Poet John Mackie,poet and lyricist,Banff,



The Son Of Life


It Matters Little

Peace, Plenty and The Mark of Christ

Song to Gruoch

And So The End



After The End?

Please click on the images to read individual sections or scroll down to read the whole piece in sequence.



1. Prologue

With all the conventional caution
That superstition's virus breeds
In the virtuosic breaths of those
Whose work it is
To play the lives of others as
Worked up constructions from a page -
The Green Room and the stage
Sound softly and with sotto voce resonance:
"A stimulating setting of the Scottish Play".

"The Scottish Play"
Misnomer madness this
"The English Play" a better name, we say.

It is indeed a Scottish story, rather
A Northern Scottish story
Its face and form turned
Towards Orkney and Norway
Purloined and altered by
Politicking and the acceptance of rumour
For a drama's sake:
A northern narrative broken by untruths
Spoken loudly, widely and often enough
To appear a history.

A life traduced to confirm pre-judgement
To serve perhaps:
An Elizabethan Chain of Being,
The King's Men's pomp and courtly vanity,
The Divine Right of a Duncan-ite king to sit
Upon England's gilded perch.

A carefully crafted construction
Persuasively wrought by language and thought:
A competent warrior king
The chronicler lauded for his fairness
Some say beloved of the Pope
And feted, or penitent, in Rome
Reduced to villain And given another man's murderous wife
By stokes of the quill
To titillate, Mis-educate
And to fill
The gaping bills
Of a Southwark pit.

It is our assay here tonight
Not to put all to right But
To offer a glimpse, a small insight,
Through time long gone, And
Hint a story as substantial as those
Whisps of wraiths still lingering before
The dispersing dazzle
Of a cloud cleared day
Above the peaty clog
Of a waterfilled bog.

Beyond the mist
Fleeting shadows shift and slide
In a place where myth
And contradictory chronicles collide.
From here the Natural record
Seems sharper than man's and clear
Sea Eagles rising on a thermal glide
Goshawk and Red Kite hovering
Beyond Scots Pines -
Lining up leverets,
Transfixed and trembling.

© John Mackie February 2007



2. It Matters Little

It matters little that
The world is flat
When influence travels at the speed
Of a day's brisk walk
Across the heath
On the lighter stains of tracks
Or on the drovers' ways
Once trodden out by the Auroch
Through light-speckled
Leaf -strewn alleys in
Dense stands of Alder, Elder,
Rowan, Aspen, Juniper and Birch
Or at the oar driven slide of a long ship
Orkney bound for Thorfinn
Below Aristotle's perfect crystalline spheres
In a geocentric universe.

Below the filling moon
A dusk-defining
Startle of starlings
Resisting the roost,
Surfing on gusts.
As far flung and flurried
As handfuls of hail
A myriad swirl of darting dots
As vivid as skirmishes
Against the shape-changing drift
Of strip-driven smoky cloud
A gibbous moon
In a thronging sky.

In anno domini
One thousand and forty
The Mormaer of Moray
By name Macbeth, the Son of Life,
Perhaps The Furious Red One
Of the prophecy
of Berchan
Confronted and killed his kinsman Duncan
To wrest and protect the burgeoning power
Of a newly hewn Scotland, in the chancing hour
From the South facing curse cousin Duncan defined.
A feuding family's fortunes thus re-aligned.

Hostages to fortune both
In brutal battle's hacking harm
Succession taken - common then - by force of arms
Backing his claim - two irresistible urgings:
His once kinged grand-father one
And His wife, the gainful Gruoch,

In the fringe of the forest
Grey shadows wait,
For hubbub and scream
To finally die
Lupine, listening,
Howling at the moon
An amber moon on lapus lazuli.

Night's flight
Night of red eye
A rumour of light
In a baleful, breaking, Beserkers' sky.

The lissom hunting lope of the lynx
A brief burst of boar rooting carrion apart
And the grey shadows swift to the forest's heart.

Ah, here it comes
Here comes the sun
The sleek summer sun
Fierce, bold but indifferent
Not a moment too soon
Not a moment too soon.

Close by a place where the harebells still bloom
Between two worlds, the bracken unfurled,
A Canny-man soothes those dying of wounds
His sharp ear tuned to the sibilant swell
Of voices of Sidhe on the wind.
And ravening corbies rattling their wings.

"The Red King will take the kingdom . . . the ruddy-faced, yellow-haired, tall one, I shall be joyful in him. Scotland will be brimful,
in the west and in the east, during the reign of the furious Red One. "
So reads the prophecy of Berchan

© John Mackie February 2007


3. Peace, Plenty and The Mark of Christ 

Between the star glazed opacity of night
And the dazzling drift of a deep blue day
The sea and sun embrace
In lovers' fluent languor
In not long now this seed will burst
On tendrils of gold
To flower to day

At the mouths of the River Spey
Change-full choirs chant
Surf on shingle sliding
Interval shifts minutely gliding
From harmony to dissonance
Somewhere in the key of D (?)
The whole symphonic bay
In constantly impermanent refrain

When the tide comes in like that
Persuaded by a Moray Firth dawn
A fisher's daughter
As aquiline, as fine, as osprey
Risen from her sleep of eagles
Pausing at the kale yard wall,
Sings out her strong and clear sustain
To an ocean of whale-song
And the triples and trills of terns

A small pod of dolphins
Working in unison
Six slick dorsals
Rising and falling
In a closing loop
Herding the red fish
To a cradling shallow
Where the surface breaks
Then, mercurial, boils
With a panic
Of salmon
Leaping to nothing -
No breaking loose
From the leisurely beaks
Of the bottle-nosed noose

In the rivers rush
On a sand bar oasis
A seal pup waits
With the stillness of youth
For the silver flashing
And saline fruit
Of a returning mother's
Own salmon pursuit

On a west bank litter of sand and stone:
Slow worm and adder bask in the sun
Dragon flies dance their right angled turns
Broom thickets' fly speckled haunting yellows
And out in the bay a bull seal bellows.

Up on the hill, the scratchings of man
A circle of stone aligned with the moon
A barrow of burials, iron festooned
Knives and hook blades turf-marooned
The malice of faeries locked into its graves
As pig nuts are garnered and yarrow gleaned
By the folk of the coast (strong, small ,dark and lean)
Their voices tuned to the root notes of waves.

Beyond them, in the lord-ling's parks
A richness of martins, exaltations of larks.

To the South on a stone in the Palace of Scone
The Son of Life planned to tighten his hold
A battle plan drawn up to unseat Crinan
Lay-Abbot, his uncle, Duncan's father,
Kin to Columba the blessed saint
In 1045 this Abbot was slain
His fighters outrun on a field at Dunkeld
The power of the Red One waxed full and held.

At the other end of the turning year
Frost grips the air:
A visible exhalation of breath.
Aspiration built the towers here
With walls as deep as danger
As the Northumbrian allies
Of Duncan's son sought, though in vain,
To avenge the Abbot's death and, again,
To claim the country for Crinan's line.

Some chronicles tell of a prosperous time
A generous law bringing Christian king
Endowing Abbeys with parcels of land
Liberally dispensing his alms
A vigorous Justice for every crime.

Teeming with plenty to trap hunt and garner
From the fruits of the forest, the air and the sea
The fisher, the hunter, the settling farmer
All refine their husbandry
Subsistence plus surplus for means of exchange
The country is as brimful as Berchan proclaimed.

So peaceful and un-riven his governed land
The Red One's to Rome as piety demands
Some say for penitence, others for praise
A confident absence in those halcyon days.

On that hill a Pictish stone
Sharp still with symbols
Of plenty and fable
A mirror, sea creature
And a maiden's comb
In that Kirk-yard there a Celtic Cross
Marking the span of a Sainted Gael
In a time when the monk knew God alone
On the Northern most reaches Valhalla's stories
Rumble as thunder in lightning's skies
The folk who live on the Western Isles
Murmur of Silkies' seductive smiles
And live with remembrance of the Sidhe's rides.
At the forest's edge the people appease
Divinities dwelling in stone and tree
And everywhere across the land
The wise make the signs that good sense commands
To keep out of the way of Faeries' demands.

As the Son of Life his faith embraces,
Head bowed, at his Roman cross
Amongst the flattened gilded faces
Haloed by the Sun God's gloss
The governed pay their service still
In familiar hedge and hearth gods' places
And from time to time have cause to use
The canny spae-wives' ancient skills
With potions, spells and healing brews
To secure their loves and heal their ills.

On an island's lip a Black House
Bathed in pre-dawn's glacial light.
Inside a hearth fire sparking bright
Casting turmoils of flicker and shade
On a woman on all fours as she waits
Impatient for the rush of cascade
And the cry of her new born greeting her day.

© John Mackie February 2007


4. Song To Gruoch, Lady Macbeth

He is of her
Spun from her loins
In a skein of blood
Already weaving to war for the throne

They are of me
She, willingly to my bed
Taken to me beneath my roof
As further proof of my destined role
He to play
My son
Until such time
As his time
Should come.

And so I nurtured
Another man's son
Till manhood took him
To himself
The contract as
His mother turned me
To the one
Assisting her ambition in him

And yet
In the beginning nights there was more
To us than merely that
As though we were
Fresh lovers only
Feeding the heat and the animal beat
Of each other's pressing bodies

Mouth on mouth
Hands seeking
And meeting
Each other's need

Urgent and tender
Passionate, slaking,

Lately she grows colder
Our intimacies older
Finds good reasons
To sleep
On her own
Amongst her Waiting women
Whilst I
Exercise my regal rights
With nameless females
Whom I hope to meet again

There is disappointment in her
Her face turns away
As I touch her silvering hair:
He is not what she had imagined, planned
Not the man made in her image
Or her vision of him
Poet, warrior, king
Swift and just
As beautiful as the dawn.
For all her persuading
And her championing
And her elevation of his smallest skill
To the signs of a Saint
He has grown to be
Lulach the Simple
His eyes full of clouds
Like some poor benighted beast
From feeding trough
To litter
And back again
To the last morsel.

And this poor, protected, shambling fool
Is to be
The King of Scotland
Following me.

© John Mackie February 2007


5. And So the End Begins

Sensing a weakness in the calf
Struggling to find a straight way to safety
The grey shadows circle.
The bull trots from its flank
Impelled by some imagined incursion
On the furthest edge of the field.
Rank with tansy flowering
Beneath a fragmented hedge
Of Gorse.

In the Red One's court
Many languages engage
Dog-Latin, Norman, Gaelic,
The rag-ends of Pictish
And the beginnings of that hybrid

The Norman refugees from Edward's fold
Although keeping their distance
From the cavilling
Cannot help but hear the discord
That finds it way across those tongues
When the Red One stalks away
Having said too much,
And, we hazard, too furiously
About loss
And the pre-maturity of plots
To prevent Lulach
And install another.

High in the forest
On a dappled loch
Beaver drag their leafy burdens
Through the clinging waters
Busy only with shoring up
A dam that has sprung a threatening leak.

We speak of the beginning of the end
When ad-hoc arrangements of powerful men
Inaugurate the saving of Scotland's throne
From the succession of a simpleton
And put a whole man
In his place.

For the Red One
This contract still abides:
The contract with his Queen
To ensure that her child
Will rule following him
And so he grafts onto every familiar face
Urging him to change his mind
He himself becomes
Berchan's Furious One
And begins his cull
Of the grey shadows
At his court

© John Mackie March 2007


6. Penultimate


In such times
Disjointed by alarms
The canny man's satchel
Carries no balms;

No yarrow root will staunch
Wounds as wide these,
No honeysuckle bloom
Can offer up a hope
Of easing soon
Such quickening pain.

And all familiar prayers
Learned by rote
Raised to a distant pope
Gathering riches to Rome again
Yield but more dis-ease.

In the dappling sun
Below the hasty keep
Two are walking.
One glides as a swan swims
Busy beneath his weight
The other
Brittle, erect and stalking
The moment
Not to hesitate.

High in the forest
The arc of a stoat
Breaks the back
Of a shuffling shrew.

In the steaming heat
Of a huddling byre
A ravening brock
Closes its teeth
On a succoring teat
Ripping the udder
From underneath
The better to carry
The bloody
Milk filled sac
Off to its sett.
This badger bites on its back.

©John MackieApril 2007


7. After The End?


All is taken
All forsaken, gone
The next generation
Has played out its waiting game
And won
A cycle has completed itself here
At the locus of the graceless stand
Of my enemy's unforgiving son
And his take all allies
The Danish overlords of
Northumbria's vengeful ones

The winners' hordes in their pomp take all
Cruel full throated
Trumpeting victory calls
The loser, aye, bitter, broken, falls
Last proclamation largely unheard - unspoken
Without voice, without breath
Buffeted, storm tossed unto death
Slinks, silently, screaming historywards.

Don't judge me too harshly for
I have already lost too much - but
I know that losing all awaits me now
The half truths and the lies
Calumny and rumour will combine
To alter, bend and break the narrative of
A man
Neither angel nor demon
But a man
Who carried, often without counsel,
Because no other knew the whole,
A country and its woes
Sometimes too heavily in his heart
And risked time and again
His own comfort and ease
Against the un-biddable will
Of dis-ease that fuelled
A fury of ills.

Some will
Rush to judgement
To coincide
Pervasive prejudice
With their own advantage
And make a gospel truth
Of every gossip's
And, to save face,
Deny they were ever friend
Or benefited by knowing me
And, as nests of vipers
Turn to the new sun
And hiss vituperations
Behind their hands
Claiming only they
Properly understood
The lie of the land
And, oh yes, only they ever knew
My fury
Was my all.

And those there are who will
For their own gain's sake
Rapidly erase from talk all trace
Of my better more generous face
And the supportive grace
Which I freely gave
And to feed their angry appetites
Take back the name
("You are my rock") they called me then
To proclaim only the worst of what I said and did -
These they are who never had
To obey, ameliorate, at best placate
The imperatives of a ravening pain
Or unable to act, watch strength and spirit
Denying need
Ebbing away.

And now in St.Berchan's stead
I prophesy
When self-serving simplification
Best suits the times
There will arise a
Distant story teller who will
Make an angel of my enemy
A mendacious, murderous demon
Out of me.

©John Mackie May 2007


It Matters Little

Peace, Plenty and The Mark of Christ

Song to Gruoch

And So The End



After The End?




Performances in 2007:

4 April : The Spoken Word, L'Ogre de la Plume, Rue Jean-Paul Timbaud, Parmentier, Paris

15 April : Flying Folk, The Plough Inn, Macduff, Aberdeenshire

23 May : The Warehouse Theatre, Pitgaveny Quay, Lossiemouth IV31 6TW (National Theatre of Scotland)

24 May: Fleming Hall, Queens Road, Aberlour AB3 9PR (National Theatre of Scotland)

25 May: Red Shoes Theatre, 4-6 South College Street, Elgin IV30 1EP (National Theatre of Scotland)

15 June: Save The Whale Fundraiser,WDCS, Spey Bay, Morayshire, with K.J. MacPhee (violin)

30th August: Books And Beans, Belmont Street, Aberdeen

6th October: Kilau, Little Belmont Street, Aberdeen, with K.J. MacPhee (violin) and Adrian Baillie (guitar)

Performances in 2008:

24th May: The COAST Festival of Visual Arts, Aberdeenshire, with K.J. MacPhee (violin)

25th May: The COAST Festival of Visual Arts, Aberdeenshire, with K.J. MacPhee (violin)

21st June: The Portsoy Boat Festival, with K.J. MacPhee (violin)

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