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.
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
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.
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.