High Fidelity. He was on it like a plague.
Four tracks just coming into pocket range.
Every visitor loosened up to it eventually.
It was all on the tapes – laughter, singing –
‘Dis aubudy kaen this wan?’ then a flurry
of snippets, of songs old and new,
Campbeltown Loch, Paper Doll,
and now and again a strident voice…
‘Huv ye got the knives and forks oot yet?’
from the kitchen ben to the living room,
the occasional fssss of taking off a bottle top,
then ‘Jessie! Jessie! Come oan, hen!’
knowing she’d sing one everybody knew
and the party was on for real…
Soon enough they’d be in the swing,
there’d be calls for the favourites – each singer
prized for their own particular songs –
and here, fifty years on, a wee bit of him
singing Heart of My Heart before he’s cut across
by a voice I can’t place, a feisty woman:
‘Aw, Joe! Gei us the wan ye got 6 months fur!’
But who was Joe? What had he done!?
And the old man who sang next – ‘There iisss
a tavern in the town…’ – was this him?
I’m filled with names and questions: That’s Grace!
Grace the big belly-laugher – if a corner of her lip went up,
you knew, any minute, the whole place would go up with it
– but is Al’n no there? Alan, who brought his drumsticks
and gave it laldie on the smokers’ stands? What was
the name of that woman who used to fling in all
the Heee-euchs! to the old Scots dancing songs?
And why, four hours, three tapes in, have I not heard
the famous cuckoo clock? Famous for having lost its ‘oo’,
that left us hanging on the quarter hour with just a rising ‘cuck’?
It’s mostly weekend radio shows, behind them
incoherent chatter, the odd faint conversation.
She: ‘They say it’ll be some weeks.’
and he: ‘It disn’t sound too good then.’
Another tape, in the reel to reel’s last days,
him and a man I don’t know, who says
‘Aw right then… C’mon… Oan ye go’
then a bairn, all of four, by the sounds of her,
singing Flouer o Scotland –
this isn’t what I’m hoping for. It’s not my mother’s
Banks and Braes, his web-footed friends… it’s not Grannie
kicking off a round of I am the music man annnd
I come from down your way, not Uncle Stan’s
Moon River, Margaret’s infamous Granada...
Did he save nothing of family? His children?
None of those New Years chock-full until
Four in the Morning and The Foggy Foggy Dew?
Dear Heart, there is something I must tell you.
They don’t say the words I wanna hear.
I want my mother singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot.
I want her in her white dress singing Summertime,
just as though the living had been easy,
just as though, Lord, he really did have
kisses sweeter than wine.
© 2014, Anne Stewart, all rights reserved; originally published in ARTEMISpoetry Issue 13, Nov 2014