On the single track roads in the Highlands
we seek each other’s eyes,
giving way to some,
beckoned through by others,
in a slow, supple dance.
But down goes my foot where the double track starts
as I swing away at twice – three times – the speed,
aware of nothing but my own thoughts,
driving free, without hindrance.
Rarely need I pull in
for another to pass,
rarely does another wave back.
Air rathaidean cumhang na Gàidhealtachd
siridh sinn sùilean chàch-a-chèile
’s sinn a’ gèilleadh do chuid
is gar leigeil seachad aig càch
ann an dannsa sùbailte sèimh
Ach sìos lem chois far an tòisich an rathad mòr
agus air falbh leam aig dhà, trì, uiread an astair,
gun diù do chàil ach mo smuaintean fhèin,
’s mi dràibheadh gu soar, gun bhacadh.
’S tearc a-nist a dh’fheumar
stad do dhuine eile,
is ’s tearc a smèideas duine air ais.
from Transparencies (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2013)
Meg Bateman’s first collection , Aotromachd /Lightness, made a stir when it was published in 1997. Here was a writer in Gaelic, not a native speaker (she studied Gaelic at Aberdeen University and began to write her own poetry in that language), speaking of intimate subjects in a voice that was full of insecurity and yet boldly challenged the received view of Gaelic poetry – certainly as it was received by an English-speaking audience.
Anyone who has driven in the Highlands knows what Bateman, who lives on Skye, is describing in this poem, the decisions and the courtesies of negotiating a single-track road. But close communities, whether linguistic or physical, are also confining: we can read the poem as an allegory of island life, even of Scottish life; of choosing to write in Gaelic (for a community of less than 60,000 readers) or English.
Mostly self-translated, Bateman’s poetry evokes both the timeless and the contemporary: love and disposable diapers. Carol Rumens has remarked: ‘The poems have the strength and simplicity of art made for a community rather than an elite, though they are far from artless.’
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