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The Three Graces


She is the one who blesses you

With the favoured number of yeses

Reflections, guesses, talismans

And obsesses

Over vast details

Enlarged on her mirror wall

Black sails, mascara eyes

Blue as her longing to change the past

Anchor chains tethered to imperfect webs

Forever dancing on a foothold

Forever balanced; fated to fall


She was the one who bathed you

In oil and pleasure

Anointed and saved you

A narrative hidden within touching

Holding desperate breaths

But that was then

Knowing it was possible

Knowing everything

Because everything could be seen

Seeing nothing

Because nothing was hidden


She is the one who will dress you

In a final caress

A ritual of love; a gesture

As much an act of madness

As our world will allow

Measured only by its cost

Treasured, traced and locked

Anticipating the memory of her beauty

The wrappings of despair

The myth of redemption

The blessing and the prayer


© Tom Fairnie June 2016


Worse than the Devil


I know exactly how to cheat

I’ve got such a wicked streak

But I doubt I’ll burn in Hell

For I know the devil very well


I met him once in a red caboose

Drinking corn liquor, playing fast and loose

I shook his hand in that old boxcar

I’ve still got his little finger in a jar


So I think he’d dance to my tune

Of dead stars and a dying moon

Shining over Hades Heights

The darkness in me filling his nights


‘cause I’m worse than the devil

I’m the nightmare he’d wrestle

The one that would keep him awake

Wriggling all night; such a sleepy snake


He needs all the rest he can get just to keep up with me

I’m the noisy neighbour; upstairs; you see

I can outdo all of his schemes

He wouldn’t want me invading his dreams


He knows better than to threaten me with Hell

He really wouldn’t want me down there as well

He’d find himself with a very red face

If he knew that I was really running the place


I like to keep him on his cloven toes

To be there on his shoulder wherever he goes

You’d be surprised to know he even prays

I move in such mysterious ways


I think he knows me well enough

To know I don’t easily bluff

He wouldn’t really want to prevail

Not if he wants to keep his tail


© Tom Fairnie 2001


The Burial


Seen from above it was a black thread

A slow and steady trickle of blood long bled

Winding its way through green and grey

With hollow eyes and nothing to say

Save a comment on the weather and a platitude

The stiffening breeze; an expression of gratitude

But then the sky turned ominous

Words and barometers became superfluous

What was once as naked and pure as copper sulphate

Now shamelessly covered in Presbyterian grey slate

Sacred, weathered and wasting away

A cathedral of light having a very dark day

Under a pagan sky full of Nordic noir gods

Black collander clouds and stair rods

It blustered thunderous and loud

Billowed like a loose wrapped shroud

As porous as a widow weeping

As cold as a paid mourner’s greeting

They were made for each other; funerals and rain

They both look good in black; woebegone and drained

A dispatch made in heaven on a day stuck indoors

Making cumulonimbus clouds collide ‘til it pours

Cascades and falls, drills down and wets

A small congregation awash with regrets

For lost rainwear, umbrellas and scarves grey and black

The dear departed had borrowed and never gave back


© Tom Fairnie 2017



Under Silver Stars


As we lay still one night

Drawing our breath in shallow draughts

Watching silver blue corn sway

Silken as quiet moonlight,

Arc into slowly falling arrows

In the bower of a sloping field

That led down to the riverside

And on, toward the moon blown tide.

Behind us, a broken pathway

Wandering cracks in a shining sea

To where, pleasure taken,

Our tender stain lay amid the fallen seed

Of wild strawberries and grain

Until the drowsy drizzling dawn

When poppies turn back to red


They never call it dead of night,

These lovers,

Breathless from living

Still, silent and spent

It being too long

And passing too slowly for them

It is the time of gathering souls

At their lowest ebb

When this deep line of darkness falls upon us

As it sweeps the world like a scythe


In torch-lit procession

We walk by river

Intrude upon its gloom

And ripple its ever-present twilight

A pewter veil flowing

Into a molten heart

Beating this water

Against a turning world

To regain its balance

In a futile search for equilibrium

Pouring silver over moonstone

Seen through flame

Lit by embers and bark

Something caught in amber

Something dead but held forever

Rippling in the dark


In the mystery of circles

They are endless, infinite and relentless

Love and death walk in circles

Silver rings, moonlight, halos,

Spinning stars in perpetual, rippling orbit

Map our heaven

Silver seeds in wild darkness

Where imagination dreams

And fears appear and disappear

As we repeat words

Before we close our eyes

To keep us safe from seed to scythe


At worst this night is only dark

And darkness only silent

And if in silence there's nothing to fear

Then listening doesn't explain

Why tonight is so unbearable


Sleep is but a little death

Given a warm hand and a low breath

These lovers will not sleep

Nor part, under this flag of love

Banded silver, black and red

Their sea, silver blue

Their land, moonlit silver

Awash with the black flowers of the moon

And the estuary,

A spoon dipped in salt,

Clings to the long and low-lying sand

Where gulls and lost ships cry

For land and the years beyond their reach

Where a weak attraction draws them ever closer

Since no other force endures

To repel them from this shore


This is the old tide

Washed up and wide as moonlight

This is the pathway

And the orbit we hold

The sweep of the scythe

O’er the blood black poppy field

Ripples chasing whispers

Rumours in the rye

The silver blue corn bows

Where life yields and shadows lie


© Tom Fairnie winter 2005


Billy Bones


Wi shooders like braes

Under a crag face

A nose like an avalanche

And a St Bernard’s jowls

He had the look o’ a man

Wi his ain gravitational pull

Draggin’ him doon and roond

In a millstane whirl

As quick as sand grinding porridge


His predilection wis to gloom

If he wis a game he’d be Doom

Or something in a tomb

Bit withoot aw the runnin’ aroond

He’d be stuck in The Chamber o’ Sittin’ Doon

His weathered brow was beaten,

He wis dog eared and worn oot by a lifelong losing streak

He looked like he’d jist been pulled

Fae a natural disaster

His disheveled claes

Were like charity shop chic;

Only they wurnie

His dearest possession

Wis a second-hand jaikit

A purloined Burberry


He’d goat himself kicked oot o’ The Central Bar

For drinking that many pints o’ freezing cauld Guinness

He wis causin’ a draft

And he found himself ootside

Slowly spinning to a stop

Facing uphill and longing for the inviting arms

O’ The Guilford’s revolving door

Turning his thoughts to the way it would greet ye

Wi’ an encouraging pat oan the back

An auld friend, aye welcome, dinnae fash

Only tae cast ye oot into the cauld

O’ a porter black night

Jist cause ye’d run oot o’ cash


He considered yon half empty moon

Revolving ower the top o’ Leith Walk

But then; it was so far above him

And he was so far doon

Aw he could dae wis gawk

Then his nostrils flared like a pit pony remembering meadow grass

As he caught the scent of salt and sauce

Rousing his passion for a dear place

Where he could stare into the deep like a fat friar

Contemplating the spiritual journey of his battered soul

From bottom feeder to topping it all off with a finial wish

Where the silkie and the kraken

And the polis sirens beckoned.

Like Captain Ahab;

He was legless and determined to have a big bit o’ fish


Then later, through the teeming rain

O’ a typical clouds’ night oot

Like a bedraggled beggar staring intae an empty cup fu’ o’ rainwater

He stood, loomin’ ower the Water o’ Leith

Pouring his thoughts intae the black water beneath

That stirred itsel’ intae a stout foam wreath

Terminally cauld and soaked tae the skin

He contemplated this final act

Frozen stiff and drenched

In Leith’s endless sunshine


He thought about death and damnation

About caskets and cremation

Even cryogenic preservation

Where he could postpone his ain funeral indefinitely

He wondered if a salt-sea drowned man died thirsty

Damned tae drink from the Lethe river

An eternity of oblivion for a lifetime of being right oot o’ it

Tae forget how he came to be fu’ o’ water yet parched for all eternity

And how they might undertake tae fish him oot and let him drip dry

Or wring him oot before consigning him to Hades

They might just tumble him dry

In the last steamie this side o’ Hell

He imagined that it would be the drier

They could aye stick a few shirts in as well


And Leith had no Dominion

Jist an auld Eldorado

But he was gled tae dae it here

In the northern hemisphere

‘cause droonin’ doon under

Wi’ aw that counter-clockwise spinnin’

Wid jist make ye giddy

And that didnae sound sae guid tae him

And made him think

That death and the Coriolis Effect

Have baith goat their proper time and place

So tae speak;

‘cause efter aw’ he jist wanted tae droon

He didnae want tae make himself seik


He had a droonin’ man’s sense o’ direction

A blind man’s lost face

And in that final shrug o’ his shooders

He had a drunken man’s grace

And sank below the foam

Like a depth charge

‘til at the very last

He thought he could taste

Vinegar and salt

In a mix of holy symbols

The Water o’ Leith

His thrown-in chips

And Grimbles


© Tom Fairnie summer 2005


In The Cathedral


In the cathedral today I saw a man

Who looked a little like Saint Paul

Defacing a Corinthian column

Writing letters full of vitriol

It was the first time I had seen him

I suppose one of us was itinerant

Only in, out of the rain.

He looked burnt and belligerent

Like a tramp or a hawker king

Off the road, an old Wandering Jew

Transfigured into a church elder

Half hidden here in the face of God

Like me; but probably not you


Stood behind a rood screen

Whispering a half truth

The other half obscene

It was font water clear

That this one angry man’s epistle

Was between himself and his God

More Golem than gospel

Mostly venom and spittle

Reading unintelligible verses

To an invisible creator

A mad makar and his maker


Then, ranting for all he was worth

A crescendo of abuse

Cried from the darkness and the heart

The words broken into lies

Reverberating and abstruse

Perhaps proud to be remembered

As the most false prophet

An immodest epitaph awaiting

The end of his life

To make sense of it all

A vane and vaulted ambition

Though vanity never looked worse

It had certainly let itself go

And it never used to curse

Or use the name in vain

Here where bells and hands are wrung

Out on the Epistle Side

In this designer house of God

Where the great architect

With a nod to Wren

Has the last word

A beggar calls for silence

Or a sign of the cross

The I made mute

Now turning to the sinister

Difficult to get a bearing

On such an omnipresent minister


Believing, amidst all the good books and letters,

That there must be one from a poison pen

To give his passionate play on words,

His twisted reason; clarity

Willing to give everything to understand

Why the greatest of them is charity


I thought I recognised him

And I would have given him the benefit of the doubt

But I was wrong; it wasn’t him at all

He only looked a little like St Paul


© Tom Fairnie 9th June 2007


Bed-knobs and bonfires


We used to burn our old mattresses

On ritual bonfires in the back green

Lying like foundation stones

Somewhere in-between

Sweet Williams and Pee the Beds

The fragrant and the unclean

As we collected from the neighbours

It would build, and every day keep gaining

Wardrobes full of woodworm

And beds full of staining

Until it stood; a temple to Morpheus

And inadequate toilet training


Like a hapless Antiques Roadshow

Of wet beds and household debris

Given a Viking funeral

That fired our imagination and we

Fought like Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis

Fencing with chair legs over some wee Janet Leigh

But no matter how much was cremated

Consigned to the flames

There amongst the ashes like petrified snakes

The bedsprings remained

As hard as pawnbroker’s balls

A symbol of poverty, guilt and shame


We were always having bonfires

And playing with matches

Life was a fascinating combination

Of combustible material and damp patches

The endless struggle between light and dark

Fiery-haired Rita and the black shirted fascists

It was one long night

Of fireworks, fire-cans and come in for your tea

Lit by the smiling face

Of a candle in a tumshie

And a tattie in the dying embers

Was a funeral feast for free



Turning like Saint Catherine’s wheel

Burning like Saint Joan

We lit a volcano to Vulcan

And worshipped at Pele’s fiery throne

With gunpowder from China and candles from Rome

We had a pyromythology all of our own


It’s a wonder I survived at all

Through that baptism of fire

A miner’s son forged in the flames

Of his father’s desire

And my mother’s burning passion

Which he’d light and then retire

But through all those flaming years

Through every flicker and twist

Burning down the days

The memories persist

Of how I always wanted to be a fireman

I just grew up an arsonist


© Tom Fairnie 2001


There’ll always be bairns


There’ll always be bairns in the street

They’ll always be kicking a ba’

They’ll always get a tellin’ oaf

Always fae there maw

They’ll always be in a parade

Wearing a cardboard box

Wi a name like Robbie the Robot or R2D2

And they’ll always hiv to be coaxed

They’ll always be cheeky wee beggars

Always smoke

Always throw bangers at cats

Always jist hivin' a joke

They’ll always make a noise at the pictures

And kick yer seat oan the bus

And they’ll always get ye mair annoyed

And dare ye tae make a fuss

They’ll always make a face in the school photie

They’ll always pick a fight

And get some wee guy intae trouble

And treat him like shite

They’ll always be the loudest

And take up maist o’ the teacher's time

They’ll always be setting fires

And intae petty crime

They’ll always ken mair aboot sex

And mair aboot drugs

They’ll always be stealin' something

And always baitin' dugs

They’ll always get in tae trouble

And yin o’ them will always get knocked doon

They’ll never learn their lesson

And they’ll always be aroond

They’ll always be aroond

They’ll never go away

They’re ootside in ma gairden

Like there’s naewhere else tae play

There’s nae cure for bairns

Time disnae heal a thing

The wee mites are mair like germs

Their intae awthing

They’ll never be any better

They’ll probably get a lot worse

They’re supposed tae be a blessing

Bit jist make ye want tae curse

‘cause they’ll always bite their nails

Never wash and always smell

Bit then, who am a tae talk

A wis a bairn once ma’sel



There’ll Always be bairns © Tom Fairnie 2007



Remembering Venice


Remembering Venice

is like remembering love

that opaque city



without form,

is lost in waves and beauty

yet it stays with you

like a constant


remembering Venice

is like remembering rain

surrounding you

making you just another part

of something vast and falling…

like love


Do you remember the rain in Venice?

Do you remember running into its heart

and being swept along in its beating?






She is my luxury and my failing

Her body is my vice

She is wasted on me

Her love is a bargain

at any price.


© Tom Fairnie autumn 1997



Becoming eternal


It’s October and colder

the years are another year older

this fundamental love,

becoming eternal.

romantic, wild and unafraid,

autumn leaving summer

facing winter

bright and shadowless

like a full moon

late in a dark October sky,

like passionate lovers dressing afterwards

in a moonlit room

their love surrounded by that light

clear and bright and becoming eternal


© Tom Fairnie winter 1976



In every expectant moment


In every expectant moment

before I see you

I rehearse the words

like a humble man struggling with a good deed

like a vain man with his last look

I’m swallowed up in the waiting

Sometimes it’s just too profound a feeling

of anticipation

it becomes an undertow and threatens my balance,

my equilibrium

I’m waiting at this very moment

waiting as I write

and waiting as you read

waiting through every long expectant moment

until I see you

and then I know what takes my breath away.

It’s not the undertow,

not the falling in

nor the fear of falling out,

it’s only seeing you

just seeing you


© Tom Fairnie winter 1976




The Flood


Like any other ocean

This one has it's end

It ends in God's mouth

As a word he once used

All this was a mistake

All this torturously deep dark waste of water

Below the light

A mistake; a slip of God's tongue


© Tom Fairnie spring 2000




Joyful Northern Air


Joyful northern air

With backing by the USAF

Bomber division

A fragile tune

So weak

And yet so winning.



One night while you were sleeping


One night while you were sleeping

I kissed your love awake

And held you tight

In the grip of love

In a hold no one could break

And in the time between us kissing first

And kissing a last goodnight

We held and touched

And embraced it all

All the love in the world that night.


© Tom Fairnie winter 1978


Man Wis Made Tae Girn


Ah wis made in Scotland like maist o’ youse

From McGowans toffee and penny chews

And if ye are what ye eat then ah canny hide

Ah'm mainly Lorne sausage and Mothers Pride

But it would be a sin an ah’d wish masel died

If you thought a wisnae a true scot but jist a half-breid


© Tom Fairnie summer 2004

The Door-to-door Campaigner


Her politics were transparent

She had a mandate

To raise my opinion

Of her liberal ways

I was her primary target

A floating voter

She wanted to swing

A flush of red and her blue eyes

Holding my gaze

With her manifesto

And her persuasive sway

She was somewhat left of centre

Like a misplaced cross

Swept along on her tide of promises

I would have given her my vote

But I spoilt my paper

One more deposit lost

Then she was gone

Like a straw poll in the wind

And I, cast adrift,

No longer undecided

Now committed to her list


© Tom Fairnie winter 2004




A man pursues a woman until she catches him


Boys will be boys

And girls will be chaste

Boys will be chastened

And fall in their haste

Repent at their leisure

Demand sympathy

And girls will take pleasure

In life’s symmetry


© Tom Fairnie June 2016





Christmas present


A gave masel’ a present...

An’ switched oan the other bar

An’ poured masel’ a double

O’ another man’s Vladivar

No one else would buy a gift

Or drink tae this auld miser’s health

So a just return the favour

An’ keep aw theirs tae masel’

I unwrap what I would have given,

I save the ribbon and the paper;

Fur last night’s news

Is something ye should savour

Revealing coins in pearls o’ wisdom

That shine like yon Eastern star

A’m fair lavish wi ma gifts

When a ken there no gaun far

But the yin I love the best

The yin a leave tae last

Is ma bank book fu o’ numbers

The sums o’ aw ma past

An’ wi every year that passes

It flatters to deceive

For a seem tae get mair than twice the pleasure

As a both give and receive

An’ every year there’s mair

Ma generosity knows no bounds

aw that money I hav’nae spent

Ach well, it’s the thoucht that counts


© Tom Fairnie 2003






The man in me buys a toy

The boy in me gets to play

The pagan in me feasts

While the Christian has his day

The part that believes in fairies

Gets the shopaholic to buy a tree

The worker would decorate it

But he’s on holiday

The consumer gets bloated

As the turkey gets eaten...and eaten and eaten

The vegetarian is disgusted

With the whole damn season

The singer in me recalls

A tune from school

The Holly and ivy

My middle name is Yule




What it is


No one is black

And no one is white

Save an albino

And an albino at night


A nose isn’t Roman

And it isn’t a Jew’s

You take what you get

You can’t pick and choose


Dirt isn’t different

Because of a map

And territorial waters

Tend to overlap


So let’s not be pedants

It’s only a name

Be it bigot or xenophobe

We’re all just the same


© Tom Fairnie 2005