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Da Reffelation o Santit John

Midders, tell your peerie bairns

if dey’r wantin ta git on,
never ta ant da pleepsit roeds
o Reffelatin John.

I wis sittin eence ithin da Wast hotel
at Whiteness, swinklin flat-laek Orkney beer
an aetin somethin, leukin ower da isles
o Oxna, Papa, Hildastay an da rest
(whaar Vagaland eence saa da rain-guis flee)
whin I buist a faan ithin some kind o dwaam.
For I fan at I wis tummled i da sea
somewye apo da Firts, juist inbi by
da Hug o Papa, an dan sucken doon
richt tae da boddam. An sae, efter twaartree days
or weeks gien by, I raise up fae da dyoub
a ourie crang, rowlin apo da scruif,
driftin for da Ham o Brunaness
wi a catticloo o swaabies, bonxies, maas,
claagin aboot me, kempin ta pylk mi een.
Bit I felt nae rivin neb, for I wis risen
a feyness, far abuin mesel - bit no
laek da ene in Lang Lies Lowrie at da Mill
at trailed his sparles ahint him trowe da sclent
at da tully med; bit a virtual feyness - ene
at you cood zoom an pan wi a moose’s sneck.

So I zooms in closser, still, ta see mesel
wi sookit skaen, happit wi sabbit plags,
turnin ower an ower, da baaless een
noo under, noo abuin. Still farder in
trowe da sockets, sinuses, whaar da steepit haarns
an treedbare hentilaags o neural nets
wis peigin, spunkin, laek a shortit droid
fae Star Wars. An aroond me, dae wir screens
wi dis ene, dat ene, fae mi younger days
an aalder - raed, blue, orange, yallow, green -
plastic cups for mylk, apo my first
day at da schuil, among da idder bairns.
I shuin fan oot my colour didna mell.

Hit wis dere I met mi first wife - shui wis English.
We gied dat trang tagidder - whit we laached
an smoorikined, an cooried i da bed.
We tocht at we wir settled, bit come time
hed less ta say, an pairtit. We still wirk
tagidder, bit we dunna muckle spaek.

Fast-forrit, trowe mi schuil days; faster still
trowe Sooth an mairage, bairns, jobs - bit wait!
Whit need I care? For shuin da very wirds
at I’m ey spocken, at I’m writin noo,
will aa be gien, an aa dis bits o scribes
maybe scrimed ower wi some archivist,
wi Jakobsen an Graham at his side,
tryin ta git his mooth aroond da soonds
ta lat dem scan an rhyme. Phonology,
morphology, eediom, grammatical paradigm,
cassen fae fock at needit dem nae mair
laek wir forebears did wi Norn. Dan brocken Norse,
noo brocken English - Shenglish - deevil wirt
aless ithin da classics, I wis telt.
‘This Shetland writing - what does it achieve?
Our interests are not classical, but fish.
Your Shetland prose is trite - though outsiders
may think it cute, we have no use for it,
we native speakers of the dialect.’

So lat hit dwine - whit need hae I ta care?
Dis winna be a classic - I’m nae poiet
an dis is no da poiems you’r meant ta write
in ‘dialect’ - nae fower-lettered wirds -
toh if I wid a pitten twaartree in
I laekly sood a been da very nyaave!
Caase Leonard, Welsh an Kelman - dey’r da boys -
dir gowld, polyphonous eemages engraved
abuin Labovian, Orthobakhtinian kirks;
da acolytic dogmas o dir cults
at odds wi truith, aften at odds wi fact,
laek dogmas alwis is, as radical
as da establishment ey tinks hitsel -
dat stucken hit eventually taks ruit.

‘Self-pitying doggerel’ I can hear dem say,
caase naebody wid write a tract laek dis
in vaerse, aless da saddest, sooerest plook
apo da erse o da kent universe.
‘Pop grammarian’; ‘Sad orthographist’ -
da skyimps an afftaks steids laek lady-hens
in perfect English grammar, perfect spelled.

Bit aneoch o dat - back tae dis paekit corp,
daed neurons firin farts o hydrogen
wi da haagless brynd for a electrolyte,
come tae dis blyde staet forty year ower laet.
Ootwale, at wid a fantit at da paap
or been led aff, or sutshkins balled fae nest
laek da tongue hit wrat in, artifeecially hained
wi coonter-evolutionary bruck:
gospels, antibiotics, an da laek.

‘Tinks he’s MacDiarmid, spaekin tae da tissle,
or Billy Tait atween wadders’ - Heth, bit wait,
I’m never drucken muckle, still less gien
bare bylkie, so I doot I canna wite
mi roeds ta drink or sunstroke - nae excuse
bit foosty fermentations i da brain.
Bit dae’r nae gray maiter here among dis screens
o flashbacks, bit paiswisps o hummled nerves,
ends flottin up laek droo ithin da ebb,
wi coloured insulation - aa da tints
o yun sam mylk cups, aetched apo mi mind.

Mi nixt wife wis fae Israel, toh shui gied
aa trowe da world, an up da laetest cam
ta Shaetlan. For a start, I wisna keen -
tocht shui wis ower prunk, bit i da end
shui wan me ower. Bi laa, we’r mairied yit
bit sindered - shui bides but an I bide ben,
imaginin wha anidder wife micht be
an draain picters o her, writin vaerse
an letters, tryin ta mak up her naem
wi boany wirds laek Merran an Mareel
an idder enes, laek Yoag, an Elt, an Staen.

Fast forrit farder, till I fan da plaece
whaar dey wir hentin up da laandit crang
an yirdin him i muild, apo da broo
abuin da Ham, far fae da helly-rig,
so at he widna rise an stend aboot -
a rale, oonkirsen feyness, wantin een -
ta keep hard-airnin bodies fae dir sleep
wi guff o flesh lang daed, an blue-niled baens
proagin oot trowe elbucks, knees an taes.
Bit na - dey widna budder, for dey kaen
at juist ee helly-wird laek ‘trite’ or ‘cute’,
or ‘variation’ or ‘polyphony’
wid lay da ghosst for aa, an vindicate
da pouer o da richt ower da oondaed.

I tocht at I wis fun her - I wis kent
her fae I wis a bairn. Deein, dey sed,
toh swack an soople-laek. At first I tocht
at shui micht kyucker up, bit shuin I fan
at naebody wis carin, an maedicine
wis fatal, ower dear, or ower laet.
Better ta lat her dwine awa, dey sed.

I’m mulderin noo, anaeth da hedder-cowe,
left afore every peel o flesh is gien
(laek Johnie Notions cured da daedly pox)
so we micht as weel fast-forrit by da screeds
o adverts, an da syndicatit reels,
sops an gemm-shows, clips o Lerrick men
dinkit wi wingy keps an daed craas’ pens,
afore we see a archaeologist
hockin me up, tryin ta set da baens
in oarder on a table. ‘This’, shui says,
‘is probably late twentieth Shetland man.
A good example, still exhibiting
some primitive features - note the weakened chin
atrophied by unchecked ravages
of phonological pathogens; the ears
deformed by aberrant syntax, and the hand -
ah, this is rare! The fingers show some signs
of swelling and misshaping, brought about
by Insular Prose Lesions. This disease
was thought to be infectious, but it died
when all the sufferers were sterilised.’

‘Is du aa richt?’ I waakened fae mi dwaam.
Da isles lay boany, caam aboot da nicht,
an da fock wis yaarnin, laachin. I wis whyde.
I trivvled ower mi knees for proagin baens
an rexed mi fingers, croppened wi da signs
at I’m ootwun - a faeled genetic strynd.

(First printed in the collection Still Life.)

Subpages (1): Reffelation Glossary