Twelfth entry: Second erasure

I’ve decided that this erasure business is pretty fun – not to mention that it gives me an(other) excuse to read Robert Burns. Seriously, if you’ve never heard of his work — and actually, you have: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot…” — you need to check it out. I actually attended my first official Robert Burns Supper this year, if you want to read about it (the link will take you to my other blog).

This time I chose “Death and Dr. Hornbrook.” While the last entry was probably easy to keep up with, this one features much more of the Scottish dialect that Burns preserved in his writing, so after the initial presentation (and my cleaned-up second version), I’ll give you some vocabulary. Same as last time, the crossed-out italics are the erased portions, the bold is “my” new poem:

Some books are lies frae end to end,
And some great lies were never penn’d:
    Ev’n ministers, they
ha’e been kenn’d,
                        In holy rapture,
    A rousing whid,
at times, to vend,
                        And nail’t wi’

But this that I am gaun to tell,
Which lately on a night befel,
Is just as true‘s the Deil’s in h–ll
Or Dublin-city;
That e’er he nearer comes oursel
‘S a muckle pity.

The Clachan yill had made me canty,
I was na fou, but just had plenty;
I stacher’d whyles, but yet took tent ay
To free the ditches;
An’ hillocks, stanes, and bushes, kenn’d ay
Frae ghaists an’ witches.

The rising moon began to glow’r
The distant Cumnock hills out-owre:
    To count her horns with a’ my pow’r,
I set mysel;
But whether she had three or four,
I could na tell.

    I was come round about the hill,
    And todlin down on Willie’s mill,
    Setting my staff with a’
my skill,
To keep me sicker;
Tho’ leeward whyles, against my will,
I took a bicker.

I there wi’ something did forgather,
That put me in an eerie swither;
An awfu’ scythe, out-owre ae shouther,
Clear-dangling, hang;
A three-taed leister on the ither
Lay, large an’ lang.

Its stature seem’d lang Scotch ells twa,
The queerest shape that e’er I saw,
For fient a wame it had ava:
And then, its shanks,
They were as thin, as sharp an’ sma’
As cheeks o’ branks.

“Guid-een,” quo’ I; “Friend, hae ye been mawin,
When ither folk are busy sawin?”
It seem’d to mak a kind o’ stan’,
But naething spak;
At length, says I, “Friend, where ye gaun,
Will ye go back?”

It spak right howe,–My name is Death,
But be na fley’d.”–Quoth I, “Guid faith,
Ye’re may be come to stap my breath;
But tent me, billie;
I red ye weel, take care o’ skaith,
See, there’s a gully!”

“Guidman,” quo’ he, “put up your whittle,
I’m no design’d to try its mettle;
But if I did, I wad be kittle
To be mislear’d,
    I wad nae mind it, no that spittle
Out-owre my beard.”

“Weel, weel!” says I, “a bargain be’t;
Come, gies your hand, an’ sae we’re gree’t;
We’ll ease our shanks an’ tak a seat,
Come, gies your news!
    This while ye hae been mony a gate
At mony a house.

“Ay, ay!” quo’ he, an’ shook his head,
“It’s e’en a lang, lang time indeed
Sin’ I began to nick the thread,
An’ choke the breath:
Folk maun do something for their bread,
An’ sae maun Death.

“Sax thousand years are near hand fled
Sin’ I was to the butching bred,
An’ mony a scheme in vain’s been laid,
To stap or scar me;
Till ane Hornbook’s ta’en up the trade,
An’ faith, he’ll waur me.

“Ye ken Jock Hornbook i’ the Clachan,
    Deil mak his kings-hood in a spleuchan!
He’s grown sae weel acquaint wi’ Buchan
An’ ither chaps,
The weans haud out their fingers laughin
And pouk my hips.

“See, here’s a scythe, and there’s a dart,
They hae pierc’d mony a gallant heart;
But Doctor Hornbook, wi’ his art
And cursed skill,
Has made them baith no worth a f—-t,
Damn’d haet they’ll kill.

“‘Twas but yestreen, nae farther gaen,
I threw a noble throw at ane;
Wi’ less, I’m sure, I’ve hundreds slain;
It just play’d dirl on the bane,
But did nae mair.

“Hornbook was by, wi’ ready art,
And had sae fortified the part,
That when I looked to my dart,
It was sae blunt,
Fient haet o’t wad hae pierc‘d the heart
Of a kail-runt.

“I drew my scythe in sic a fury,
I near-hand cowpit wi’ my hurry,
But yet the bauld Apothecary,
Withstood the shock;
I might as weel hae tried a quarry
O’ hard whin rock.

“Ev’n them he canna get attended,
Although their face he ne’er had kend it,
Just sh—- in a kail-blade, and send it,
As soon’s he smells’t,
Baith their disease, and what will mend it,
At once he tells’t.

“And then a’ doctor’s saws and whittles,
Of a’ dimensions, shapes, an’ mettles,
A’ kinds
o’ boxes, mugs, an’ bottles,
He’s sure to hae;
Their Latin
names as fast he rattles
As A B C.

“Calces o’ fossils, earths, and trees;
True sal-marinum
o’ the seas;
The farina of beans and pease,
He has’t
in plenty;
Aqua-fortis, what you please,
can content ye.

    “Forbye some new, uncommon weapons,
    Urinus spiritus of capons;
Or mite-horn shavings, filings, scrapings,
Distill’d _per se_;
    Sal-alkali o’ midge-tail clippings,
And mony mae.”

“Waes me for Johnny Ged’s-Hole[7] now,”
Quoth I, “if that thae news be true!
His braw calf-ward whare gowans grew,

Sae white and bonie,
Nae doubt they’ll rive it wi’ the plew;
They’ll ruin Johnie!”

The creature grain’d an eldritch laugh,
 And says, “Ye need na yoke the plough,
Kirkyards will soon be till’d
Tak ye nae fear;
They’ll a’ be trench’d wi’ mony a sheugh
In twa-three year.

“Whare I kill’d ane a fair strae death,
By loss o’ blood or
want of breath,
This night I’m free to tak my aith,
That Hornbook’s skill
Has clad a score i’ their last claith,
By drap an’ pill.

An honest wabster to his trade,
Whase wife’s twa nieves were scarce weel bred,
Gat tippence-worth to mend her head,
When it was sair;
The wife slade cannie to her bed,
ne’er spak mair

A countra laird had ta’en the batts,
Or some curmurring in his guts,
His only son for Hornbook sets,
An’ pays him well.
The lad, for twa guid gimmer-pets,
Was laird himsel.

“A bonnie lass, ye kend her name,
Some ill-brewn drink had hov’d her wame;
She trusts hersel, to hide the shame,
In Hornbook’s care;
Horn sent her aff to her lang hame,
To hide it there.

“That’s just a swatch o’ Hornbook’s way;
goes he on from day to day,
Thus does he poison, kill, an’ slay,
An’s weel paid for’t;
    Yet stops me o’ my lawfu’ prey,
Wi’ his d–mn’d dirt:

“But, hark! I’ll tell you of a plot,
Though dinna ye be
speaking o’t;
    I’ll nail the self-conceited sot,
As dead’s a herrin’:
Niest time we
meet, I’ll wad a groat,
He gets his fairin’!”

But just as he began to tell,
The auld kirk-hammer strak’ the bell

    Some wee short hour ayont the twal,
Which rais’d us baith:
I took the way that pleas’d
And sae did Death.


Here’s the cleaned-up & retouched version:

Lies never penn’d
ha’e been, at times,

I am lately
just as true;
‘S a muckle pity.

I was yet free
frae ghaists, an’
my pow’r I could na tell.

My skill
to bicker
did put me,
on the
queerest shape that e’er I saw.

Ither folk
naething spak;
At length, says I,
“My name be na faith,”

But I wad nae mind it, no.

Gies your hand, an’
gies your news!
Ye had been a lang, lang time indeed.

The breath
in vain’s been laid
to scar me:

A gallant heart
wi’ cursed skill
threw a noble throw at
but did nae mair.

Wi’ ready art,
I looked to
pierc’ my fury,
but withstood the shock;

Dimension o’ names,
o’ fossils,
o’ seas in plenty
can content ye.

Quoth I, if
white doubt
grain’d enough fear,
they’ll be a want of breath,
an’ honest nieves
ne’er spak mair.

A son for
some ill-brewn shame
goes on from day to day;
Thus does he poison, kill, an’ slay
wi’ his speaking.

I’ll meet
some wee short hour ayont
and Death.


And here’s your “translation”:

Lies never penned
have been, at times,

I am lately
just as true;
It’s a great pity.

I was yet free
from ghosts, and
my power I could not tell.

My skill
to bicker
did put me,
on the
queerest shape that ever I saw.

Other folk
nothing spoke;
At length, says I,
“My name be not faith,”

But I would not mind it, no.

Give us your hand, and
give us your news!
You had been a long, long time indeed.

The breath
in vain has been laid
to scar me:

A gallant heart
with cursed skill
threw a noble throw at
but did no more.

With ready art,
I looked to
pierce my fury,
but withstood the shock;

Dimension of names,
of fossils,
of seas in plenty
can content you.

Quoth I, if
white doubt
groaned enough fear,
there will be a want of breath,
and honest fists
never spoke more.

A son for
some ill-brewed shame
goes on from day to day;
Thus does he poison, kill, and slay
with his speaking.

I’ll meet
some wee short hour beyond
and Death.


Eleventh entry: Erasure

I decided to borrow NaPoWriMo’s prompt for Day 26 for today’s poem: take a copy of a long poem, and systematically erase whole words or even lines while maintaining the relative position of the remaining words. This method is called erasure. I chose not only one of my favorite poets, Robert Burns, who had a penchant for writing very long poems (you might be familiar with Tam O’ Shanter, some 224 lines of brilliant literature), but one of my favorite themes, as well, in his poem “A Winter Night.” The crossed-out, italic text is what has been erased; the bold text is “my” new poem:


When biting Boreas, fell and dour,
Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv’d glow’r,

Far south the lift,
Dim-dark’ning thro’ the flaky show’r,
whirling drift:

Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreaths up-choked,
Wild-eddying swirl;
Or, thro’ the mining outlet bocked,

Down headlong hurl:

List’ning the doors an’ winnocks rattle,
I thought me on the ourie cattle,
Or silly sheep, wha bide this brattle
winter war,
And thro’ the drift, deep-lairing, sprattle
Beneath a scar.

Ilk happing bird,-wee, helpless thing!
That, in the merry months o’ spring,
Delighted me to hear thee sing,
What comes o’ thee?
Whare wilt thou cow’r thy chittering wing,
An’ close thy e’e?

Ev’n you, on murdering errands toil’d,
Lone from your savage homes exil’d,
The blood-stain’d roost, and sheep-cote spoil’d
My heart forgets,
While pityless the tempest wild
Sore on you beats!

Now Phoebe in her midnight reign,
Dark-muff’d, view’d the dreary plain;
Still crowding thoughts, a pensive train,

Rose in my soul,
When on my ear this plantive strain,
Slow, solemn, stole:-

Blow, blow, ye winds, with heavier gust!
And freeze, thou bitter-biting frost!
Descend, ye chilly, smothering snows!
all your rage, as now united, shows
More hard unkindness
Vengeful malice unrepenting.
Than heaven-illumin’d Man
on brother Man bestows!

“See stern Oppression’s iron grip,
Or mad Ambition’s gory hand,
like blood-hounds from the slip,
Woe, Want, and Murder
o’er a land!
Ev’n in the
peaceful rural vale,
weeping, tells the mournful tale,
How pamper’d Luxury, Flatt’ry by her side,
The parasite empoisoning her ear,
With all the servile wretches in the rear,
Looks o’er proud Property, extended wide;
And eyes the simple, rustic hind,
Whose toil upholds the glitt’ring
creature of another kind,
Some coarser substance, unrefin’d-
Plac’d for her lordly use thus far, thus
vile, below!

“Where, where is Love’s fond, tender throe,
With lordly Honour’s lofty brow,
The pow’rs you proudly own?
Is there, beneath Love’s noble name,
Can harbour, dark, the
selfish aim,
To bless himself alone?
Mark maiden-
innocence a prey
To love-pretending snares:
This boasted Honour
turns away,
Shunning soft Pity’s rising sway,
Regardless of
the tears and unavailing pray’rs!
Perhaps this hour,
in Misery’s squalid nest,
She strains your infant to her
joyless breast,
And with a mother’s fears shrinks at the rocking blast!

“Oh ye! who, sunk in beds of down,
Feel not a want but what yourselves create,
Think, for a moment, on his wretched
Whom friends and fortune quite disown!
Ill-satisfy’d keen
nature’s clamorous call,
Stretch’d on his straw, he lays himself to sleep;
While through the ragged roof and chinky wall,
Chill, o’er his slumbers, piles the drifty heap!
Think on the dungeon’s grim confine,

Where Guilt and poor Misfortune pine!
Guilt, erring man, relenting view,
But shall thy legal
rage pursue
The wretch, already
crushed low
By cruel Fortune’s undeserved blow?

Affliction’s sons are brothers in distress;
A brother to relieve, how exquisite the bliss!”

I heard nae mair, for Chanticleer
Shook off the pouthery snaw,
And hail’d the morning with a cheer,
A cottage-
rousing craw.
But deep this truth impress’d my mind-
Thro’ all His works abroad,
The heart benevolent and kind
The most resembles God.


Fore ease of reading, here’s my revised version off the erasure that breaks the original format and makes some minor changes:

Sharp shivers thro’ the
whirling drift the steeples rocked,
while burns choked
down doors an’ winnocks.
I thought me on the
winter war
beneath a scar.

Wee, helpless spring,
what comes o’ thee
on murdering errands
from your blood-stained roost
while,  pityless, the wild
in her midnight reign
rose in my soul?

Blow, blow all your rage unrelenting
on Man
like blood-hounds o’er
peaceful weeping!
Look o’er the simple creature
with the pow’rs you proudly own.

Selfish innocence
turns away,
shunning the tears
in Misery’s joyless breast.

Sunk in beds of fate and fortune,
nature’s clamorous call
lays him to sleep through the Chill
where rage crushed affliction’s brothers.

I shook off the morning with a
rousing craw.

Tenth entry: Spring

Seeing the faces of four distinct seasons is something new to me. Once again, being abroad has proven a refreshing change of pace.

I once said April

I once said April
not knowing what it meant at the time.
Her name sounded no different from the others
in that single, vague season,
and if there was hail or thunder,
it might be anytime between now
and winter.

I once said April
on North Texas soil.
Just as my eyes would get lost on the horizon,
her name was never a conscious thought:
simply a quiet part of that big world
full of papers and red ink
and long grocery lists.

I once said April
when everything was the same.
Before I knew it, her name became June
by late May, and as summer burned,
she left only brief memories
on allergy prescriptions
and tax returns.



I can say April
while looking into her eyes.
In another tongue, her name means
more than thirty days: where clichés bloom
and myths become real on green-scented afternoons,
I remember that I once spoke routine
and welcome change.

Ninth entry: of angels and demons

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not good with kids. As much as I don’t understand them nor find much joy in their presence, people must keep having them for a reason…

Saving Grace

Their numbers grow, it seems to me, with every passing day,
and every one that passes by would make the faithless pray—
For if, in Hell, there is a place reserved for folks like me,
its face would boast a youthful grin, and shrill its voice would be.

So you may call me spiteful, or obstinate, or grim,
But children are, in my surmise, the penance for our sins:
The loud and the unwieldy, the awkward and abstruse,
give little pause for sanity amid their sly abuse.

That’s not to say I’ll never see a sudden change of heart:
as certain tastes mature with age, so others may depart.
But from this seat of wisdom, I still admit my doubt,
For present-me is ill-prepared to nurture such a sprout.

But sometimes through the chaos and the rollicking uncouth,
A woman watches reverently the antics of the youth:
Her lips draw wide in wrinkles, her eyes regain their hue;
She sees a grace unknown to me ― and then I’m smiling too.

Seventh entry: Treading water

Amidst preparations for the TCF (Test de connaissance du français), academic stresses, and daily life in Paris, a bit of linguistic anxiety is to be expected where my mother tongue is swept away in the current.



between short breaths of my own language,
I float through seas of syllables—
salty and raw on my lips
having only ever practiced
in swimming pools.

these living waters,
beautiful and dangerous,
while far from familiar,
grow comfortable enough
that I may lay back and float awhile.

then that thing
touches my leg.

Sixth Entry: Metal variations on a Celtic theme

While I rarely consider the dream as a serious option for my future, part of me wants to be in a metal band. If everyone’s allowed his guilty pleasure, mine is certainly the more abrasive end of the musical spectrum – which isn’t to say that I spend the majority of my acoustic existence there. For example, I love the peace and often melancholic sweetness of Celtic music, among many other endless forms of instrumental and vocal expression. When these two genres combine, I am all the more pleased (if you’re interested, I’d recommend Eluveitie).

What’s the point of this explanation? One of my favorite Celtic-inspired songs has been rewritten by a number of groups throughout the years, most notably in my experience by Gaelic Storm. Their rendition of Black is the Colour is a sweet, somber interpretation of a tale already imbued with longing and love, and it’s a necessary precursor to this discussion since we’ll be looking at a rewrite of my own.

The metal head in me saw an opportunity to transform the melancholy and lost love into a dark and macabre tale, but nevertheless one that centers on achievement and reunion more so than lost hope. So if you like vampires and paradoxes, keep reading! My ideal rendition of this adaptation would be performed by the demonic lovechild of Amon Amarth and Mandragora Scream, combining elements of death metal and gothic metal into one bizarre teenage fantasy.

Far from a bastardization of the original, I like to think of this almost as a satire of metal culture (similar to the Dethklok phenomenon) but a song that could potentially be played seriously at many goth clubs with relative success — it certainly has its poetic qualities, after all. The catch would be being familiar enough with the original to know the references. If you didn’t at least listen to Gaelic Storm’s tune, do that now and keep it in mind while reading:

Black is the color of my true love’s soul
Her lips are pale in the cold below
A frozen smile, arms across her breast
I love the ground where below she rests

On the other side, do immortals weep?
Does she hear my cries in eternal sleep?
I hope one day that the day will end
So she and I may be again

I go to the tomb in the dark of night
To call her name in ancient rites
I feel her breath as it chills my spine
And I enter death a thousand times

There is, of course, the option to repeat the first stanza after each of the two following, as it is featured in the original version. Possibly another one that I could come back to expand, but as long as I’m committed to the equivalent of a poem a day, it’ll have to do for now.