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Christmas Poem 2021: ‘Tinker Talk’ by George Mackay Brown

  21 Dec '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn
George Mackay Brown, Orkney writer. Photographed in Stromness, 1979. Ref. B/10/14
The Twelve Days of Christmas: Tinker Talk
George Mackay Brown

I saw the four shepherds, black
In the sun’s ruin.
Four star-cut shadows, soon.

Folk going to Kirkwall to pay the tax,
Cart after cart.
We trailed behind, packs clanging.

I stood awhile at the shore.
Three ships
Quested by needle and hidden star.

Fire on the quarry-stone rooted,
A winter rose.
Butterflies of snow everywhere, a gray whirl.

Our donkey danders
Up small roads
To poor crofts. We offer cheap enchantments.

We chew limpets. Their peat smoke
Cures the sea silver.
A scatter, struck gold, over barn floors.

The islands white whales in the snow.
The rook on the branch
Had black thorns in his throat.

I thought I heard a night cry, a bairn

Poorer than me.
A white dream, surely.


In the street of Kirkwall
Talk of troubles.
Soldiers in the slush, kestrel-headed.

I saw the shepherds. One
Folded a shivering lamb.
They lingered at the door of the inn.

The sun was a shuttered hovel

Last time we passed.
Look now, new bright roofbeams!


We took pans and mirrors to Hamnavoe.
Three foreign skippers,
The pier heaped with bonded cargoes.


  • Paperback | Pub: 03 Jun 2021
    £12.99

    In this new Selected Poems, Kathleen Jamie explores the multi-faceted world of George Mackay Brown’s Orkney, the poet’s lifelong home and inspiration. George Mackay Brown’s concerns were the ancestral world, the communalities of work, the…

  • E-Book | Pub: 03 Jun 2021
    £7.99

    First published in 1969, An Orkney Tapestry, George Mackay Brown’s seminal work, is a unique look at Orkney through the eye of a poet. Originally commissioned by his publisher as an introduction to the Orkney Islands, Brown approached the…

  • Paperback | Pub: 03 Jun 2021
    £12.99

    George Mackay Brown was a master of the short story form and produced a steady stream of short fiction collections, starting with A Calendar of Love (1967) and include A Time to Keep (1969) and Hawkfall (1974), as well as his poetry collections and…

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