by Alan Sleater
The first register I called at Selkirk High
Was, to my incomer’s eyes, a roll call
Of the Borders clans, and three hundred years of peace;
Armstrong, Douglas, Elliot, Scott,
A second-year class, sitting in ordered rows,
Like the shields in the entrance hall at Abbotsford.
My mother was a Bell, and her family hailed
From Bemersyde, her three-times great grandmother
Buried in Bowden Kirk. The Bells were farmers then,
No longer feared as one of the riding clans,
But, no doubt, fiercely proud of their Borders name.
What remains, beyond the battle sites,
Or places that bring to life the Border tales?
The Armstrongs are gone from the gloom of Hermitage,
The Kers and Douglas-Scotts have made their peace,
Home, from Eton, to their Borders-wide estates
Of landscaped gardens and artificial lakes,
Tied tenancy and a hundred million sheep,
But true to the Borders, in their non-inclusive way.
The lasting harms are English-made: the burnt-out abbeys,
Ripped-up railways, forgotten motorways;
Communities destroyed in time of war.
Once a year, they ride the marches of the past.
In Selkirk, safe in, the local colours cast,
The Standard Bearer, Fletcher, dips his flag,
And The Flooers o the Forest is heard in total silence.
Surprised by tears for a battle long ago,
I reflect on the strange allegiances
Of this Royal Burgh’s absolute devotion
To the clans and customs of the Border lands
And a Crown that slaughtered all its men, bar one.