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Ken Cockburn



the poet

Poet and translator Ken Cockburn spent several years at the Scottish Poetry Library before going freelance to work in education, care and community settings – often in collaboration with visual artists. His most recent collection is Floating the Woods. Ken's also the man behind the pamphlet Edinburgh: poems and translations, which features work written for the guided walks he leads in the city’s Old Town. He also translated from the German Christine Marendon's Heroines from Abroad.

the poems


00:00 / 01:37

            These hands have buckled belts and fastened buttons

            These hands have howked the tatties from the ground

            These hands have handled cutlery and weapons

            These hands have picked the apples from the bough

            Hands to hold a pen or blade

            Hands to strike and cup a match

            Hands to give the eyes some shade

            Hands to take another catch

            These hands have spooned out medicines and teas

            These hands have painted watercolour scenes

            These hands have tinkled old piano keys

            These hands have worked industrial machines

            Hands to turn another page

            Hands to hoist and set the sails

            Hands applaud those on the stage

            Hands with dirty fingernails

            These hands in tearooms picked up cakes and fancies

            These hands have sharpened pencils with a knife

            These hands held partners at the weekend dances

            These hands have mapped the progress of a life

            Hands to scrub and peel potatoes

            Hands to cup a baby’s head

            Hands to knit a balaclava

            Hands to smooth the unmade bed

            Hands to give a proper measure

            Hands to stitch the binding thread

            Hands up when you know the answer

            Hands to shush what’s best unsaid


00:00 / 00:48

            I keep my diaries in a large bookcase

            my mother told me crossly, years ago,

            she was now giving to my sister. Fine,

            fine. I left with what did belong to me,

            returning sooner than expected when,

            days before the move, my father collapsed.

            I went to visit him in hospital

            as he convalesced and took my daughter

            who, at eighteen months, was still innocent

            of past and future, caveats, grudges,

            grip and slow release. Let property wait.

            The ward dispenses all we need for now.


00:00 / 00:58

            At that school at that time there was no choice:

            rugby. Skinny, tall and slow I was put

            in the second row, scrummed and pushed on cue.

            Asthmatic, on cold days I wheezed until

            my lungs gave in. I was keen. I wanted

            to be good enough for the first fifteen

            unlike Rodney, disinclined to bother.

            Played at full-back to avoid set pieces,

            on the whole, he was left untroubled. Once

            we were on the same team; a breakaway

            left only Rodney between the runner

            and our line. 'Tackle him!' I shouted, but

            he stood his ground and the ball was touched down.

            At that moment I could only admire

            his simple refusal to play the game.

Publishing credits

Hands: part of Lapidus Scotland's Working with ‘Hands’

  and Living Voices

Ward: exclusive first publication by iamb

Rodney: Poetry Scotland (No. 101)


S h a r e

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