poems of migration and celebration

Poems of Migration and Celebration

-a workshop reading by mac d.-

My Father passed away at the beginning of February 1999 after a relatively short struggle with cancer. His brother, my Uncle Bill had passed away about seven years before also after a terminal cancer in 1991. They were both Scottish, but migrated with their families as far and wide as Germany, Singapore, Libya, and Canada. I suppose I should mention England too?


you sang softly,
when I was a sleepy child:

“Down at the station, early in the morning”

wie ma wellies tecked awa in,
an ma faither’s faither’s bunnet on,

till I closed my eyes
to dream of now…

Now? I know everyone’s dyin’
only, you’re dyin’ faster, eh?

My chromosomes
are on full alert.

At least those which you could claim
with fingerprint truth

are reminders of our
black and white childhood.

When I stood in Howard Park,
in shorts, knee high grey socks, a pocket full of marbles…

staring at the empty cinder pitch
from the fenced off swings and roundabout.

Even then, I knew
that deep scar on your knee,

where I’d sit and fall to sleep
dreaming of this prodigious now.

My father and mother met in Norfolk – she’s a Norfolk Broad you might say – and that is where my mothers family, the Barkers come from and where I was born in 1956. My two elder sisters, Maggie and Sheena, were born near Hamburg in what was then West Germany, we were an Air Force family.
I was born in Norwich,. Recently some ‘Rellies’ from Australia visited, my Maternal grandfather’s brother’s boys, they emigrated back in the 1950’s.

Meanwhile, I’ve kind of emigrated back, it was my father’s death that made me realize how great a distance away I was. No matter the speed of artificial flight:

A few years before, my father had given me his father’s watch. Originally an enagement gift to my Grandfather from my Grandmother. My instructions were to pass it on to my nephew Kevin once he was old enough. I kept it, and had it with me when my father was ill. After the funeral, I gave it to my brother Ian, for safe keeping with the same instruction. Ian was born in Canada . By the time of the funeral, I was living back in the UK, I saw the distance and worried that if something happened to me, the watch might not get passed on. That is the nature of a gift, it is never really owned, you only have stewardship, and for that reason it is more highly valued than something one feels they fully possess.

To hold, possess, and store the gift of winter. I hear the whisper of granddad’s watch.
tick tock, tick tock.

Staring black grey night. Yellowed haze of street light shade to coal coated engines under ice. Winging past runway red and blue pin pricks. Yellow flashing through the snow. The jumbo’s highway turns at last into the wind. Eyes adjusting in the snowstorm twilight between the swirls and ocean white fields. Underneath this solid metal wing. Leaving the lakeshore country, where the freezing gulls flocked around me. Where they glided and soared, chest high beside me. Like kites against the wind. In one’s eye I see him squint and blink, at chest height in the air. Fearing the call of dying, a cold eye on a cold day. Metal whispers echoing the ice and snow. I prepare for flying – my own levitation.
tick tock, tick tock.

The shallow coves that broke the wind at least, house the fastest forming ice on the lake. The birds now, float farther out in choppy buoyance.
I hear the pilot say we must de-ice the plane. The yellow cherry pickers of the airport invade the view above the wing. Spraying like dragons. Window smeared in cream coloured slurry. That should keep the ice at bay. With a cold eye on a cold day.
I think of you as I fly. I always think of you when I fly. Away.
tick tock, tick tock.

On the other hand I have a Canadian friend who has lived in London for the last quarter of a century. Steve and I met 40 years ago in Burlington Ontario when I was 11 years old. He is a 4th generation Canadian who is married to Anne-Marie, a Londoner of Irish descent and they have two lovely daughters, the eldest is Hannah, my god-daughter. Soon after my father passed away I found myself celebrating Hannah’s arrival on her naming day.


from your god less, god foresaken, god be with you, oh my god, god damn godparent:

How do you feel?
well, y’kow sometimes watching the naked greed…

Things have gotten so fast, Hannah,
we no longer wait for you.
Century to century, the time ebbs away,
as each moment passes, we end up saying:
“It was different in our day.”

(you may hate that bit)

When you stop,
for a minute
and think “WOW!”

About the uneasy beauty of being, say,
about a moment christened
like a lifeboat
descending into a sea of time…

You’ll see a sunrise,
remember it many times
as if everyday.
Then find one step’s enough to remind you
how much it all costs.

“At the end of the day.”

We’ll rest, all ages
at different times, we meet

contemplating dew drops,
and grains of sand,
a falling feather,
a helping hand,
a loving kiss –
and the lunar mist
is rising half the time

from one century to another,
one millennium to a

have a charm for when the world’s at war:
may luck and love be always beside you.

May the world be beyond being
rich or poor.

I have an idea, by the way,
about the night sky:
as the earth slowly swallows the day,
there’s an incredible amount of friction.
And sometimes, sparks fly off
and are visible all night
as they slowly leave the atmosphere…
incredibly, each night they look remarkably similar.

May you always have more questions than answers.

Like, you’re my mother/father figure in some future now.
As those first steps awkwardly follow
human time,
geological time,
universal time.

Imagine, all the stories, films and fictions
that imagine “this” is you.
Then breathe in the world,
let nothing
fill this empty vessel
called time…

I’ve come to cherish the power of words to celebrate life, in some way they shorten the distance between life and death, making signposts along the path. Life itself is a migration, a philosophical journey as much as a physical one. Just last week I became a Step Grandfather, my partner Annie’s eldest son Tiriel and his partner Helen have introduced us to a new life, their son Toby Brian.

and as Kurt vonnegut said: ‘So it goes’…

Newborn Breath

The whisper of your breath
Disturbs the soft sea bed
of air
Rippling between us.

Soft as down,
Soft cheeks of wonder
with growing pains

I marvel, eyes popping
an unbeliever
converted to wonder
that such a thing is possible
as I live and breathe.

m d

More poetry by Mac Dunlop can be found here