Chien –Min Kao + Aileen Ballantyne

Queen Mary’s Clarsach

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Rarest rowan frae singin greenwood growes
an bends tae gie her bounty fine.
Ah tak the best frae yonder faerie tree,
then tae a sauchie place ah dauner doon.

Frae willow sweet, an fragrant yet
frae quickenin beuchs o’ forest green,
ah cairve in juist yae piece tae mak the soon’
cam ringin lang an clair an high.

Ah seal the soondbit weel nou at the back
wi a shilpie sliver o’ the faerie wuid.
A bit o’ plane tree fir the neck ah fin,
sae strang and pale; it taks decorement weel.

Then fir the pillar that’s the spine o’ it,
ah cairve alang the grain o’ aiplewuid.
An last, wi linseed an wi beeswax ah preser’
ma airt an fantoush cairvin oan ye nou.

A clarsach fir a lass sae sweet an fair,
lang schuiled in Fraunce in notes
sae doucely played – huntin, hawkin,
rinnin free, smirtlin and lauchin

wi aa the bairns o’ the forest -–
she was a bairn hersel tae but yestreen,
that’s nou oor swank an luesome Queen.
She spies ye. An wi a yowt o’ pleisur rins:

a clarsach glazie, bricht an new,
untae hersel she clesps ye ticht;
an there ye bide. An ye becam the singer
o’ aa the lass’s thochts and words.

Her robe, a skein o’ finest muslin, pirrs
an flows tae kiver herp an lass’s saicrets baith:
a clarsach finely pierced bi hooks
o’ gowd an bress an siller.

Oan baith a gowden chord is strung,
her sang jowes oot sae high an clair,
her thochts they ring sae true. But then:
nae mair o’ singin.
Fir tae an English Queen’s domeenion
she maun yield. Ma Celtic cross, cairved deep
wi dule; ma draigons an ma lions –
they bide here yet – but oan a clarsach ratchit nou.

Yer singin greenwood’s pit tae final rest.
But cairvin’s ayeweys wi the timmer.
Wi aa yer chords lang lost, ye lie sae quiet.
But in ma dreams ah hear ye. Ah hear ye yet ma lass.


clarsach: small harp, originally “willow board.”
sauchie: willowed, where there are willows
dauner: wander, amble
quickenin: living
beuchs: boughs
shilpie: thin
airt: craft
fantoush: leading edge of fashion
schuiled: schooled, taught
cairvin: carving
doucely: sweetly
smirtlin: giggling
lauchin: laughing
yestreen: yesterday
swank: tall and slim
luesome: lovely, loved,
yowt: cry
glazie: shining, smooth
clesps: holds
bide: stay
pirrs: ripples
jowes: rings
maun: must
dule: grief, pain
ratchit: damaged by rough use
timmer: timber

Her Window

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I saw you at the airport that day
as light took the last curve of moon:
a child with skinny arms and red dress,
with the books too heavy to carry.
I’m flying to the castle, you said,
a castle so high it touches the sun.

So much has changed since those days,
as I look now, out of your window,
and see you in your red dress
drawing Mickey Mouse ears on the glass;
and you open your book at the page
with coloured blocks that reach to the top
with princes and kings in turret facades
and clowns that tumble in circus rings.

You examine each droplet of water
hugging your window’s smooth edge
as wings lift you clear off the ground.
The droplets cling, run upwards,
your own private stream on glass,
as ground disappears, and the clouds
are the colour of snow filled with light.

You wrap your blanket around you;
your five a.m. start’s catching up.
And I reach for the lip of your blind,
glad that it fits, exact: a shield
from the fire, and the light, and the weight
of a molten volcano of souls,
and I see you, asleep,
holding the sun in your hand.

Aileen Ballantyne

Monday, February 23rd, 2009