Neil Mochrie, a prolific Scottish poet who lived from 1935 to 2005, has much to teach posterity. One hundred of his poems, some of which are written in Scottish, are collected in the posthumous volume Selected Poetry & Verse (published privately in 2018 and edited by Alison Clark). The following is taken from Clark's biographical preface:
"An early master of the standard poetic forms - sonnet, ballad, Burns stanza - Mochrie had an excellent ear for rhythm and rhyme... together with [a] quirky sense of humour and love of puns. [During his lifetime,] he published some pieces in school and university magazines and in The Glasgow Herald as it was then entitled. Some are included here.... Neil Mochrie wrote to seek to understand himself and to explore and express his thoughts and feelings on everything from the personal to the political. Poetry works best and is, paradoxically, more universal when it addresses the particular. When his poems focus on an individual person, a feature of the natural world or a particular relationship, Mochrie is at his most successful."
I have chosen a few poems from section 6 of the volume, "God and All That," admittedly my favorites [and in the chronological order determined by the editing] but difficult to choose from this outstanding collection that also includes sections on "Nature, Life and Love," "Family and Friends," "Thinkers, Seers and Poets," "Fun and Games," and "Ye Ken Noo." Thanks to Neil's daughter Mary Mochrie for sharing this wonderful collection with me.
CHRIST IN FALLUJAH: REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY 2004
- 2004 -
He moves between the sunlight and the shadows,
staffed but stumbling down the shattered street.
His way is marked by traces in the sand:
the dark stains placed there by His wounded feet.
The pale tracks left upon His dusty cheek
mark sweat or tears " impossible to say.
Flickering in and out of time and space
gingerly He steps and makes his way.
A mother in a cluttered, doorless, doorway
hugs tightly with her one still useful arm
her infant daughter's small and stiffened corpse
still, to the last, protecting her from harm.
He stops and kneels down in the rubble,
gazes with love into her dimming eyes.
She sees within them as her vision fades
the opening gates of Mahmud's Paradise.
Above, the marshalled ghosts of honoured dead
hang down their heads in silence and in shame
that all they died for has drowned in the mire
of greed and power that's set the world aflame.
FACING CHRIST ACROSS THE TABLE
- 1985 -
I do not wish to be a sorcerer
Conjuring you up
Using my need for a spell
Out of the subnatural depths
Conjuring you up
Out of my broken fragments of imagination
Conjuring you up
To face me here across my kitchen table.
Sometimes you come unbidden.
Sometimes when I call in pain
Or in the dumb hurt of singleness
I am afraid that what I call
May not be you
But my own phantom.
I am afraid of my successful sorcery.
But sometimes you come
And seem more real than I am to myself.
On these occasions I reach to take
The hands you offer
And the love.
"Come to the table!"
I call to whoever may be in the house.
"The guest has brought wine and bread
And news from beyond the world."
You look deep into me
Saying with laughter
"All is well."
CHRIST IN THERAPY
- 2001 -
He sits across from me and smiles:
he knows the vagaries of man.
He nods while I digress, and smiles:
all is unfolding as per plan.
I show my sorrows and my pains,
my tears, grimaces, trembling hands.
my passions lost and duty's gains.
He smiles and nods and ... understands.
"You loved your father but he wrought
despair and violence in your life.
Your mother loved you, so you thought.
Why did you never take a wife?
It's time to live now for yourself:
sufficient is the cure of one.
Leave others' burdens on the shelf:
life should contain a bit of fun.
You cannot answer for us all,
You cannot dry the whole world's eyes.
We each must stumble, trip and fall
upon our way to Paradise.
The halt, the lame, the blind may fail
and perish somewhere on the path.
The single-minded will prevail
and harvest all the aftermath."
He says my dream of sacrifice,
of self transcended by surrender,
is but the clumsy artifice
of an ingenuous pretender.
The power, the glory are not mine.
I'm free to come down off my cross:
my pearls are barely fit for swine,
my fiery words unkindled dross.
He sits and nods, another smile
that says he knows more than I can,
and thinks his trickster sleight and guile
are equal to the Son of Man.
- 2003 -
He did come back you know.
I met him at the turn of the Millennium.
We had been thinking about him a lot, I suppose,
And those who believed that he might call again
ere all stirred up.
I didn't pay all that much attention.
I admired his work and life of course
and much of what he'd taught.
We were brought up to do so,
although I found in adulthood
the gory details had been sanitised a bit
and no-one seemed to realise
we had recreated on a truly global scale
The kind of world he'd lived and suffered in.
I was walking the dog at the time.
He fell into step beside, almost like an old friend,
Asking me how I was and so on"
He seemed to know the family.
It took me some time to realise who he might be
And when I did, I stopped.
The dog licked his hand.
I asked him why he had come
And he said he'd never really gone away,
Only for the few days when things got really rough.
I wondered what he was doing these days.
He said he still looked out for people, like he used to,
and looked after his father's "many mansions."
"Collecting rents?" I asked.
"In a sense" he replied "and doing repairs".
I got caught up in the earthy reality of this exchange:
"New builds?" I enquired.
There was a long silence.
"What kind of people live in them?"
"Anyone who really wants to".
We were at the door of my house.
I hesitated, unsure what to do or say.
"Thanks for the chat" he smiled,
"Perhaps we'll meet again some time."
He continued on his way.
At the crossroads he half-turned and waved.
I wish I'd asked him in.
THE THIRD TESTAMENT
- 1993 -
Hear the god's truth, the bad news!
this is the gospel of wrath
that you had ignored or forgotten:
the unrevealed darkside of love,
the frozen blackside of joy!
Here is the terminal judgement
on man and on his creation
when the sole available counsel
is dead or gone off on vacation
and Justice, who sees all things clearly,
her blindfold untied, loose and fallen.
prepares to make up her own mind
since her scales are perpetually broken.
The lion has eaten the lamb
but experiences no satisfaction.
The hunter who dropped his prey swiftly
has turned his slow hand to slaughter.
He shoots, intending to maim,
his enemy's three year old son
who is toddling after a mother
who walks far too fast to follow
as she clutches a small loaf of bread
and a jerry-can half-full of water.
He starves without knowing or heeding
his bosom friend's teenage daughter
who nurses her crippled lover
unaware that her unborn child
is withered forever within her.
The oil-fired white knights of power,
their tanks painted pallid for peace,
confide to electrical ears
that this is not war as they know it.
The howl that comes over the aether
Is not merely a technical defect
but a voice from the Pleistocene past
crying out across the millennia
trying to shout very clearly
"This is what war is for."
Mothers in shell-shattered shelter
mix into some brown sewer water
the dry-as-dust denatured milk
of humanitarian kindness
for children who move and breathe weakly
but utter no noise, not a whimper
in the cellar's least insecure corner.
Here is the back door to Hell
in the alley which runs from despair
where the trash cans are thoroughly clean
and the rats and the cats and the dirty dogs
and the scabby dead donkeys are gone
and the fleas and the lice and the cockroaches
are looking for much better quarters.
Elsewhere a barking mad godman
yelping loudly above his white collar
makes one plea for peace on earth
and ten for a yen or a dollar
to buy Bibles in Serbo-Croatian
to be trucked to the scene of the conflict
or send missions to maltreated Muslims
offering baptism under slow fire.
This is the last wagon to roll
(we go as far as the Moon
but the stars are too far away).
This is the Last Chance saloon
try one last throw of the dice
put your stainless hands in your pockets
for discounted guns, bombs and rockets
or, if you want to be nice,
bandages, aspirins, rice.
This is the closing down clearance
these are the final reductions
this is the LAST DAY OF SALE!
Hear the Big O at the end
(Z is for zero my friend)
Look at the scroll rolling up:
here is God in the Garden
weighing his long pruning shears
gauging the tall Tree of Life,
there is the dead branch of Man,
leafless and fruitless in summer,
waiting on high autumn winds
to know what He meant by the Fall.
(also published August 8, 2022, at OpEdNews: https://www.opednews.com/articles/You-Cannot-Dry-the-Whole-God_Poet_Poetry_Wholeness-220808-784.html)