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Seeking the Stones - James. J. Lafferty
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Selected Poems from Seeking the Stones

"The Old Man"

The old man stands,
tears running down his gullied
Old man, why are you weeping?

Is it because babies are born
without teeth
and only pain will bring them
through the gum?

Is it because this child is blind
and that lame
and life's demands leave them
wavering in the dark?

Is it because a young mother grew
old in giving birth to a son
without fingers?

Is it because the deserts of Arabia
are skeleton-strewn
or that the Wailing Wall
sheds tears?

Is it because the fields of
Cambodia smell of blood,
or that with fiery tar Ireland
brands those who fraternize?

Is it because the river which
ran, now limps in debris,
or that the woodland has
faded and fallen before
speculative greed?

Is it because we could all
vanish in a cloud of a
technical error?

Is it because you are grey,
and your sap is drying,
and you feel
death’s frigid fingers
searching your sparse hair?

Is it because your nest
is bare
and loneliness sits
by your fire?
Old man, why are you weeping?


(Listen to a clip of Dunadd below:)
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As I stood on rock
where the crowned kings of Dalriada stood,
Christian was not how I felt.

The wind, eerie and singular,
reinforced the sense of mystery,
the sacred, that dwelt there
in the shifting light.

Totemic boar etched in rock:
a bridge to the Otherworld,
spiritual guide and nourishment.
His fierce, wild, untamed essence
drawn on to imbue mettle
in those he faced.
Here the newly crowned
took on his tenacity and courage

A place too for regal foot
where the king vowed
to continue the culture of his people
and hold sacred the gods
our people swore by,
until Dalriada, like Tara, passed
and the grieving wind now blows
the grass around the hill of Dunadd.

Ogham - language of mystery,
script of trees,
lines of the druid,
the dance of meaning
in a meaningful place.
The centre now shaped
to the margins,
as the world moves
and the new wind weaves
the grasses and kisses the script
incised on the crowning rock
of a faded kingdom.

On this height, I was
connected -
as stone, plain, stream,
and keening wind
conjured a moment of grace,
a gift of continuity to me.
By the gods my people swear by,
I pledge the same.


"Amo.amas,amat, amamus,
we chanted into the dusty air –
a foreign tongue
from an alien shore.
We were asked to remember
Jupiter and his consort, Juno,
Venus, Vesta, Vulcan,
Romulus and Remus
and the nourishing wolf –
writing their names diligently
for tests that marked our path
further and further
from the core.

Today, I bend,
like a grieving willow,
to discarded roots,
to greet again
Balor of the baleful eye,
Cuchulain and Ferdia,
Finn and the Fianna,
and the magical boar
foraging the length
of Ben Bulben.


Like roughcast tombstones, the ruins,
remembering community,
stand bearing witness -
dead the hearth's fire,
dead the lilting song,
dead the laughter,
and tears have turned
to stone.

McCrae, McGinnis, MacDonald
driven, like cattle,
to the shore -
boarding the creaking ships
with quaking heart,
lamenting ruefully in
the bleating air.

With keening souls,
they pass over
the vast, seething Atlantic -
a grave of dreams -
with memories and loss
in their heaving hearts
they taste the salt
of their days.
In Cape Breton, their hands
do unfamiliar work,
and their Gaelic tongue is proscribed
as a language for peasants,
not people
Shades of Culloden's defeat
hover over these hills
that mirror our own.
Once more they are at the edge,
once more they live on an island,
close to the sea
and close to the margin.
Uneasy in the land of trees,
they wrap the familiar around them
naming their new places
to reverberate the old -
Iona, Inverness, Loch Lomond –
Gaels at the edge of the world.

One hundred and fifty years later,
I, reared by the Bonnie Banks, stand,
like a child of Lir metamorphosed,
in the Shamrock Club of Dominion,
feeling, for the first time
since my arrival in Toronto
twelve years earlier,
at home -
warm in the ice of Canada.

Read and Listen

View videos of James J. Lafferty

A Celtic Blessing

Scots-Canadian poet J J Lafferty reads his work at Galgael in Govan, Glasgow in September 2009.

The Chieftain

Scots-Canadian poet JJ Lafferty reads ‘The Chieftain’ at Galgael in Glasgow, September 2009.

A Celtic Prayer of the Four Directions

In May 2008, 28 indigenous educators and visionaries from the Americas, Africa and Ireland, went to Ireland to begin the planetary project of rekindling indigenous spirit, healing the soul wounds between humans and their Earth and between peoples.