Poem introduction

Though brought up in a very small Borders village I have lived mostly in cities here and abroad. Like much of modern life, my longing to return to living in a village is untested, and fairly suspect. The swifts return to nest under our eaves each year.

The Electric City of Heck

Cattle stumbling their way down to the shallows.

The water’s coolness rising

To meet them. Their hooves dry and hard

Against a clatter of loose stones etc. . . .

 

With several downward streaks

Of wet sunlight etc. . . .

 

Brushstrokes painted on a long-ago summer’s afternoon

Etc. etc. etc. . . .

 

*

 

Isn’t it time I trashed such childhood fancies?

After all, I live in the electric city

and the electric city lives in me.

My pulse is the traffic’s stop-and-go.

What I know of love and friendship

names the only streets I care for.

 

So . . .?

 

How come I keep helter-skeltering back to – where?

 

And for what?

 

To give the supermarket checkout,

aisles and shelves a pastoral makeover –

smothering them in flowers, weeds

and a purple sway of willow herb?

Scythe down a field of business magnates,

bankers and politicians (row upon sleek row

baled and stacked, ready

to be recycled into something useful)?

 

Hardly. And yet . . .

 

Almost overnight, our city’s been digitised,

uploaded to an encrypted site / its inhabitants

given new user names,

new passwords.

 

Our histories are deleted at a mouse-click,

everyone’s now making up the truth.

 

Beneath a touchscreen sky of low-watt

urban stars we continue our separate journeys

from the very centre of the universe

(where all our journeys start from, especially

the most personal).

 

We share nothing. The name for our loneliness

is self. We live for moments of recognition,

for brief communion.

 

*

 

Accelerating away from the Lockerbie bombing –

 

Staying a decade and more clear of the Twin Towers –

 

Keeping the next atrocity always

a few days ahead –

 

Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and all the rest

are parked in a layby for the time being

(with luck, a tow-truck might be

on its way).

 

Same road, same destination.

 

Still en route to where we’re making for –

you, me and the memories we rely on

like outdated maps . . .

 

*

 

Or else, should I return to that summer’s afternoon?

Rebrand it: The Electric City of Heck.

Hashtag – #solidground.

 

Upgrade its farm and half-dozen cottages,

reformat it for 21st century into:

 

 

·       A glass cathedral that promises unlimited FaceTime

between Man and his God of choice

·       A glacier’s permafrost to slow the seasons’ meltdown

·       An ocean, cleansed to offer us all a second chance

 

Then, if all else fails –

 

Taking the best of what we have and the best

of what we are, let’s reconfigure:

 

a streamlined rush of swifts that eat, sleep

and mate on the wing,

never touching the Earth from here

to Africa.

Not angels, but our guides into

a trackless future –

 

our guides, our inspiration.


from Magicians Of Scotland (Polygon, 2015), © Ron Butlin 2015, used by permission of the author

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25The Circle Dante Wasn't Shown

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26The Electric City of Heck

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