Poetry Map of Scotland poem no. 21: Dunbar

Dunbar High Street

It’s the spine of the old place.
Before there were streets
all lived in the wynds, entries,
vennels, closes, alleys, courts,
essential passages either side.

Market stalls displayed goods and produce,
fish new-landed off the wee boats,
meat there for those who could afford it.
The beasts met their end in Slaughterhouse Close,
the blood gutter a vein to the sea
and the butcher’s good thumb on the scales.
In Gardener’s Close potatoes, fresh
from clamps, jostled bundles of kale
and dirty carrots, a base for broth.

Beer was brewed by alewives, served up
in parlours, then pipe-kippered ale-houses.
Inns and pubs imposed a modicum of dignity
with each new century’s whims and morals.

The Market Cross was for proclamations.
The Minister declared a fatwa
on the dominie’s wife, for the spreading
of malicious gossip. The King’s Messenger
announced new laws, and lawyers
scurried off to polish writs.
The Provost, in chains and robes, read the names
of drunks and felons fettered
in the dank jail, and firebrand preachers
summoned the wrath of God each week.

A wide, straight thoroughfare
for the regiment to march and counter-march.
Cavalry pranced, and horse artillery
towed gleaming guns destined
for the poppied mud of France.

Off Empire Close the cinema sat,
the heavy petting back row
where the young usherette’s torch
reddened with embarrassment,
as the fake action flickered in grayscale
on the grainy screen.

A tourist boom whimpered out
in my lifetime, shops have come and gone.
The footfall is smaller, as they say,
the offer less attractive; a row
with gaps and pop-ups, but still
where else to meet six random friends
on a wet Tuesday morning? Where else?


Colin Will
Dunbar High Street was published in Wild Words, by Dunbar Writers (Calder Wood Press, June 2014).

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