How the deserted industrial landscapes of Scotland can lend themselves to poetry was demonstrated last week by two powerful little poems about bings or slag heaps. Disused railway tracks prompted today’s elegiac reflection by Tom Pow. The poem was first published by Canongate in 1987 and is included in The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century  Scottish Poetry (EUP, 2005).

A FAVOURITE STRETCH OF DISUSED RAILWAY

             Dalbeattie to Dumfries Line

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Turn sharp right off the forestry track.

~

You’re on a path of large granite chips

shrouded by silver birch. This will lead you

onto the viaduct. Here the birch become

glossy saplings, the stones one long rockery

for wild strawberry, for the palest green tree shoots.

~

From here you can see how well-appointed

the big houses are; their stables boarded up now

and windows broken, but your eye led to them

by the fold of the landscape, by the command

of trees, as surely as in any Claude.

~

A hawk skims the variegated tops

of an arboretum – cyprus, copper beech,

improbable monkey puzzle. Your spirit

goes with it – for you are halfway

to flying here, riding these great arcs of air

With only a mane of rough stone to hold onto.

~

At the end of the viaduct, a broken grey stile.

The path weeps into a green baize, stitched

with tiny white stars. A moped, clogged with rust,

stands alone; the garish flowers on its petrol tank

almost fading as you look. Playful ghosts

crowd in on you. Old beech trees

spread their arms in perfect planes.

~

When the path becomes a path again,

it is a sodden mud-track, a fine silt

of rootless earth, whose depth you could not judge,

if not aware of that broken vertebrae beneath.

One pool, clear of the choking tagliatelle of algae,

still shows the sharp edges of a few pinkish pieces

of granite. Everywhere else marsh marigolds

sway imperiously in teased-out stems.

                    (to be concluded)