AT THE GATE
In the dream
at the gate to your grave
you stopped me
with the same words
I had spoken in a dream
where I died before you
so now I can no longer dream.
Rusty, and on squeaky hinges
all the gates I have ever
seen, heard, or described
closed one by one
under a grey sky.
That is all there was
in my mind, earth.
What can I say about the world
in which your ashes sit in an urn
other than that?
On every trip you stay ahead of me.
On platforms I see your footprints in fresh snow.
When the train starts to move
you jump out of the back carriage
to reach the next station ahead of me.
Outside the small towns with their sleepy street lights:
stadiums bright as capitols.
The lights glinted off your glasses.
Where else should you look for the ring
which, the night the power went out,
rolled under the bed and was gone?
“I miss you, too”
were my last words
on the telephone
when you said you missed me.
I miss you too, Forever!
You are gone.
Three words. And not one
exists now in any other context.
Neil Munro (1864 – 1930) was born in Inveraray and worked as a journalist on various Scottish newspapers. He wrote a number of historical novels but is best known for his humorous stories about the fictional Clyde puffer the Vital Spark and her captain Para Handy, written under the pen name of Hugh Foulis.
Although Neil Munro didn’t emigrate any further than Glasgow, his background (his grandmother was from a Gaelic-speaking part of the Highlands) would have given him an insight into emigration and what it felt like to be an exile. This poem is written more from the perspective of someone who stayed behind.
Are you not weary in your distant places,
Far, far from Scotland of the mist and storm,
In drowsy airs, the sun-smite on your faces,
The days so long and warm?
When all around you lie the strange fields sleeping,
The dreary woods where no fond memories roam,
Do not your sad hearts over seas come leaping
To the highlands and the lowlands of your Home?
Wild cries the Winter, loud through all our valleys
The midnights roar, the grey noons echo back;
About the scalloped coasts the eager galleys
Beat for kind harbours from horizons black:
We tread the miry roads, the rain-drenched heather,
We are the men, we battle, we endure!
God’s pity for you people in your weather
Of swooning winds, calm seas, and skies demure!
Let torrents pour then, let the great winds rally,
Snow-silence fall, or lightning blast the pine;
That light of Home shines warmly in the valley,
And, exiled son of Scotland, it is thine.
Far have you wandered over seas of longing,
And now you drowse, and now you well may weep,
When all the recollections come a-thronging
Of this old country where your fathers sleep.
They sleep, but still the hearth is warmly glowing,
While the wild Winter blusters round their land:
That light of Home, the wind so bitter blowing
Look, look and listen, do you understand?
Love, strength, and tempest-oh, come back and share them!
Here is the cottage, here the open door;
Fond are our hearts although we do not bare them,
– They’re yours, and you are ours for evermore.
It was just before dusk
When he started his climb
The path grew narrow
So the dog went ahead
It grew rocky and steep
But the old man kept up
Not knowing the dog
Had slowed his pace
The old man thought back
To his very first climb
That summer evening
Of his twelfth year
All alone on the mountain
A heaven full of stars
A rock for his pillow
He talked to the moon
He asked many questions
He called his ancestors by name
The heavens answered him
With many signs and sounds
That were later explained to him
By the tribal Medicine Man
A man who came to play
A very important part in his life
He became a warrior that year
He learned much from his family
The tribal customs and traditions
Were ingrained in his soul
He was a good listener
And was comfortable with words
He was accepted by the coucil
At a very young age
He had the strength of his father
The patience of his mother
The intelligence of his grandmother
And the wisdom of his grandfather
He learned how to guide
Not only himself but others
He had become all things
To all of those around him
He was a good chief
But his days were dwindling
His mind kept going back
Over all the things he had done
No regrets, no what ifs
Knowing he did his best
But things were changing
It was the dawn of a new era
The old man reached the ledge
Where he had stood many times
Since being that boy of twelve
And he was still awed
By the beauty of the heavens
The stars seemed so close
You could reach out and touch them
And that night, he did