All poems on this page are the copyright © of Judith Taylor

Judith Taylor comes from Perthshire and is based in Aberdeen. She studied at St Andrews, Oxford and Sheffield Universities and now works in IT.

 

Her poetry has been widely published in magazines, including Poetry Scotland, Northwords Now, Angle and The Rialto, and she is the author of two pamphlet collections - Earthlight (Koo Press, 2006) and Local Colour (Calder Wood Press, 2010). Her poem "The Lapland Woman and the Finland Woman", which first appeared in Northwords Now, was chosen as one of the Scottish Poetry Library's Best Scottish Poems of 2014.

 

Author page at Calder Wood Press: http://www.zen39641.zen.co.uk/cwp/taylor.htm

 

Best Scottish Poems of 2014 http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/best-scottish-poems/best-scottish-poems-2014

 

Earthlight is no longer in print but Local Colour can be ordered from Calder Wood Press at the link above. It is themed around the ghost stories for which the author has a sceptical love, and especially the Green Ladies and their ilk who are such a feature of Scottish folklore.

 

"All told, Scotland has 22 Green Ladies and 20 White; also 12 Grey, 2 Blue, 2 Black, 1 Pink and 1 Red-haired. Just under a third (32%) haunt paying tourist attractions and a further 28% haunt hotels, golf clubs and other manifestations of the hospitality industry… Information and statistics drawn from various sources, including my Granny, the Sunday Post, and the Internet: take with salt accordingly."

 

 

The Old Country

 

Like almost every visitor from the New World

she was amazed a house could be this old

and just be lived in, far less have paying guests;

 

that people could merely use

rooms whose walls were thick enough to stand siege

(though they hadn’t been required to)

 

and whose ancient, tremulous windows

kept the weak local light at bay

but admitted every chill of air.

 

She left her foolish sister

parked in the Drawing Room, saying This is Gracious Living!

– as if it was part of their inheritance here,

 

as if Gran and Granda

hadn’t had to make away from this cold place

in steerage –

 

and she walked the lower corridor

from the kitchens to the back stair.

Let Nell go on with her nonsense.

 

Let her say, A house as old as this

is bound to have a ghost.

And let their host smirk and invent her a Grey Lady.

 

It was below, here

if anywhere, you would find the ancestral spirits.

On the stair worn to hazardous

 

by their lives of fetching and carrying.

At the laundry door, where the flagstones

exhaled the soap laid down for generations.

 

As she paused there, suddenly

she could see Gran: her back bent at the ironing;

her red, unladylike hands.

 

first published in Local Colour (Calder Wood Press 2010)

 

 

Late love

 

as far away as a mountain

with a mountain’s way of

never growing bigger or seeming nearer

 

till all of a sudden you’re there.

Then, you remember

what you've failed to carry

 

– map, mint cake, waterproofs –

but it’s too late now to fetch them

and return, unless

 

another day. And would you

then? You hesitate

while the sun goes in and out of the passing clouds

 

and at last you set your foot to the track

others have made before you.

How high

 

will you go?

Will you come down again

to tell your tale in the lowlands?

 

Will the expert rescuers find you – maybe

too late – and shake their heads

at your folly?

 

All you can think about for now, is

you’ll ascend again

on a striding edge, that bright wind in your hair.

 

This was the last thing you expected

one more mountain

but it’s come to you.

 

You don’t turn it away.

 

 

 

Role Model

(Brown Street School, Dundee, 1909)

 

Ye're richt auld thirty, or mebbe

forty even.

 

Paw says ye micht as weel be a teacher

if ye cannae get a husband

 

an Maw says, aye, an for aa the guid

a husband ivver did a wumman,

how no?

 

And Peter Murdoch, he says

ye got the jile

for punchin the Prime Minister on the nose

 

but I dinnae believe him. He tells awfy lies

an he hates you

cause ye punnied him for fechtin

 

says he cannae wait tae get oot the skail.

He's gaun tae be a bobby, like his uncle Joe

 

an Paw says noo I'm educatit

I could be a parlourmaid.

Nae need tae go tae the mills like Maw

 

but Maw says naw the mills are better money.

They've fed this femily.

An ye're no at the beck an call o some fantoosh mistress

 

an when I says, aw but

I want tae be a teacher like Miss Clunas

 

Maw says that wid be an investment fur the future

richt enough

 

an Paw says see thae bluidy suffragettes

an thir bad influence?

Ower ma deid body

 

an Maw says

Wullie

dinnae tempt me.

 

written as part of "Womens Lives, Womens Voices" at Dundee Womens Festival 2014

 

 

The details

 

He keeps his paperwork resolutely

up-to-date: works on some nights

till it’s finished. For it’s so easy

to lose your grip on the details

then to be asked to account for something

and have to scrabble for it. None of that

 

in his department. Everything’s logged:

arrivals, assets, relevant correspondence

and disposals, all

clearly filed. He can lay his hand

on anything you might want to know, in a second.

And he flatters himself

 

the smooth way the process runs out there

reflects the orderly way it’s documented.

That’s his contribution.

Calm and order

spreading outwards from his filing-room

like light.

No, that’s too grand:

but like a benign contagion, maybe, making better

the world. He thinks himself

- will go to his grave

thinking himself - a cog, yes

but a vital one in the great machine.

 

He will go to his grave

resolutely

thinking he was a good man

and all he did was his duty.

 

first published in Gutter 10, 2013

 

 

Visitors

 

I said, you can always tell when there are dolphins off the harbour

by the boatload of marine biologists tailing them.

I meant the visitors not to hope too much that they would see them. I expect

luck of that kind to be rare now

 

like the small tortoiseshell butterflies,

the sparrows. As I said it though, we saw a fin: stopped the car.

There were three - two and a young one, maybe – turning lazily, breaching

through the grey light on the water by the coastguard station.

 

Cormorants overflew them;

common terns came spearing down on sandeels by the near shore;

the sun went into a cloud behind the city. We watched a long time.

It surprised me how relieved I was to see them. Lucky again, this once

 

and not a boat of biologists in sight. Only a couple of supply-ships

going out to rigs; another coming in.

 

 

written for the After Livingstone installation at StAnza 2013