraidh dhen t-saoghal

Mo shearmon gun fhios dè cho fada ’s a tha e dol a bhith

’s dòcha gun tèid mi air adhart

gus am faigh Alba neo-eisimeileachd

aig a’ cheann thall agus

“Abraibh rium! Sibhse aig a bheil

dlighe air inntreachdainn sa bhùth bheag is crois

a chur sìos ri taobh na beachd as fheàrr leibh

eadar ’s gu bheil sibh gealtach no dàna!!

Ciod e an àireamh bhliadhnaichean as fheudar traoghadh

mus tig an latha miannaichte sin?”

Mo shearmon a bhios ’na dhearbhadh nach eil

coltas sam bith ann gu bheil

an cànan seo fo smachd a’ bhàis

a dh’aindeoin na their a’ chuid anns an dùisg

a’ Ghàidhlig gràin no gamhlas, a bha co-èigneachadh

ar pàrantan is ar seann-phàrantan

gus a mùchadh ’s a dearmad,

a dh’aindeoin linn sàrachail fadalach

nuair nach ceadaichte a h-ùisneachadh san oilthigh no san sgoil,

sam bruidhneadh na fir-teagaisg

eadhon air cuspair Gàidhealach sa Bheurla,

ar cànan fhìn a dh’fhàs ’na adhbhar-maslaidh,

’na chomharradh air bochdainn’ is ainfhios

na feadhna chleachdadh ann an cagair e –

smaoinichidh mi air cruinneachadh sgoilearan

bliadhnaichean air ais sa Phòlainn, ann

am baile ris an can na daoine Szczecin

baile Pruiseanach a bh’ ann ron chogadh,

Stettin an t-ainm a bh’ air, bha suipeir

fhèiseil, mheadhrach a’ dùnadh na còmhdhalach,

òigear ann, ’s e Sasannach, bha ’g obair

ann an oilthigh san Eadailt, mar a rinn mi fhìn

is mi ’nam òigear, ach nuair a chaidh mi null

a bhruidhinn ris, an ciad rud a thuirt e,

b’ e Not many people speak that language

agus chuala mise mo ghuth fhìn ag ràdh

gu soilleir, stèidhichte, a’ toirt

a thruime sònraichte ri gach aon lide

I – just – haven’t – got – the – time

dh’èirich mi air ball is chaidh mi thairis

gu na boireannaich Phòlainneach nach bitheadh,

bha mi cinnteach, claon-bhreith dhen t-seòrs’ ac’

’s nach iarradh orm bruidhinn mu dheidhinn cuspair

a bhruidhinn mi mu dheidhinn cho tric san àm a dh’fhalbh

’s gu robh e faisg air sgreamh a dhùsgadh annam –

nuair a sheall mi air ais, cairteal uarach às a dhèidh,

bha an t-òigear a’ coimhead orm fhathast

iongnadh air aodann, theireadh tu

gun d’ fhuair e dìreach sgealp air a ghruaidh

agus smaoinich mise nach robh teagamh ann

nach e dreuchd a tha a’ beantainn ruinne fhìn

barrachd foghlaim a sholarachadh do luchd na Beurla

Mo shearmon aig nach bi ach fìor-chorra uair

an aon mhaille eagnaidh, mhion-chùiseach a bhios

uaireannan aig mo leannan ’na ghnìomhachadh –

cha bu chaomh leam sibh a bhith gam thuigsinn ceàrr,

faodaidh a’ chùis gu lèir a bhith air a coilionadh

ann an ùine ghoirid cuideachd, mar an turas sin

a bha sinn còmhla nar suidhe aig cuirm-bainnse

is bana-charaid ghràdhaichte air pòsadh aig a’ cheann thall –

theab sinn gach dòchas a chall oir bha

uimhir a chompanaich air a bhith aice, cuid dhiubh

geanalta gu leòr ach cuid eile nach gabhadh

creidsinn gu robh i comasach air feart thaitneach

no tharraingeach sam bith fhaicinn

ann an uilebheist dhen seòrs’ ud – chan ann

mu dheidhinn gastachd no ciatachd a tha mi bruidhinn

ach mu eileamaidean nas bunailtiche riatanaiche

mar, dè cho tric ’s a bhios cuideigin ga nighe san t-seachdain

air neo, gu leòr a mhion-airgead a bhith ’na phòcaid

gus dà chofaidh a phàigheadh, gun iomradh air notaichean –

bha feasgar àraidh ann a thàinig esan dhachaigh

cha d’ fhuair sinn bloigh de chadal gu trì uairean san oidhche

’s e bruidhinn is a’ bruidhinn mun chùram a bh’ aige

air sgàth na bana-charaid ud – ach a nis bha coltas ann

a h-uile rud a bhith air a seatlaigeadh gu dòigheil,

mo leannan riaraichte mar a bha mise,

sinn nar dithis beagan nar misg, ris an fhìrinn innse

ged nach robh na mìlseanan fhathast air am bòrd a ruighinn

ach bha am fìon a dhòirt iad nar gloinneachan

blasta gu h-ìre nach fhurast’ a chur an cèill –

thuig mi bho mar a bha e sealltainn orm

cha duirt mi facal is mhair esan cuideachd ’na thost,

lean mi e gus an taigh bheag aig na fireannich –

b’ e taigh-òsta anabarrach rumail is spaideil a bh’ ann,

suidhichte am meadhan pairce mhòir, agus na caibeineidean

san taigh bheag aibheiseach mar gach uidheam eile,

thachair a h-uile rud gu luath snog, bha sinn fortanach,

cha d’ rinn neach eile ar ruighinn fhad ’s a bha sinn ann –

an dèidh dhuinn an t-èideadh foirmeil aig a chèile

a chur gu mionaideach air gleus, mar a bha feumail,

chaidh sinn air ais gus an talla mhòr

far an robh a’ chuideachd uile ’na suidhe –

ach ’s ann mu dheidhinn maille shònraichte a thig air

am mòmaidean ainneamh a bha mi ’g iarraidh bruidhinn,

neo-ar-thaing gu bheil sinn air uimhir a bhliadhnaichean

a chur seachad le chèile, mar as trice is esan

a stèidhicheas ruithim an t-sùgraidh,

chan eil mi cinnteach carson a tha sin a’ tachairt,

’s a’ mhaille ud a’ misneachadh faireachdainn annam

cho anabarrach tlachdmhor ’s gu bheil e an impis a bhith pianail –

faodaidh an ceart ruithim a bhith uaireannan aig

Mo shearmon mar chuthachd aighearach nan gobhlan-gaoithe

ann am baile beag san Eadailt air barr cnuic

le bòtharan corrach, caola ’s na taighean cho faisg

air a chèile, bidh tu ri plosgartaich mun ruigear leat

mu dheireadh an sguèar a dh’fhosglas air a’ mhullach –

mothaichidh tu gu h-obann dha na gobhlanan-gaoithe

gan cur air bhoil le camhanaich an latha

dìreach mar a bhios a’ chlann a’ ruith

a’ glaodhach ’s a’ brùchdadh a-mach

sna deich mionaidean mus tèid iad dhan leabaidh

an nàdar fhèin a’ fàsgadh bhuap’

gach aon luirg air smioralas no guaineas,

a’ cuimhneachadh mar a bhrùthas neach spong

gu teann eadar a mheuran gus a h-uile

boinn’ a fhliuich’ a dh’fhanas innte fhuadachadh –

na gobhlanan-gaoith’ gu trang a’ figheadh sa chamhanaich

lìn aibhisich len goban, a’ glacadh

snàthainnean an dorchadais an siud ’s an seo,

chan e na cuileagan no na meanbh-bhiastagan

itealach eile a cheapas iad, ach cinn

sreanganan na duibhr’ ag udal san adhar,

iad gu dìcheallach a’ saigheadh

eadar nam bunnacha-bac, a’ teannachadh

na lìn ud anns an tèid an’ oidhch’ a ribeadh

gu mall rùnaichte dh’aona-ghnothach,

plangaid dhubh a’ teàrnadh oirnn uile

a cho-èignicheas eadhon an fheadhainn as buaireasaiche

’s an-fhoiseile dhen chloinn a ghèilleadh

ris a’ chadal a dheòin no a dh’aindeoin

ged nach do dh’fhàs iad fhathast sgith dhe

Mo shearmon . . .

 

 

THE WAY I TALK

The way I talk moves, streams and urges,

rushing along like water when a storm

has beaten for hours on a high ridge,

seeking out every gap and notch,

aching to descend, to be scattered

in thousands of small, gleaming

rivulets no obstacle can hold back

for long – where a crag reaches an edge

suddenly the water spurts

like the hair of a giant,

but with the same impatient gesture

a woman has tossing her mass of hair

to one side, so it descends

in a waterfall of countless

drops, powerful and insistent –

you would think it wasn’t wetness at all

but cords, unbelievably thin ropes,

so thin a gust of wind suffices

to dishevel them – or else

they could be a curtain hiding

who can tell what kind of a performance,

comical or tragical or both –

proceeding so fast

you won’t even get time

to form a question in your mind,

you’ll have to put your skates on

if you want to catch up with

The way I talk like a little hunched goblin

who somehow managed to get into the pulpit

where no one else but the minister

has any right to go,

wearing the minister’s fine, official garb

and looking very like him

even if the congregation have the feeling

he sort of shrank –

the minister generally looked

that little bit taller – the goblin also

got hold of a wig he pushed

down onto his head, because everyone knows

goblins have shaggy, unkempt hair

such as the minister’s would never be

when he appears in church on a Sunday

and, as soon as the goblin starts talking,

nothing but senseless drivel

comes from his scabby lips

given that goblins are incapable of speaking

any human language whatsoever

unless under a particular spell –

and how could a heathen spell

work in church on a Sunday? –

at that very moment, the minister

appears in the midst of the congregation

naked as on the day he came into the world,

he runs and runs out of the church

up onto the hill close by

terrified that the whole shire will see

how withered and uncoordinated his body is

and besides that, the smallness of his ——

(one word has been crossed out)

but however nimbly and speedily the minister

sprints towards the wood on the far side of the hill,

filled with melancholy because he knows only too well

he won’t come upon a pair of trousers or underpants

hanging tidily on the branch of a birch tree

or an ash, the way they usually hang

in the spacious cupboard

of his comfortable home –

meanwhile the goblin chunters on determinedly,

more and more rubbish coming out of his mouth,

he had no idea he was such a splendid orator,

the congregation is getting a bit restless,

from time to time the minister would have a bad day

the things he used to say weren’t always

reasonable or logical, at times

it was extremely difficult

to grasp what he might be getting at

or extract any worthwhile meaning from his preaching

but today he has really lost the place –

the poor minister is wondering

if maybe he ought to dive into the loch

though the water is tremendously cold,

he would have to swim to the shore in the end

and hand himself over – however helterskelter,

headlong the panicking minister is

as he shoots onwards like an arrow in his flight,

he’ll never match the speed of

The way I talk, at times like a shy deer

you only catch a glimpse of through the foliage

because it is so withdrawn and private

and then, without warning, you see it

climbing up the braeside

and you tell yourself it could be a vision

because its movements are so majestic, kingly, consummate

all of its limbs working together

as if it were flying rather than running,

and you wonder if it might be better

for it to be a vision, because then

there would be no way or possibility

for harm or malice to reach it,

the deer would be inaccessible, invulnerable

like whatever the imagination produces

or something we see in a dream,

perfect, shapely, invincible –

and you say to yourself:

“I don’t believe in any kind of a god,

I am neither a Christian nor a Muslim,

I don’t support any of the old doctrines

about a venerable, violent old man

or the commandments he wrote down

for us to follow,

or the eternal punishment

waiting on us

if we are insufficiently obedient” –

but you also say that maybe this

was how God himself felt

after making a creature of flesh and blood

to set down somewhere in the world –

The way I talk, without anybody knowing

how long it is going to continue

maybe until Scotland finally

achieves independence, and:

“Tell me! You who have the right

to enter the little cubicle and put

a cross next to the policies you favour

however courageous or craven you may be!!

How many years still need to pass

before that longed for day arrives?”

The way I talk which proves beyond question

death is not going to triumph over this language

whatever people who regard Gaelic

with distaste or detestation may say,

the ones who forced our parents and grandparents

to suppress it and neglect it,

all through endless, oppressive years

when it couldn’t be used at school or at university,

when teachers would use English

even for discussing Gaelic topics

and our language was a source of shame,

a symbol of poverty and ignorance

for the people who spoke it in a whisper –

it makes me think of a conference

I attended years back in Poland,

in a town they call Szczcecin,

a Prussian town before the war,

Stettin was its name then,

the whole business concluded

with a joyous, festive dinner,

there was a young Englishman who taught

at a university in Italy, as I had

when I was young, and when I went over

to speak to him, the first thing he said was

“Not many people speak that language”

and I heard my own voice saying

firmly, steadily, giving due weight

to each single syllable:

“I – just – haven’t – got – the – time”

I got up at once and went over

to the Polish women who I was sure

wouldn’t have prejudices of this sort

and wouldn’t ask me to talk about something

I’d been asked so often in the past

it simply made me feel sick –

when I looked round, a quarter of an hour later,

the young man was still gazing at me

with a surprised expression, you would think

someone had just struck him on the cheek

and I decided there was no question about it,

it’s not a job we have to take on,

educating people who promote English –

The way I talk, which very, very rarely

has the same detailed, punctilious slowness

my partner occasionally has when making love –

I wouldn’t want you to get me wrong,

sometimes the whole business is over

in a very short time, like the day

we were both sitting at a wedding lunch –

a dear woman friend had finally married –

we practically lost hope, because

she had been with so many guys, some of them

perfectly acceptable, but others

there was no way you could grasp how she could possibly

find anything pleasing or attractive

in a monster of that sort – I’m not

talking about manners or looks

but about basic, indispensable things

like, how many times in the week somebody washes,

or having enough change in their pocket

to pay for two coffees, not to mention notes –

one night my partner came home,

we didn’t get a wink of sleep till three in the morning,

he kept on and on with how worried he was

about our woman friend – and now it looked

as if everything had got settled properly,

my partner was as pleased as I was,

the two of us slightly tipsy to tell the truth,

even though they still had to serve the puddings

but the wine they poured into our glasses

was excellent in a way I can’t describe –

I realised from how he was looking at me,

and followed him without saying a word

to the gents’, he too was silent –

it was an unusually spacious and posh hotel,

in the middle of a big estate, the toilet

cubicles were as huge as everything else,

we got through it neatly and quickly, we were lucky,

nobody else entered all the time we were there –

once we had adjusted our formal clothes

with due care, we went back

to the big hall where everyone was seated –

but what I wanted to talk about was

the particular slowness that comes over him

in certain rare moments, even if the two of us

have been together for such a long time,

generally he sets the rhythm of our lovemaking,

I couldn’t actually say why this happens –

that slowness awakens a sensation in me

so acutely pleasurable it almost hurts –

sometimes there is that same rhythm in

The way I talk, like the exultant craziness

of swallows in an Italian hilltop village

with twisting, narrow lanes and the houses

so close to each other, you are spluttering

before you finally reach the square

that opens at the summit – all of a sudden

you notice the swallows going crazy in the twilight,

just the way children will run around

shouting and exulting in the ten

minutes before they get into bed,

nature itself squeezing out of them

every last trace of energy or mischief,

making you think of how you squeeze a sponge

tightly between your fingers to expel

every last remaining drop of moisture –

the swallows busy weaving in the dusk

a huge net with their beaks, catching

the strands of darkness here and there,

it’s not midgies or other flying

insects they intercept, but the ends

of threads of darkness floating in the air

as diligently they dart back and forth

between the eaves, intently weaving

that net tighter, gradually and deliberately

so the night can get trapped in it,

a dark blanket descending on us

that forces even the most tempestuous

and restless of children to yield in the end

to sleep, even if they’re still not tired of

The way I talk . . .

translated by Shuggie McCall

 

‘Mo Shearmon’ / ‘The Way I Talk’ by Crìsdean MacIlleBhàin / Christopher Whyte is taken from Sound of an Iceberg: New Writing Scotland 37, published by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies, priced £9.95

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‘Good Listeners’ by Brian Hamill click ‘Good Listeners’ by Brian Hamill

‘I’ve seen him on here before, you know, doing the same thing with other people, other girls, you kn …

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