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Alistair Elliot, 28 September 1989

... On the Town Moor the butchers keep their cows, A healthy hospice near the abattoirs. Something is strange here, but they calmly browse, Flicking flies with the nameplate in their ears, And ruminate without conclusion, till I cross the skyline.                    In my grey and blue They recognise me on the man-made hill And give a low, surprised, ancestral moo, Wildly start up on high-heeled feminine feet, And run to kiss me with a clumsy joy ...

On the Great North Road

Alistair Elliot, 14 May 1992

... Here hedges used to move off thoughtfully, at an angle, like green sheep in single file, or seemed to. Now they really have, taking the grass as well, leaving the land stripped to the buff. What we see is pure substrate, the abstract thing plants grow on, the start-line of a calculation. I think it is a dusty mat someone has spread on the slow ocean of rock ...

One of our Submarines

Alistair Elliot, 23 June 1988

... We met a school, a family, or, we guessed, a little university of dolphins, that rolled around us, looking up with interest at the full sails that pulled us by so fast, with a sweet tickling, not the rub of engines. I talked to them, but what have we to say to the smiling scholars of the Scottish coast? I was rude or boring. They took their children away into the endless heaven of the sea, leaving the polite benediction of the blest ...

A Family Wireless

Alistair Elliot, 27 June 1991

... You switch it on, pour out a cup of tea, drink it, and finally sounds of outer space clearing its throat blow from the vizored face; pause; then the swelling voice of history refills our kitchen from the BBC. I daren’t retune it: set before the war on Home, it doesn’t know it’s Radio Four. It never knew the Third, or Radio Three. It had the L ...

Some Scottish Music

Alistair Elliot, 4 June 1987

... Behind the voices of di Stefano And Callas, others sing. I seem to hear In the same stream an earlier Lucia Filling another room with love and woe. The fire, the sons, their parents smell of peat, The fume of family; their chairs scrape, on flags Awkwardly covered with the skins of stags; Is the wax cylinder too near the heat? The sextet or the summers of their glen Stored up and now released affect their eyes: They look at nothing for a moment ...

The Question of Food

Alistair Elliot, 27 July 1989

... Sunday October 26, 1986 How do these things become us? – orange juice as we cast off, fudge as we meet the ocean funnelling into the inlet of Cape May, then boiled chestnuts, grey and wrinkled as the seas our stomachs ride (the heaving field of Delaware Bay) all morning, and for lunch a chocolate kiss and an apple from the pollen of two trees sensibly rooted, restaurants of bees ...


Alistair Elliot, 3 April 1997

... They used to come out at night and leave on the hairy carpet a diagram of their moves, dance-steps, perhaps loves – like a record of the moon’s light peeled off the sea, to frame in the honeymoon album. One gastropod put its foot by mistake on the Welcome mat, such painful terrain to cross it was still there at sunrise like a long turd, the fruit of some wall-passing intruder who hadn’t woken the cat ...

On Broadway

Alistair Elliot, 24 October 1991

... He made me take a sixteen-dollar strap for nothing. We shook hands, for one moment Landau & Elliot, the old firm, family ...

Auks in the Minch

Alistair Elliot, 5 September 1996

... The green and purple bergs of Scotland melt so slowly the millennia seem equal: on such a day Columba could have paddled      here in his coracle. In such light airs you approach the razorbills on breaths of silence, till they patter away or plunge abruptly at the flap of sails –     as if they couldn’t fly. Perhaps they can’t, in summer – out at sea with fledglings, in these calms, and full of fish; but we have seen them braver, dazed with joy,     flying close when the wind’s fresh ...


Alistair Elliot, 18 August 1994

... I wear my father’s last but one wristwatch, having broken my own. Its crazed face, its wild cricketer’s strap always slipping off, its inability to keep up with the regular and not excessive marching speed of the universe explain his buying one of those self-winders: he was a busy man and couldn’t afford the soft unclear evaporation of minutes, a day or two a year ...

The Use of Knees

Alistair Elliot, 13 February 1992

... Everyone calls it Arthuritis. He has lost the power of bending, the old king father of gods and men, and sits on a low throne by the window, apparently meditating in profile, a memorial coin of sadness as we come carrying our seats. To me he has never before been Arthur: I saw him through his unused name, so fitting for a father born in a Scottish Eden: Adam ...

The Scribes

Alistair Elliot, 25 January 1990

... More and more often, knowing that you’re dying, I think of the letter-writers at the post office in that hot square, with their low desks and dip-pens waiting in the shade of their municipal trees for the illiterate victims of time and distance – the dealers in words, renewing or untying. Whenever I passed them I would think of paying to have my raw wish wrapped in the empty nets of their professional calligraphy, the well-rubbed language of a thousand nights, and always hesitated (‘how could she know what these frightening loops and spikes were saying ...

A Memorial Service

Alistair Elliot, 25 March 1993

... The cathedral was not great. You were a better poet Than it was a building. I forgot To look for the graffiti of imprisoned Scots, My possible ancestors – and yours – And stood there in my Sunday best Wondering if it had been spoilt by the restorers Or if it had always looked like red fudge A little mouthed by the weather of the north-west. Hundreds of us were in our best To honour you – ties added in haste In the graveyard where we stood Chin up, in Peter Rabbit’s attitude, While our companions’ fingers adjusted the knot ...

Highland Hospitality

Alistair Elliot, 6 August 1992

... When the two youngest Elliots, not yet in their teens, were sent to school at Stoer, they lodged, like the unmarried minister, near the kirk, with old Mrs Mackenzie and her daughters in a house called ‘The Rage of Cats’. Mrs Mackenzie fed them porridge and milk; potatoes and milk and oatcakes; perhaps a bite of potatoes and herring ... This powered them through four hours of Gaelic on Sundays; but even the man in black must have prayed for colour in the diet ...

Two Poems

Alistair Elliot, 14 December 1995

... Ned The three letters of his name suddenly resurrect him, lounging on some horizon, much like the long corpse of Christ in Michelangelo’s Deposition. There was something ideal about him: the naked male of Greek stone, the Amazon man about the jungle, face and body matched, lone playboy in the sun – Ned in his Jantzen swimwear was spear-carrier as star ...

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