Alan Sleater

Alan Sleater

Alan Sleater is a retired English teacher, and has lived in Galashiels since 1984.

The Guinea Stamp and To Boris
Saturday, 15 May 2021 12:05

The Guinea Stamp and To Boris

Published in Poetry

The Guinea’s Stamp

by Alan Sleater

The sea shimmers gently roon the rocks
O Ailsa Craig; the seagull mocks
The throbbin o ma heid; the miles
Tae Galloway will cure awhiles
The worst o’t. The clear air maks
Mair pure the man collectin tax.

For which labour I’m paid gey weel,
But it’s nae a compact wi the De’il.
I’ll work, within ma mortal span,
As poet, fairmer…exciseman -
An ither things - the Lord kens whit -
Far frae the realms o Holy Writ.

While we sat bousin late yestreen,
Johnny, mysel and Kirkton Jean,
‘I had a dream,’ oor Jeanie says,
‘A troublin vision o future days.’
Souter Johnny is peyin nae heed,
Mair intent on the amber mead.
But, mindfu o her prophecy
O the haunted kirk at Alloway,
I listen weel. Ma horse and I
Tae Jeanie’s truth can testify.

‘In twa hundred years, we’ll tak oor rules
Frae a Parliament o knaves an fools,
Their loyalty pledged to nane abune
The Chief Hypocrite, the Grand Baboon.
Michty o build, with gowden hair
Skilt, at Eton, tae spout hot air,
Britannia’s cloak flowin frae his back
An breeches styled frae the Union Jack,
Probity’s nichtmare, Scotia’s curse,
Wi mistresses paid frae the public purse,
He’ll flash a smile, wi blade in hand
An strike like the butcher, Cumberland…’

Mair anon; the day’s growin late.
I’m loth tae dwell on sic a fate
Or what’s aheid; ma horse maun rest,
An I must mak a cheerfu guest
O Girvan’s fine purveyors o ales.
In truth, I’m nae the best o chiels,
No a pious man, nor holy,
But, Lord, Thou kens, for a’ ma folly,
For a’ ma taste for reamin’ swat,
The man’s the gowd, for a’ that.

The Apple Tree
Saturday, 27 February 2021 08:31

The Apple Tree

Published in Poetry

The Apple Tree

by Alan Sleater, with image by Steev Burgess

Early in Autumn, our first crop of apples,
Plentiful, but small and bitter to eat
Emerged from the oval-shaped posies of leaves.
Our apple tree bore fruit. We marked the date.

It was an old misshapen tree that looked
As though a push would knock it to the ground.
Dad wedged a plank beneath a knotted junction,
Tested its resilience, and declared it sound.

In Spring, the small, white, rose-like petals
Were profuse and pink-veined; the fruit never came.
“We’ll cut it back,” said dad, “encourage growth.”
We laid the heavy branches in a line.

The next year’s little miracle of bloom
Promised new life and fruitfulness to come.
But dad, hard pruner to the core, told us
The tree was cankerous, and chopped it down;
Still digging it out in the evening, late,
That year when Thatcher brought to Downing Street
The principle of cutting, branch and root,
Those unproductive trees that never fruit.

Melrose Abbey ruins
Saturday, 24 October 2020 13:30

Class Register

Published in Poetry

Class Register

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.