Originally from the Isle of Lewis, but now living in Edinburgh, Pàdraig MacAoidh (Peter Mackay) writes in Scottish Gaelic and English. His first collection of poems, Gu Leòr / Galore (Acair, 2015) was shortlisted for the Donald Meek Prize and the Saltire Scottish Poetry Book of the Year. He also has a pamphlet, From Another Island, with Clutag Press, which was published in 2010. He is a co-editor, with Iain S. MacPherson of An Leabhar Liath / The Light-Blue Book, an anthology of 500 years of Gaelic poetry, which was the Saltire Research Book of the Year. His poetry has been widely published in journals and anthologies and has been translated into Czech, French, German, Irish, Slovakian and English.
Canal an Aonaidh
Cha robh e thairis air srian mac-meanma Thòmais Telford
dha John Scott Russell faicinn an seo
an soliton, ‘tonn an eadar-theangachaidh’,
marbh-shruth a bhris fon bhat ’s a chum a’ dol
na ruith gun lagachadh fad a’ chanail.
Air each lean Russell e dà mhile, fad gach
lùb ’s car a’ chladhain: ‘a singular, beautiful
phenomenon’ a dh’fhàg, gu cinnteach,
a chinnt ann an Newton luaisgte.
tha an t-àite a’ faireachdainn seachad air rudeigin,
le cothrom air maireannachd gun iarraidh
ann an saoghal a bha, ’s a tha, ’s bu chòir a bhith
na fhlusg. Tha gaothan dìthidh stoirm Jonas a’ piocadh
a’ chanail, pocannan plastaig a’ tathaich
nan cuilcean, a’ dèanamh cailleach an dùdain;
tha tunnagan a’ sithean thall dhan a’ bhruaich eile
thar uisge luaineach, a’ siubhail bho siar gu sear
gun iùl, a’ dol ann luath. Gu bràth
cha dèan iad mac-na-brach’ ann an Lochrin,
às an tug an teine ann an 1801
fàileadh braich air losgadh on taigh-stàil
gu muileann Bhaile Àirneach ’s mànasan
Niddrie Mains. Gu bràth cha gheàrr
na sgalagan an coirce dhan adag misgte mu dheireadh.
Tha na muilnean ’s am mànas nam flataichean,
agus an taigh-charbadan: atharrachaidhean
maol’ a leigeas a-steach an t-uisge. A dh’aindeoin seo,
bidh a h-uile rud a’ caochladh. Tha soidhne
Virgin Active a’ priobadh air, ar tighearnan coma
a’ criomadh air falbh. A-muigh, air na clachan-càsaidh
tha bhana geal a’ stad, a’ tilleadh ’s a teicheadh.
Ach a dh’aindeoin seo, ann an dlùth-choman dùr
air choireigin, tha an lann-saothrachaidh glagach
a’ cumail a-dol gu suarach sa chùrs’.
It was not beyond the stretch of Thomas Telford’s
imagination for John Scott Russell to first see here
the soliton, his ‘wave of translation’,
a wake that broke free from its boat and hurried on,
running the length of the canal without weakening.
Two miles Russell tracked it on horseback,
along the ‘windings of the channel’: a ‘singular,
beautiful phenomenon’ that must have shaken
his certainty in Newton.
Like him, the place feels post-
something, a new-found possibility of permanence
in a world where all was, is, should be, flux.
The last winds of storm Jonas pick the canal;
plastic bags ghost in and out of the reeds;
ducks scut to the opposite banks across
water that, restless, from west to east
is going nowhere, quick. Never again
will they make whisky in Lochrin
where the fire in 1801 carried the smell
of burning malt from the distillery
to the mills of Balerno, the farmworkers
of Niddrie Mains. Never again will those serfs
cut the barley to the last drunken stook.
Those mills and farms are flats, so too the carriageworks,
blunt conversions whose bricks let in the rain.
Evertheless, all must change. The Virgin Active sign pricks up,
our flying fucks scoot off to pastures new,
on the cobbled-street outside, white vans stop, reverse,
are gone. And yet in spite of this,
next door, in stubborn somewhat solidarity,
the two-bit pre-fabrication yard clanks on.
Pàdraig MacAoidh (Peter Mackay)
From Umbrellas of Edinburgh (Freight, 2016, ed. Claire Askew and Russell Jones)