BBWB 26: Nostoi

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THE BALLAD OF BLACK WATCH BRODICK

CANTO 26

Nostoi


The Goddess of the Sacrifice
Ascends from devastation
Shall sluggish floods of tears suffice
To praise her by libation

On the wings of eager rumor
Far & wide the tale went flying,
Thro’ the quicksand Flanders tumor
Many Scots fan dead & dying

From optimism at the launch
To grim reality
Impossible it seems to staunch
The bleeding hanging tree

A quarter of a million
For minute gains exchang’d
To modern-day civilian
Twas tragedy derang’d

& we could never know the grief
That prowl’d thro Scotland then
The growing ague, the disbelief
That half of Dundee’s men

Were lost in minutes, while the Watch
Were losing four in five,
Thro’ Marshall Joffre’s massive botch
Hardly anyone alive

The news came in as drabs, as dribs,
Death’s Angel beat her wings
Which swish’d as if them fizzing squibs
Round the city’s housing rings

There was no home Dundonian
Untouch’d & hollow-eye’d
For the ‘Fighting Fourth’ Battalion
Drawn entirely from Tayside

War’s cut-throat cur conducts its theft
A letter home, a photograph
Reliques of households left bereft
By the Lens-Loos cenotaph

Just thirteen lads returned unmaim’d
The rest were lacking limbs
Who sees them daily feels asham’d
Seeks solace in singing hymns

Thro’ the islands of Britannia
Peter Currie convalesc’d
With his right arm feeling better
& his nightmares dispossess’d

Ardrossan port, the steamer hoots,
It’s time to head on home
Stood every side were civvy suits
Watching the trailing foam

A vagrant morning struck the earth
The sea was white with spindrift
Oer blue & stormy streak of firth
The ship steams swift

Pete saunter’d to the forward deck
To peer upon wee Brodick
Whose houses flicker’d speck by speck
Like flames on a candlewick

From roof-to-roof his gaze gazelle
Went leaping; Estherlea,
Birchdale & Tighnamara, dwell
High perch’d above the sea

Tuathair on the lower ground
With Kingsley & the Manse,
By Corriegills & Merkland bound
The bonny bay’s expanse!

Pete Currie blew along the pier
By pouty girls unwed
Familiar all things appear
As to his home he sped

But pausing by two cottages
He conjur’d Wullie & John
His friends, his fellow villagers,
His boys forever gone

With dimmer mind he slowly pass’d
The doors of Douglas Row
Until his father’s face at last
& whiff of strong tobacco

Love mixes with a clear relief,
Lives drifted unexciting,
Thro’ Peter sears a leitmotif
“I’ll be glad to get back fighting!”

Feeling the haunting disconnect
Twyx soldiery & others
When families seem rubberneck’d
& buddies more than brothers

One day the glossy gossip-mill
Goes ‘Sarah Fullarton’s back,’
Pete climb’d the low inclining hill
Along Kilmichael’s track

He knock’d upon the big red door
“Sir, can I see you daughter?”
She came with a pallid langor
As if she’d drank ditch-water

They went for tea at Mrs Weir’s
“Hey Pete let’s stay out longer,
You’ve help’d me wipe my crying tears,
Lets try for something stronger.”

They drank together on a curve
Of sandiness all golden
Heads drunk, hearts sore, together serve
Strange love, they started holding

& kiss’d at once in tender tryst
She to her chambers led them
Let lioness lustiness insist
That passion-phrenzy fed them

Fruit juice of silken succulence
‘Til them both satisfied
At breathless death of innocence
Something in Sarah died

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