“Brora” by Richard Sanger, from Arc’s 2020 Shortlist


(i.m. John Lambie)

If we’re not at the station, wait at the wee café on the platform (they have tea and the biscuits your mother likes);
if the mannie’s not there and the caff’s closed, there’s the newsagents; they won’t mind you in there to keep out of the weather;
if, after a decent interval, we haven’t appeared, I’d say the Royal Marine;
if you stay in the bar, it’s really quite reasonable for a hotel;
if you don’t feel smart enough, try the Sutherland Arms instead; some English folk have bought it; white settlers, we call them; they’re not too posh;
if you’re in a real fix, the Braes, though I haven’t darkened those doors for years;
if they hadn’t closed the coal mine, it would never have got like that with Ewan and his mates in there from noon to night;
if you think of it, all dark and dreich, it’s no different from being down a mine;
if you go up to the new Tourist Bureau they built where the pit was, you’ll see how the coal shafts went way out beneath the sea for miles and miles; aye, they did;
if we don’t find you in the Braes, it may be that the burn’s overrun its banks and we’ve been caught up at the loch;
(if you remember, that’s where your mother took me cycling when I first came up to work at the wireless station);
if that’s not it, we may be out for a wee gander on the Back Shore and have simply lost track of time;
if they hadn’t closed the wireless, you might see young Dougie just getting off his shift, coming out the gate where your mother used to meet me;
if he hasn’t intercepted some signals from the Russians, and had to tell GCHQ Cheltenham;
if the tide’s out, there’s all manner of winkles and shells and treasure to find along with the usual seals;
if the sandpipers and curlews have been around, there’ll be lots of Russian signals and cyrillics to study in the wet sand;
if we’re lucky, we might see a school of dolphins leaping (Angus from the garage saw them last week);
if not, there are the oil-rigs off in the North Sea to look at;
if we haven’t gone out for a walk, it may be my chest; just a bit funny these days; not my usual;
if we have, you’d best make your own way home, you remember the way;
if they hadn’t closed the wool mill, you’d still hear the horn at quarter to eight in the mornings, the way you did when you were a girl;
if they hadn’t invented this polar fleece business;
if you come along the river, there may be a few men in the gorse bushes, fishing; young Charlie’s lot have taken to poaching;
if you see one pull in a salmon, just pretend you’ve seen nothing; lots of unemployed in the village these days; chômeurs, you call them in French;
if you come the other way, don’t be surprised;
if your bag’s heavy, you may want to rest a moment and look up at the burns and braes;
if it’s the right time of day, you’ll see the sunlight in the heather
if I’m feeling better, I may come down the road to meet you;
if they hadn’t closed the coal mine
if we’re not on the platform and we’re not at the hotels
if I’m not feeling better
if they hadn’t closed the wireless
if you can decipher the sandpiper’s cyrillics
if we haven’t gone out for a walk
if you make your own way home
if you come in the back door, you may not see me
if I’m sitting in the front room,
if they hadn’t closed the wool mill
if you remember the way
if you come in and I’m in my chair
if I look older and frailer
if I’m asleep, I may not hear you
if you rub my feet
if you don’t mind
if I wake up and smile
if I say your name
if you’re not shocked at how I’ve changed
if you find your way
if it’s still home
if the town’s still here
if I’m here
if I’m still I
if not
if I’m still
if I’m gone
if I’m not

Rusty Priske on “Brora”

“Brora” simultaneously puts the reader in a certain time and place while also ensuring they stay outside of it, looking in. The poem is nostalgic, but it also leaves you with a feeling of loss. The nostalgia is for a time that no longer exists, from a voice still rooted in the place that was.

Richard Sanger’s poems have appeared in many publications, including the TLS, LRB and Poetry Review; his plays include Not Spain, Two Words for Snow, Hannah’s Turn and Dive. His most recent collection, Dark Woods, published by Biblioasis, was named one of the top ten poetry books of 2018 by the New York Times.

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