Old Tongue

Old Tongue

I was eight, I was forced south.
Not long after, when I opened
my mouth, a strange thing happened.
I lost my Scottish accent.
Words fell off my tongue:
eedyit, dreich, wabbit, crabbit
stummer, teuchter, heidbanger,
so you are, so am ur, see you, see ma ma,
shut yer geggie or I'll gie you the malkie!

My own vowels started to stretch like my bones
and I turned my back on Scotland.
Words disappeared in the dead of night,
new words marched in: ghastly, awful,
quite dreadful, scones said like stones.
Pokey hats into icecream cones.
Oh where did all my words go -
my old words, my lost words?
Did you ever feel sad when you lost a word,
did you ever try and call it back
like calling in the sea.
If I could have found my words wandering,
I swear I would have taken them in,
swallowed them whole, knocked them back.

Out in the English soil, my old words
buried themselves. It made my mother's blood boil.
I cried one day with the wrong sound in my mouth.
I wanted them back; I wanted my old accent back,
my old tongue. My dour soor Scottish tongue.
Sing-songy. I wanted to gie it laldie.

From Life Mask (Bloodaxe, 2005), copyright © Jackie Kay 2005, used by permission of the author and Bloodaxe Books Ltd.

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1The Waiting Lists

2Baby Lazarus

3The Tweed Hat Dream

4Brendon Gallacher

5Old Tongue

6My Grandmother

7In My Country

8In the Pullman

9The Red Graveyard

10Somebody Else



13Late Love

14Glen Strathfarrar

15The Spare Room

16There's Trouble for Maw Broon




20Gone With the Wind



23Things Fall Apart

24A White African Dress


26George Square

27The Shoes of Dead Comrades

28I Kin See Richt Thru My Mither

29High Land

30Old Aberdeen

31Dream Pier



34Moon Mask

35Life Mask