Bings, or slagheaps, used to dot Scotland’s Central Belt. Who would have thought they could be the stuff of poetry? But here Stanley Roger Green and George Macbeth prove that they are. (From A Book of Scottish Verse, edited by Maurice Lindsay, Robert Hale, 2001.)

                      THE OLD BING

A century ago deep dripping galleries were gutted

To build this monument above the wooded carse;

Now the bing is overwhelmed by dog-rose and bramble,

Veins of wild strawberry throb under bracken.


In winter keen hill winds and valley rains

Strip it bear revealing a gaunt memorial;

Stark in its grandeur the bing rears from the carse

Like the tumulus of a long-dead jarl or thane.


At its base a slow river ambles reflecting tall

Hills and still herons heraldic in twilight;

Not even the sighs of evening winds can recall

The anguished grunts of those nameless toilers,


Who hacked a sparse living from grudging seams,

Cursed at roof-falls, mourned lost comrades,

Indifferent as moles to the cenotaph above them

Each day darkly rising, shouldering the sun.


Grown-over slag heaps rise like burial mounds

For giant moles: the outworks of a siege

Where coal that ruled their lives fell back and failed.


Subsidence, unturned wheels. Fresh conifers

In tiny forests mark the perished seams

And ragwort flares above blown galleries.


Where shafts go down, there must lie bones of men

And dregs of anthracite, once linked by work

As at the brink of something, luck or change.


I see my father, measuring his hat

Against my little skull, day after day

Go down those shafts and frame a better future.


I was born here. Now, after sixty years,

I come back weaker to the place of launching

And drive through dirty streets, tears in my eyes.